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6 November 2013updated 26 Sep 2015 10:46am

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.

By New Statesman

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

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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.”




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.”


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”.


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.”


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.”


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