In this week's New Statesman | iBroken: Is Apple dying?

Plus: Rafael Behr asks "What is Milibandism?", Alan Johnson on "What makes us human" and the NS's friends and contributors choose their books of the year.

GENERATION ED: RAFAEL BEHR ASKS “WHAT IS MILIBANDISM?”
IN THIS WEEK’S POLITICS ESSAY . . . AND IN A SPECIAL REPORT FOR BBC NEWSNIGHT TONIGHT

COVER STORY: IS APPLE DYING?

BRYAN APPLEYARD ON HOW THE TECH GIANT’S CROWN IS SLIPPING

BOOKS OF THE YEAR: ED BALLS, JEMIMA KHAN, LIONEL SHRIVER, DAVID BADDIEL, VINCE CABLE, DAVID SHRIGLEY, ALAN RUSBRIDGER, SIMON HEFFER AND OTHERS CHOOSE THEIR FAVOURITE READS OF 2013

PLUS

ROGER MOSEY’S DIARY ON BRICKBATS FROM FORMER BBC COLLEAGUES

“It’s daft to assume you can only be counted as a [BBC] supporter if you think the corporation should expand still further or that it should have the whole licence fee for ever.”

ALAN JOHNSON: WHAT MAKES US HUMAN?

ANDREW HARRISON ON THE LEFTY POLITICS OF DOCTOR WHO

MEHDI HASAN: MUSLIMS HAVE A MORAL DUTY TO CONDEMN CHILD MARRIAGE

MARTIN GAYFORD ON THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI

FROM THE ARCHIVE: DORIS LESSING

THE POLITICS ESSAY

GENERATION ED: LABOUR IS WINNING THE BATTLE OF IDEAS

In this week’s Politics Essay (and in a special report for BBC Newsnight tonight), Rafael Behr, the NS’s political editor, explores Ed Miliband’s mission to bring back socialism and reshape the British economy using the three principles of responsible capitalism, predistribution and “one nation”.

Behr argues that Miliband is winning the battle of ideas and that: “It is worth taking seriously the possibility that Britain will one day be governed by a creed called Milibandism.” Though this is not yet a view shared by many in Westminster, he believes that it is “getting harder to write Miliband off”:

A coherent pattern is discernible in the Labour leader’s actions. There is a consistent analysis of what is wrong with Britain and a systematic outline of the remedy.

Pushing the pendulum

“The critics are wrong to say that Miliband’s project is erratic or hastily assembled. (If anything, the charge that it is too determinedly intellectual is more fitting.) Milibandism takes a deep perspective, charting long political cycles from the postwar period to the present day . . . Miliband sees David Cameron engaged in a futile effort to breathe life into the corpse of an expired doctrine. He ascribes to himself the role that Thatcher once played, appearing at first as an unlikely leader, doggedly pursuing ideas that threaten to disrupt a complacent orthodoxy. Just as the Iron Lady once anticipated the swing of the pendulum away from suffocating statism, Miliband believes it is swinging away from market fetishism. Or, rather, he thinks it has the potential to move in that direction. ‘Sometimes you have to push the pendulum,’ Miliband once told me.”

Reforming the party

“For Miliband, being trusted by the rank and file as an embodiment of traditional Labour values is about more than job security. One part of his agenda that gets little attention but that aides insist is central to the project is the transformation of the party from a rusty bureaucratic apparat to a network of grass-roots activists. That work is led by Arnie Graf, the 69-year-old American pioneer of ‘community organising’, about which Miliband is evangelical. The principle is to win political support street by street, focusing on hyper-local issues and engaging people who would otherwise never go near a constituency party meeting.”

What Milibandism lacks

“There are still gaps in Miliband’s programme. His account of how Labour would champion hard-pressed consumers against wicked corporate interests is not matched by a determination to reform the public sector. He is more comfortable talking about market failure than failures of the state. His vision of party reform risks being lost in back-room haggling with the trade union leaders who finance the whole Labour show. His personal ratings, while improving, are still below the levels that usually indicate momentum towards Downing Street.”

The tenacity of Miliband

“It has always been easy to list the ways in which politicians might fail but it is getting harder to write Miliband off. He has displayed a tenacity that disorientates his enemies. Conservative attacks are contradictory. He is weak yet dangerous; ridiculous yet sinister. The latest Tory line is that he is a con artist, offering flimsy populism in the face of complex problems. So they recognise at least that the left can be popular.”

COVER STORY: IS APPLE DYING?

With the death of Steve Jobs, Bryan Appleyard fears the tech giant’s crown is slipping. The company is failing to innovate, he warns, and its Silicon Valley rivals are closing in.

“The reason [for Apple’s lowered share price] is market scepticism about the post-Jobs regime. [CEO Tim] Cook is not Jobs and, since the iPad, there has been no spectacular product launch, only the usual stream of updates and improvements. His more conventional management practices are said to be counter-innovative. In addition, competitors are thriving, and most importantly Google and Facebook seem to have solved the puzzle of how to make money out of advertising on mobile devices. All of which is just another way of saying that Steve Jobs is dead.”

A corporate freak show?

“Consider this: Apple makes very few products – Cook once said its entire range could fit on a tabletop – and they are more expensive than the competition. So how has it become one of the biggest companies in the world? It has done so through the power of mystique, aspiration and industrial design; through, in short, the narcissistic, brutally competitive aesthetic obsessiveness of Steve Jobs. Apple continues to be formidably profitable – its stores, for example, have the highest sales per square foot of a retail outlet in the world. Yet Apple is not a viable business model: it is, like Jobs, an unrepeatable corporate freak show. Can it possibly be, post-Jobs, a freak show that runs and runs? The reviews are not yet in but doubt is priced into the shares.”

What can Apple do next?

“The next move in this game is, therefore, the cyborg – the part-human, part-machine, dreamed of by science-fiction writers. This is all about wearable computing or ‘technologically enhanced clothing’, as [editor of the Cult of Mac blog Leander] Kahney puts it. The widely rumoured iWatch may be the first step in this direction, though this would hardly be revolutionary, as there are many such devices already on the market. What follows may be, for example, clothing that tracks your vital signs – blood pressure, heart rate, and so on – giving you instant feedback so that you can adjust your behaviour. Apple Stores could thus become, in part, clothing outlets . . .This would be a move in the great Jobs tradition: the annexation of a new industry.”

Apple’s USP

“At the moment, Google is the favourite for gold, with Facebook as a possible silver if it can control its appalling public relations and crass handling of private information. Apple is on the ropes. I hope it won’t stay there for long for one simple reason. None of these companies is especially loveable; they are all power- and money-hungry operations that seem to think they have a right to remake the world in their own image . . . Yet Apple has a redeeming feature. It does, in spite of everything and thanks to Steve Jobs, make things beautiful.”

BOOKS OF THE YEAR

As 2013 draws to a close, the NS asks friends and contributors including Ed Balls, Jemima Khan, Lionel Shriver, David Baddiel, Stephen King, William Boyd, Robert Harris, Vince Cable, David Shrigley, Alan Rusbridger and Simon Heffer to share their favourite books of the year.

Ed Balls opts somewhat unexpectedly for reading on a culinary theme:

“My favourite (cook)book of 2013 is The Vietnamese Market Cookbook (Square Peg, £20) by Van Tran and Anh Vu, founders of the BanhMi11 street-food stalls in London. The recipes are not hard and the ingredients fairly easy to come by. But the balance of flavours is subtle and it is easy to get things out of kilter. I can recommend the pho ga noodle soup and the summer rolls, while the shaking beef with black pepper is sublime. For any amateur cook who likes new flavours and is willing to take risks, this book really is worth a try.”

His colleague Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, also makes a more personal choice: “The book I’ve most enjoyed reading this year is Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Peepo! (Puffin, £6.99) – to my baby daughter.”

Robert Harris’s novel An Officer and a Spy earns a place on two of our contributors’ lists with both the Evening Standard editor, Sarah Sands, and Andrew Adonis naming it a favourite read of 2013.

THE DIARY: ROGER MOSEY

Roger Mosey, who has recently exchanged the BBC bunker at Portland Place for the bracing air of Cambridge as the new Master of Selwyn College, ducks a series of brickbats from former colleagues who take exception to the suggestion that his erstwhile employer should slim down:

Some colleagues asked whether I’d miss the newsroom on a busy day and the answer is emphatically no. As a newcomer to Cambridge, I’m knocked out by the city and its people and by what the university achieves, and it’s impossible not to have a song in your heart as you cross the bridge from the Backs into King’s College on a fresh autumn morning. I can say what I think now, too, which is cheering after 30-odd years of friendly corralling by BBC minders.

That was the spirit in which I wrote a piece for the Times a couple of weeks ago suggesting that in tough times the corporation could still do its job while being slightly smaller. Deviation from past orthodoxy is as welcome to some former colleagues as a cat bringing in a mangled sparrow but there was plenty of support, too, including some from unexpected internal sources. The brickbats seemed to be about the principle of criticising the BBC rather than the argument itself. So let me be clear: I believe wholeheartedly in the BBC. But it’s daft to assume you can only be counted as a supporter if you think the corporation should expand still further or that it should have the whole licence fee for ever.

ALAN JOHNSON: WHAT MAKES US HUMAN?

The former health secretary Alan Johnson is the latest contributor to our series asking “What makes us human?” in partnership with Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show. Johnson gives a moving account of his childhood and concludes that endurance and love are an intrinsic part of our humanity:

I was fortunate enough to spend the first 13 years of my life with two incredible women who happened to be my mother and my sister. My sister, Linda, has been part of my life ever since but we grew up, raised families and now live on opposite sides of the world. If you asked us to define humanity, we’d both say that it was personified in the tiny frame of our mother, Lily, who had deep compassion, enormous courage and a capacity for selfless love that is the essential element of what makes us human . . .

Lily believed in God, although she never went to church. Our moments of worship came when she found a shilling piece to feed the empty gas meter; or a piece of coal as we joined her on the trail of the coal man, picking up the chunks of black gold that dropped from his sacks as he delivered to the big houses in Holland Park. Faith and belief are very human traits, as are laughter and joy.

PLUS

Kate Mossman listens to the “exhilarating” new Lady Gaga album, Artpop

Laurie Penny on the Bad Sex Awards and British smut-shaming censoriousness

Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential

Charles Bremner’s Letter from Paris on the hapless François Hollande

Felicity Cloake on truffle trouble and the mushroom mafia in the food column

Rachel Cooke watches Last Tango in Halifax and the final series of Borgen

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Angela Merkel's call for a burqa ban sets a disturbing precedent

The German chancellor's plan for a partial ban of the full-face veil is a clearly political move, which will do more to harm those women who wear it than protect them.

 

In these febrile times, women’s freedom and autonomy has become a bargaining chip in the poker game of public propaganda — and that goes double for brown, Muslim and migrant women. Angela Merkel should know as well as any other female politician how demeaning it is to be treated as if what you wear is more important than what you say and what you do. With the far-right on the rise across Europe, however, the German chancellor has become the latest lawmaker to call for a partial ban on the burqa and niqab.

We are told that this perennial political football is being kicked about in the name of liberating women. It can have nothing to do, of course, with the fact that popular opinion is lurching wildly to the right in western democracies, there’s an election in Germany next year, and Merkel is seen as being too soft on migration after her decision to allow a million Syrian refugees to enter the country last year. She is also somehow blamed for the mob attacks on women in Cologne, which have become a symbol of the threat that immigration poses to white women and, by extension, to white masculinity in Europe. Rape and abuse perpetrated by white Europeans, of course, is not considered a matter for urgent political intervention — nor could it be counted on to win back voters who have turned from Merkel's party to the far-right AFD, which wants to see a national debate on abortion rights and women restricted to their rightful role as mothers and homemakers.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a moment, imposing state restrictions on what women may and may not wear in public has not, historically, been a great foundation for feminist liberation. The move is symbolic, not practical. In Britain, where the ban is also being proposed by Ukip the services that actually protect women from domestic violence have been slashed over the past six years — the charity Refuge, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the UK, has seen a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts since 2011.

It’s worth noting that even in western countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, the number of women who wear full burqa is vanishingly small. If those women are victims of coercion or domestic violence, banning the burqa in public will not do a thing to make them safer — if anything, it will reduce their ability to leave their homes, isolating them further.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, racist and Islamophobic attacks spiked in the UK. Hate crimes nationally shot up by 42% in the two weeks following the vote on 23 June. Hate crimes against Muslim women increased by over 300%, with visibly Muslim women experiencing 46% of all hate incidents. Instances of headscarves being ripped off have become so common that self-defense videos are being shared online, showing women how to deflect the “hijab grab”. In this context, it is absurd to claim that politicians proposing a burqa ban care about protecting women: the move is transparently designed to placate the very people who are making Muslim women feel unsafe in their own communities.

When politicians talk about banning the burqa, the public hears an attack on all Islamic headscarves — not everyone knows the difference between the hijab, the niqab and the burqa, and not everyone cares. The important thing is that seeing women dressed that way makes some people feel uncomfortable, and desperate politicians are casting about for ways to validate that discomfort.

Women who actually wear the burqa are not invited to speak about their experiences or state their preferences in this debate. On this point, Islamic fundamentalists and panicked western conservatives are in absolute agreement: Muslim women are provocative and deserve to be treated as a threat to masculine pride. They should shut up and let other people decide what’s best for them.

I know Muslim women who regard even the simple hijab as an object of oppression and have sworn never to wear one again. I also know Muslim women who wear headscarves every day as a statement both of faith and of political defiance. There is no neutral fashion option for a woman of Islamic faith — either way, men in positions of power will feel entitled to judge, shame and threaten. Either choice risks provoking anger and violence from someone with an opinion about what your outfit means for them. The important thing is the autonomy that comes with still having a choice.

A law which treats women like children who cannot be trusted to make basic decisions about their bodies and clothing is a sexist law; a law that singles out religious minorities and women of colour as especially unworthy of autonomy is a racist, sexist law. Instituting racist, sexist laws is a good way to win back the votes of racist, sexist people, but, again, a dreadful way of protecting women. In practice, a burqa ban, even the partial version proposed by Merkel which will most likely be hard to enforce under German constitutional law, will directly impact only a few thousand people in the west. Those people are women of colour, many of them immigrants or foreigners, people whose actual lives are already of minimal importance to the state except on an abstract, symbolic level, as the embodiment of a notional threat to white Christian patriarchy. Many believe that France's longstanding burqa ban has increased racial tensions — encapsulated by the image earlier this year of French police surrounding a woman who was just trying to relax with her family on the beach in a burkini. There's definitely male violence at play here, but a different kind — a kind that cannot be mined for political capital, because it comes from the heart of the state.

This has been the case for centuries: long before the US government used the term“Operation Enduring Freedom” to describe the war in Afghanistan, western politicians used the symbolism of the veil to recast the repeated invasion of Middle Eastern nations as a project of feminist liberation. The same colonists who justified the British takeover of Islamic countries abroad were active in the fight to suppress women’s suffrage at home. This is not about freeing women, but about soothing and coddling men’s feelings about women.

The security argument is even more farcical: border guards are already able to strip people of their clothes, underwear and dignity if they get the urge. If a state truly believes that facial coverings are some sort of security threat, it should start by banning beards, but let's be serious, masculinity is fragile enough as it is. If it were less so, we wouldn't have politicians panicking over how to placate the millions of people who view the clothing choices of minority and migrant women as an active identity threat.

Many decent, tolerant people, including feminists, are torn on the issue of the burqa: of course we don't want the state to start policing what women can and can't wear, but isn't the burqa oppressive? Maybe so, but I was not aware of feminism as a movement that demands that all oppressive clothing be subject to police confiscation, unless the Met’s evidence lockers are full of stilettos, girdles and push-up bras. In case you're wondering, yes, I do feel uncomfortable on the rare occasions when I have seen people wearing the full face veil in public. I've spent enough time living with goths and hippies that I've a high tolerance for ersatz fashion choices — but do wonder what their home lives are like and whether they are happy and safe, and that makes me feel anxious. Banning the burqa might make me feel less anxious. It would not, however, improve the lives of the women who actually wear it. That is what matters. My personal feelings as a white woman about how Muslim women choose to dress are, in fact, staggeringly unimportant.

If you think the Burqa is oppressive and offensive, you are perfectly entitled never to wear one. You are not, however, entitled to make that decision for anyone else. Exactly the same principle applies in the interminable battle over women's basic reproductive choices: many people believe that abortion is wrong, sinful and damaging to women. That's okay. I suggest they never have an abortion. What's not okay is taking away that autonomy from others as a cheap ploy for good press coverage in the runup to an election.

This debate has been dragging on for decades, but there's a new urgency to it now, a new danger: we are now in a political climate where the elected leaders of major nations are talking about registries for Muslims and other minorities. Instituting a symbolic ban on religious dress, however extreme, sets a precedent. What comes next? Are we going to ban every form of Islamic headdress? What about the yarmulke, the tichel, the Sikh turban, the rainbow flag? If this is about community cohesion, what will it take to make white conservatives feel “comfortable”? Where does it stop? Whose freedoms are politicians prepared to sacrifice as a sop to a populace made bitter and unpredictable by 30 years of neoliberal incompetence? Where do we draw the line?

We draw it right here, between the state and the autonomy of women, particularly minority and migrant women who are already facing harassment in unprecedented numbers. Whatever you feel about the burqa, it is not the role of government to police what women wear, and doing it has nothing to do with protection. It is chauvinist, it is repressive, it is a deeply disturbing precedent, and it has no place in our public conversation.

 
 
 
 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.