In this week's New Statesman | Are cities getting too big?

Plus: Douglas Alexander on Sri Lanka, Duncan Campbell on the Decline of the British Trial, David Miliband on US isolationism and more.

Leo Johnson asks: Are our cities getting too big?

Douglas Alexander: David Cameron must not backtrack on Sri Lanka

The Decline of the British Trial: Why the press and the public have deserted the courtroom gallery

Rafael Behr exposes the Tories' “counterfeit consensus” on Europe

David Miliband: Why JFK would warn against American isolationism

Vernon Bogdanor: Are we too complacent about democracy?

Kevin Maguire on Ed Miliband's “wet halibut” handshake and David Cameron's comb over crisis

PLUS

New medical column by Dr Phil Whitaker

From the archive: Bertrand Russell on civil disobedience

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COVER STORY: LEO JOHNSON ON THE RISE OF “SMART CITIES”

Leo Johnson, Visiting fellow of the Smith School of Enterprise & Environment at Oxford – and brother of Boris – asks what the rise of “premier gated cities” means for society globally. From South Korea to Nairobi, Florida to the Democratic Republic of Congo, these “urban dreamscapes”, writes Johnson, are an important element of the 21st-century trend towards urbanisation:

“In South Korea, Songdo is already open for business. Described by Cisco as a ‘model for future cities’, Songdo has smart water, smart garbage (pneumatically sucked out of sight), smart parking with cars guided to empty lots, centralised blood pressure monitoring consoles, elevators you can order from your television screen and ubiquitous 52-inch plasma screens for high-definition video conferencing. Plus, a green space modelled on New York’s Central Park and a canal system inspired by Venice.”

“As we confront the challenge of urbanisation, we can deploy technology with two different intentions. One is vertical, isolating ourselves in gated smart cities from the crises affecting the poor. The other is horizontal, harnessing technology to empower smart citizens, with the goal of making both the rural and the urban work.”

 

THE GUEST COLUMN

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: DAVID CAMERON MUST NOT BACKTRACK ON SRI LANKA

With just over a week to go until the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, asks why David Cameron appears to be reluctant to hold Sri Lanka’s government to account for its worsening human rights record.

“Labour was for many months calling on the British government to use the question of whether the Prime Minister would attend as leverage to encourage President Rajapaksa to address human-rights concerns. Instead, David Cameron chose to hand away his influence six months before the summit was even to take place by confirming that both he and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, would attend. The Prime Minister should now reverse that decision.”

“The international community must stand united in its efforts to promote justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Until now, David Cameron has proven unwilling to use the leverage he has to promote change in Sri Lanka. Yet there is too much at stake, for too many, for him to fail to do so yet again.”

THE NS ESSAY: DUNCAN CAMPBELL ON THE DECLINE OF THE BRITISH TRIAL

Duncan Campbell, former crime correspondent for The Guardian, considers why, with the exception of Hackgate, the press and the public have deserted the courtroom galleries that used to be packed for every big trial.

“In some ways, the opening days last month of the Old Bailey trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and others, all pleading not guilty to charges related to the News of the World phone-hacking affair, were just like old times: the crowds, the queues, the bustle and excitement. Seventy journalists, representing all the British press, not to mention Al Jazeera, El Confidencial and the Wall Street Journal, were on hand to report. Curious onlookers hung around in the street outside, gazing at all the frantic activity. But this was very much a throwback to another era.”

“When I first started covering criminal trials in the early 1970s, long queues were still common for high-profile murder cases. The public gallery would be full, people craning their necks to see the accused brought up from the cells. Today many murder trials take place without a single person in the press box or a single member of the public in the gallery. So, whatever happened to British trials and why do they often pass us by unnoticed except for the opening day’s prosecution case and the jury’s verdict?”

Daytime TV and the end of the death penalty have both helped empty the galleries, Campbell concludes. But the trend is a worrying one, he writes, “because trials are essential to our understanding of how our society operates”.

DAVID MILIBAND: WHY JFK WOULD WARN AGAINST US ISOLATIONSIM

Following his Kennedy Memorial Lecture to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the former president, David Miliband, who is now based in the US as president of the International Rescue Committee, argues that JFK would urge us to increase international engagement.

“JFK did not live to see what he called “not just peace in our time but peace for all time”. But I think we can say with confidence that he would view the end of the cold war not as the end of the business of peace-making but the start. He would see that it creates new possibilities and requirements for international engagement, rather than diluting the need for it.”

“The 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination will evoke sadness, admiration and nostalgia. But the insights he developed for the 1960s remain relevant in the 21st century. They are a gift for our times.”

THE POLITICS COLUMN: RAFAEL BEHR

In this week’s column, Rafael Behr, NS politics editor, explains that Ed Miliband is waiting in hope that the Tories’ counterfeit consensus on Europe – the agreement there will be an in/out referendum by 2017 – will unravel.

“This counterfeit consensus has obvious charm for Tory MPs. It allows them to say with a straight face that the party is united on Europe. The moment of choice is deferred. Since the EU is evolving, none but the most determined quitters feel sure that in four years’ time it will still be the kind of union Britain should leave. What Conservatives can say with certainty is that David Cameron wants a referendum and Ed Miliband doesn’t, which feels like a great advantage to a party with an inflated sense of national grievance against Brussels. The Tories are so proud of their plebiscite pledge that they keep expecting Miliband to copy it.

“There may be loftier elements in Labour’s European calculations but at their core is a gamble on whether the effects of Cameron’s dodgy potion to unite the Tories wears off before Miliband is forced to serve up a referendum brew of his own.”

PLUS

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Kate Mossman on judging the Mercury Prize – and the new Eminem album

Craig Raine reviews the new Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern

Laurie Penny writes from San Francisco on the memory of Trayvon Martin and racial injustice in America

Will Self: American society and American fast food are twins separated at birth

Ed Smith on Alex Ferguson’s autobiography and why “violence is the most underrated of all leadership traits”

Nina Caplan is branded a “wine snob” but prefers to be called a “winie”

The engineer Lesley Thompson reflects on 100 years of progress in the NS Centenary Interview

 

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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