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In this week’s magazine | The challenge to Islam

A first look at this week’s magazine.

 

KEN LIVINGSTONE: BORIS THE “LAZY TOSSER” NOW “WORKING FROM HOME”

 

COVER STORY: THE CHALLENGE OF ISLAM

David Selbourne: the “frightened” and “self-censoring” west can no longer ignore the Islamist threat

Mona Siddiqui: why moderate Muslims must speak out against hardliners and “battle for the very soul of Islam”

 

Plus

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER’S AMERICAN NOTEBOOK: AXELROD,
HILLARY AND HARVARD

RAFAEL BEHR: NICK CLEGG’S PRO-EU MARTYRDOM SUITS LABOUR AND THE TORIES

NO DYING OF THE LIGHT: PHILIP MAUGHAN MEETS THE TERMINALLY ILL POET AND BROADCASTER CLIVE JAMES

MEHDI HASAN ON NARENDRA MODI, “INDIA’S MILOSEVIC”

PETER WILBY: ANN MAGUIRE’S TRAGIC DEATH EXPOSES THE RIGHT’S HYPOCRISY ON TEACHERS

THE NS CRITIC AT LARGE MARK LAWSON IS SILENCED BY THE DONMAR’S PRIVACY

“OLD MEN AROUND TOWN”: A NEW STORY BY LYDIA DAVIS

MARGARET DRABBLE ON JULES VERNE’S TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES

DAVE EGGERS TAKES A TENSE TAXI JOURNEY ACROSS THE SAUDI DESERT

DAVID BADDIEL AND JEFFREY MEYERS ON JOHN UPDIKE, AMERICA’S LITERARY EVERYMAN

 

 

THE POLITICS INTERVIEW: KEN LIVINGSTONE ON BORIS

 

Two years since his last defeat in the London mayoral elections and six years since he left City Hall, Ken Livingstone tells the NS’s George Eaton that his successor is “a fairly lazy tosser” who now “works from home” while minions at City Hall “keep things ticking over”.

 

Ken on Boris’s record as Mayor of London:

 

“Except perhaps for the first year when he was mayor, which was pretty chaotic, everything else he’s done since has just been focused on that [becoming Conservative leader] . . .

 

“My sense was that as soon as he’d won the election, he’d completely recast City Hall and set a whole new agenda. But he hasn’t really done anything. He’s stopped all projects that weren’t committed except the bike scheme.

 

“Except for the cable car to nowhere, he hasn’t initiated any new projects. He hasn’t set a right-wing agenda.

 

“Those right-wing Tories who think he’s going to be the answer will be acutely disappointed. If he did ever become prime minister, the country would just drift. For Boris, it’s just about being there, not what you do with it.”

 

. . .

 

Livingstone continues: “The Telegraph had a picture of him standing in front of his desk after his fifth anniversary of being mayor. My shock was that he hadn’t moved a single thing. The desk was exactly as I left it the day I walked out; he hadn’t even moved the pot I kept my pens and pencils in. Everything was the same. It just suggested to me that, while Boris blusters in, it’s the minions who are keeping things ticking over. The deputies won’t set a new agenda, that’s the mayor’s job. If the mayor won’t do it, nothing happens.”

 

On Boris “working from home”:

 

Livingstone relishes the opportunity to reveal some uncomfortable tales about his old foe. “What I find interesting is that almost all the dirt I get on Boris comes from the Tory members on the [London] Assembly. They’re really angry because he’s decided he’s going to start working from home on Fridays.”

 

I later recall how (wonderful irony) it was Johnson who attacked ministers’ advice to Londoners to stay away from their workplaces during the 2012 Olympics (in order to reduce transport congestion) as a “skiver’s paradise”, declaring: “Some people will see the Games as an opportunity to work from home, in inverted commas. We all know that is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again. I don’t want to see too many of us doing that.”

 

Boris is a “lazy tosser” and out of touch on housing:

 

“After I lost the last election, Boris phoned me to say he’d like me to be his guest at the opening of the Olympic Games because it would be very bad if I wasn’t there, so I said, ‘That’s fine. Can I just try and explain something to you? We’ve got this real housing crisis: you need to start building homes for rent.’ And he said, ‘Homes for rent?’ and the shock in his voice was like I’d asked if I could sleep with his wife.

 

“You just realise, for this sort of leader running the Tory party, they don’t have a struggle paying rent: they reach a certain age, their parents give them a house, or they inherit one. They have no understanding of what it’s like.” His advice to Labour, which he believes will face Johnson as leader of the opposition before long, is “not to make the mistake of assuming they’re dealing with a hardline right-wing ideologue”. Rather, “they must concentrate on the fact they’re dealing with a fairly lazy tosser who just wants to be there”.

 

*Read the full interview at www.newstatesman.com

 

COVER STORY: THE CHALLENGE OF ISLAM

 

In a provocative essay, David Selbourne argues that the west is “whistling in the dark” and crippled by “frightened self-censorship” in discussions around radical jihadist Islamism:

 

After the publication in the US in 2005 of my book The Losing Battle With Islam [US Secretary of State John] Kerry rang me to discuss the arguments in it. When he became secretary of state I told him (with some presumption) that the non-Muslim world is too unaware of what is afoot, hobbled by its wishful thinking and lack of knowledge, and whistling in the dark. In a position paper I wrote for him, I set out a list of the failures that the west, and especially the US, has on its hands. Among them are the failure to recognise the ambition of radical Islam; the failure to condemn the silence of most Muslims at the crimes committed in their names; the failure to respond adequately to the persecution of Christians in many Muslim lands; the failure to grasp the nature of the non-military skills that are being deployed against the non-Muslim world – skills of manoeuvre, skills in deceiving the gullible, skills in making temporary truces in order to gain time (as in Iran); and, perhaps above all, the failure to realise the scale and speed of Islam’s advance.

 

. . .

 

So where is the old left’s centuries-long espousal of free speech and free thought? Where is the spirit of Tom Paine? The answer is simple. It has been curbed by frightened self-censorship and by the stifling of debate, in a betrayal of the principles for which “progressives” were once prepared to go to the stake. And just as some Jews are too quick to call anti-Zionists “anti-Semites”, so some leftists are too quick to tar critics of Islam as “Islamophobes”.

 

In an essay on the “Arabisation” of Islam, Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, argues that the real battle is not between Islam and the west but between moderate and radical Muslims. Siddiqui urges Muslims to rescue their faith from hardliners:

 

There is no single Islamist threat. There is no unified vision of implementing sharia . . . the battle is among Muslims themselves; a battle for the very soul of Islam.

 

Selbourne paints a bleak political landscape and although many might disagree with his tone they will agree with his warnings. For me, as a Muslim, the issue is the conversations that Muslims are not having. Notwithstanding the current fears around terrorism and the power struggles in so many Muslim countries, there is a reluctance, even fear, of diverse ways of thinking and living in Islamic societies. There is also a propensity among many people in Islamic societies to undermine any kind of intellectualism, or critical inquiry about beliefs, traditions and institutions. The willingness to equate modernity with westernisation, and regard only certain cultural norms as the true expression of Islam, ensures a fear and control over people. People are either silenced or threatened.

 

Generosity and the spirit of intellectual inquiry, once hallmarks of Islamic civilisation, are being eclipsed by a gradual intolerance on so many levels. These are not symptoms of a yearning or a nostalgia, but a malaise that has made Islam appear a social and political anomaly in the eyes of many outside and inside the faith.

 

 

AMERICAN NOTEBOOK: DOUGLAS ALEXANDER

 

The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, travels to the US as David Axelrod joins Labour’s campaign. Stateside, he bumps into Tristram Hunt in a canteen at Harvard and meets Hillary Clinton as expectation mounts over a possible presidential run for the former secretary of state in 2016.

 

The day before the long Easter weekend, the papers are filled with coverage of David Axelrod joining the Labour campaign. After the Easter break, I’m on a plane to the United States, where I’ll be staying for four days.

 

My first destination is Harvard University. In the hotel canteen for breakfast, I unexpectedly run into my shadow cabinet colleague Tristram Hunt. It turns out that he’s on campus for meetings on education policy. Next, I see Mark Penn – Hillary Clinton’s pollster in 2008 and Labour’s pollster in 2005. It’s that kind of place.

 

. . .

 

Personally, the only race I run the next day is against myself in the gym. There, early in the morning, I catch the live interview with David Axelrod on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. For reasons I can’t quite figure out, the broadcast is aired live from the legendary baseball stadium Wrigley Field in Chicago. In the middle of the diamond-shaped field, in pre-dawn freezing conditions, there is Labour’s latest recruit, holding forth on the coming midterm elections, resplendent in his beloved Chicago Cubs jacket.

 

The interview makes me more relaxed about the British weather he will encounter when he arrives in London in a couple of weeks, but rather more nervous about the appropriate dress code for his strategy meetings at Labour HQ.

 

. . .

 

The next day, I fly west to a gathering that brings together Hillary Clinton and a number of senators from both sides of the aisle. The formal focus of the discussions is the Middle East but, inevitably, there is also much discussion of Ukraine . . . There is little doubt that her continuing celebrity status – even among her former colleagues in the Senate – reflects many people’s future hopes as much as her past achievements. The sense of expectation around a possible presidential run in 2016 is palpable.

 

 

RAFAEL BEHR: THE POLITICS COLUMN

 

Rafael Behr, political editor of the NS, explains that Nick Clegg’s decision to martyr himself as “commander of pro-EU forces” in the European parliamentary elections suits both Labour and the Tories:

 

Labour and the Tories are happy for the Lib Dems to martyr themselves for Europe, albeit for different reasons. Ed Miliband’s instincts on the subject are hardly distinguishable from Clegg’s. However, the Labour leader wants to use the campaign in May to develop the themes that will be central to his bid for Downing Street next year – the cost of living; the unfair distribution of rewards in a lopsided economy. Labour’s preferred method for countering Ukip incursions into its northern English heartlands is to depict the party as a virulent new mutant strain of Thatcherism.

 

David Cameron is more at ease talking about Europe as long as the conversation is limited to Labour’s reluctance to call a referendum and Farage’s inability to deliver one. Things get difficult for the Prime Minister when the question arises of how he would vote in that putative poll. The logic of his position is more pro-EU than he admits. The intent to renegotiate British membership is based on the assumption that any deal would be so attractive that Cameron could sell it as the centrepiece of the “in” campaign. It is also supposed to involve reforms that other member states can embrace as general improvements to European governance. He cannot spell out a plan in detail because Conservative backbenchers would denounce it as insufficient and Continental leaders would warn that it is unrealistic. The stability of the Conservative Party currently relies on the pretence that Cameron can broker something that looks simultaneously like a renewal of vows and a divorce to two different audiences.

 

*Read the Politics Column in full below

 

 

NS.COM INTERVIEW: CLIVE JAMES

 

In an exclusive video interview with Philip Maughan for newstatesman.com, the terminally ill poet and broadcaster Clive James reads his new poem “Driftwood Houses” (published in the NS of 18 April), and reflects on his career, family and the power of “simple, ordinary things”.

 

James tells Maughan he plans to abandon journalism over the coming months in order to start work on a new book. His forthcoming book of poetry criticism will be published this autumn, he says, “even if I drop off the twig”.

 

Plus

 

Laurie Penny: Nigel Farage may look like he’s acting in a farce but he’s no joke

On Location: Will Self gets the measure of Manchester

Dimi Reider on the reconciliation pact between Hamas and Fatah

Philip Maughan on the legacy of the young, gifted writer Marina Keegan

Tom Humberstone wonders how Vlad will take Barack’s sanctions

Michael Brooks on the international commotion over leap seconds

Sophie McBain explores what our names say about our ancestors – and our chances of privilege

The NS television critic Rachel Cooke on three great new cop dramas

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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