In the Critics this week

David Walliams talks to Russell Brand, Kwame Kwei-Armah in Baltimore, Tony Blair on Philip Gould and Jonathan Coe on state-of-the-nation novels.

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In the Critics section of this week’s New Statesman, guest-edited by David Miliband, David Walliams interviews Russell Brand. While Brand seems unaware of who David Miliband is ( “he’s the leader of the Labour Party through this period of opposition”), he has plenty to say on everything from the meaning of Britishness to socialism as “the politicisation of spirituality”. “If I see an image of Her Majesty the Queen, I wince with national pride”, says Brand when asked about his attitude to the monarchy. “As much as I abhor the concept of monarchy – it being the apotheosis of a class structure – on a practical level, I think: “Fucking hell, the royal wedding, the jubilee!”" Walliams asks Brand whether he feels removed from party politics: “Both the parties in the two-party system occupy such a central territory that I regard it as irrelevant. I think that there needs to be massive social upheaval from the left.” Brand tries not to be too judgemental, when asked about how he feels about the tabloid press now: “I know a few people who know Rupert Murdoch and they say he’s a really nice man!”
 
In this week's Critic at large essay, Kwame Kwei-Armah examines his place as a black British immigrant to America. America’s supremacy is such that it “not only attracts people from all over the world but demands an assimilation to it even if you do not reside within its borders”, Kwei-Armah observes. “Unlike in Britain, almost every immigrant that arrives in this country gets a version of an American accent within a few moments of touching down.” So why has he clung to his British roots and his accent, Kwei-Armah asks, even when “so many of us black Brits were raised on a strict diet of African-American music, television and dance”? “The updated 19th-century stereotype of the lazy, shiftless, criminally minded persons of African descent” persists in the American conversation, and Kwei-Armah wonders whether his black British peers are answering white America’s racial anxiety “by clipping our Ts a little more and emphasising our linguistic non-rhotic roots.” Perhaps it is time to let go.
 
In Books, Robert Kuttner considers Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality. The economist’s “refusal to pull his punches” has left him an outsider in Washington’s corridors of power. “That is a huge loss for sensible policy”, Kuttner laments. In The Price of Inequality, Stiglitz’s “rare combination of virtuoso technical economist, witty polemicist and public intellectual” is all on display. Moving beyond its social effects, Stiglitz shows how rising inequality produces a macroeconomic drag. Importantly, he argues that this economic inequality is accompanied by a significantly uneven influence on the setting of economic rules. “This puts at risk not just decent capitalism but democracy, too”, warns Kuttner.
 
In the Books interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Carmen Bugan, author of Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police – a memoir of Bugan’s childhood in communist Romania and her father’s imprisonment by the secret police. Bugan explains her decision to write the memoir in English, not Romanian. “Leaving the language was related to political suffocation, which I’d internalised since childhood”. She describes her search for a language in which to articulate her resistance to the regime: “I went back to the older Romanian poets who, for me, were innocent. They belonged to something that was not part of the conversation of totalitarianism.”
 
Also in Books, Philip Gould’s When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone leads Tony Blair to reflect on his friend’s journey towards death from cancer. “The book is transcendent, consigning death to its proper place, seizing each precious moment and making it last – and through the intensity of his last months, achieving a legacy that survives the mortal coil,” Blair finds. Gould’s genius as a political strategist lay in his “ability to step back from the data and the surface noise”, and the same beauty of expression runs through his book. Above all, When I Die is the story of accepting the final moment itself. “I knew Philip,” Blair writes, “but I felt as I read this that I was being introduced to someone new, someone different.”
 
Elswhere in the Critics: a new poem by Christopher Reid; Amanda Levete on designing a new courtyard for the V&A; James Lyons on the virtues of a trip to the north-east seaside; James Naughtie on Les Troyens; Antonia Quirke on E L James’ appearance on Magic FM’s book club; Jonathan Coe on our obsession with state-of-the-nation novels, and Will Self visits Mishkin’s in London. 
 
Reborn in the USA: Kwame Kwei-Armah (Photo:Getty)