Inside The Centenary Issue

An exclusive peak inside the New Statesman's biggest issue ever.

TONY BLAIR ED MILIBAND BORIS JOHNSON VINCE CABLE MICHAEL GOVE DAVID MILIBAND JULIAN BARNES WILL SELF A S BYATT DAVID HARE STEWART LEEALI SMITH IAN STEWART CRAIG BROWN JASON COWLEY ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH ROBERT SKIDELSKY LAURIE PENNY WILL HUTTON MARK MAZOWERJON CRUDDAS NATASHA WALTER MELVYN BRAGG CRAIG RAINE MEHDI HASAN HELEN LEWIS WENDY COPE RALPH STEADMAN CLAIRE TOMALIN DOUGLAS HURD SUSAN CALMAN PETER WILBY SOPHIE ELMHIRST JOHN BURNSIDE JOHN GRAY NORMAN STONE ED SMITH TOM WATSON JONATHAN DERBYSHIRE NORMAN MACKENZIE CINDY SHERMAN GRAHAM GREENE T S ELIOT VIRGINIA WOOLF GEORGE ORWELL ANGELA CARTER KINGLSEY MARTIN

The New Statesman is proud to present a 180-page souvenir magazine, our largest ever single issue, in honour of our one-hundredth birthday. On news-stands today, this special centenary issue is packed with the finest essays, commentary, interviews, cultural criticism, photography, poetry, short fiction and cartoons. In addition to our stellar spread of original content, we republish key pieces from the Statesman’s venerable archive, from Virginia Woolf’s 1920 attack on misogyny to John Maynard Keynes powerful meditations on the Spanish Civil War, from 1937.

 

Special content includes:

 

Tony Blair: In his biggest intervention in domestic politics since leaving office, the former prime minister outlines the questions Labour needs to ask if the party is to win again.

In an exclusive guest column for the New Statesman, Tony Blair critiques Labour’s current strategy in opposition and warns his party that it must keep out of its “comfort zone”, urging Labour to remain on the “centre ground that is ultimately both more satisfying and more productive for party and country”.

Read this piece in full on our website now.

Read the Staggers editor George Eaton's analysis here.

 

Boris Johnson: A lively notebook piece from the Mayor of London and former Specator editor, on his “Staggers envy”, being rejected by Martin Amis, and why the Left hated Thatcher so much

 

Julian Barnes: In a rare interview, the novelist talks politics, euthanasia, his new book, and his time with Christopher Hitchens at the NS

 

Ed Miliband: The Politics Interview

A day on the campaign trail with the Labour leader takes a dramatic turn with the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death. Our politics editor Rafael Behr was with Ed Miliband on a train to Ipswich when the new of her death broke. He writes:

Two minutes have passed since word arrived that Margaret Thatcher has died. In roughly 15 minutes the train will reach its destination, where Miliband will have to broadcast his reaction. The mood is urgent but there is no panic. Miliband’s features barely flickered when an aide leaned across the table to deliver the news. He absorbed the data with a slow nod. “Oh. Right.”

Now, his face is a mask of solemn concen­tration. The task is clear enough.

“Thatcher’s passing has suspended ordinary politics,” continues Behr, but the two made time to discuss Maggie’s legacy, welfare and Labour’s challenges before the next election.

Read this interview on our website now.

 

Vince Cable: “Bitter intensity” and “tribal affiliations” – the historic split between the liberals and social democrats

The Business Secretary Vince Cable, who vocally criticised the government’s economic strategy in a recent essay for the New Statesman, writes a piece on the split between “those who regard themselves as both liberal and social democratic but are divided by party.” He recalls being a “politically impressionable” teenager faced with “two competing sources of intellectual inspiration.”

In this way, some of the descendants of [Anthony] Grimond and [Jo] Crosland eventually came together in the newly formed Liberal Democrats. But others remained divided, and still are. And having walked along both sides of the dividing line for half a century, I recognise the bitter intensity of these small differences and the strength of tribal affiliation.

Did the Left win the 20th Century? Michael Gove, David Miliband, Diane Abbott, Justin Webb, Lisa Nandy, Zac Goldsmith and many more join our debate

David Miliband: “The 20th century was a trauma for the left as much as a triumph... The left has done more than survive... A victory? I would call it a two-all draw...”

Michael Gove: “The cause of liberty was most reliably defended and extended by politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan... and Tony Blair... all of whom secured the scorn of the left for their moral courage.”

Diane Abbott: “On a range of social issues, including race equality, women’s rights and equality for the LGBT community, the left has conclusively won the debate.”

Justin Webb: “Surely the answer is no and the reason is America.”

Robert Halfon: “The left’s victory has been one of message and of feeling... By contrast, the right is still struggling to explain the morality of capitalism and of hard-headed economics.”

Melvyn Bragg in conversation with David Hare

Distinguished broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, a long-time reader and former guest editor of the New Statesman, sits down with playwright David Hare to discuss the immense changes that have taken place in their lifetimes, and over the course of the “New Statesman Century”.

On whether the Left won the 20th century...

Melvyn Bragg: [Vice-Chancellor of UEA Edward Acton] says that the left won the 20th century. Look at the conditions of workers at the end of the 19th century and compare them with the conditions of workers at the end of the 20th century... The question is why people don’t believe it any more.

David Hare: It’s because people now feel themselves publicly helpless, don’t they? People feel they no longer exert either any individual or collective power over public life... There’s a wonderful phrase of Marx’s, in which he says that shame is a revolutionary emotion. He writes: “Shame is a kind of anger which is turned inward.” That’s what we feel about our public life today. We feel shame.

On cultural progress...

MB ...culture is... anti-Darwinian. Every time something new comes along, people have said, for instance, “Oh, the cinema is going to kill off the theatre” or whatever – but it didn’t.

On the BBC...

DH It’s completely out of control... I’ve never understood outsourcing. The BBC seemed to do it in order to follow a Thatcherite agenda and to suck up to No 10. The destruction of their own in-house production facilities seems catastrophic... Everything’s now at arm’s length. If you outsource things, you also outsource responsibility.

MB I think the arts coverage on the BBC is meagre. It’s punching well below its weight.

 

Stewart Lee: Why aren’t there any right-wing comedians?

Stand-up comedian Stewart Lee asks why it’s so hard to find a comedian who votes Tory.  The right are rich in “wits and humourists” but in the live arena it’s the lefties who dominate, relegating right-wing stand-ups to caricatures like Al Murray’s patriotic Pub Landlord (a BNP favourite) or Simon Evan’s “paternalistic Tory posh boy”.

In an art form that is essentially “clowning” (“and clowns are always tragic figures”), Stewart nails the problem:

Ultimately, the left will lose. Big business will pollute the planet, capitalist culture will kill off the arts and humanities, schools will all be privatised, libraries will all close, social mobility will cease, the gulf between rich and poor will grow and everything beautiful will die...

Chris Rock maintained that stand-up comedy should always be punching upwards. It’s a heroic little struggle. You can’t be a right-wing clown without some character caveat, some vulnerability, some obvious flaw. You’re on the right. You’ve already won. You have no tragedy. You’re punching down...

Who could be on a stage, crowing about their victory and ridiculing those less fortunate than them without any sense of irony, shame or self-knowledge? That’s not a stand-up comedian. That’s just a cunt.

 

Will Self: In praise of pessimism

In a personal essay, novelist and long-time New Statesman contributor Will Self makes both a personal and a political case for pessimism.

An optimist, of necessity, believes in a future typified by knowns, because if – in the rousing chorus of the Blair government’s accession anthem of 1997 – “things can only get better”, then this must be in comparison with what already obtains. The pessi­mist, by contrast, is fully attuned to Donald Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns: the black swans that swoop down out of a clear blue sky to annihilate thousands of New York office workers. The pessimist does not sanction foreign wars on the basis that democracy can issue forth from the barrel of a gun...

Indeed, what are speculative bubbles if not the purest example of optimism run wild? The same sort of loony thinking that once invested in perpet­ual motion machines leads the contemporary credulous to believe that financial wizardry can conjure something out of nothing.

In the Critics:

In the Critics section of the centenary edition of the New Statesman, our “Critic at large” is the novelist A S Byatt. Byatt explores her longstanding admiration for the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett.

“As a wartime child in the 1940s,” she recalls, “I was already puzzling over an image of a domed world poised on the backs of three elephants that stood on a monstrous turtle.”

In the latest in a series of essays on visual art for the NS, the poet, critic and novelist Craig Raine writes about Picasso’s realism. Picasso “could be beautiful,” Raine argues, “but mostly he chose to be realistic … part of Picasso’s greatness is bound up with the idea that equivalence is more effective than literal representation, dull mimesis.”

PLUS

NS culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire looks back at his predecessors in the literary editor’s chair;

Jon Cruddas, MP and coordinator of Labour’s policy review, considers David Goodhart’s analysis of the costs and benefits of immigration in postwar Britain;

Will Hutton reviews Ben Bernanke’s brief history of the 2008 financial crisis and Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig’s manifesto for banking reform, The Bankers’ New Clothes;

Douglas Hurd on Six Moments of Crisis by Gill Bennett;

Poems from the NS archive by W B Yeats and Philip Larkin;

An exclusive new short story by Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Ali Smith;

And much more.

Read our full "In the Critics" blog here.

 

To purchase the full 180-page magazine - with an incredible array of essays, commentary, reviews, fiction and poetry by the likes of Boris Johnson, Ali Smith, Stewart Lee, A S Byatt, Mehdi Hasan, John Gray, Will Self and more plus republished material from the New Statesman archive by T S Eliot, Angela Carter, George Orwell, Graham Greene and others - please visit our subscription page.

 

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad