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29 July 2015

In this week’s magazine | The Summer Double Issue

A first look at the new issue.

By New Statesman



Jeremy Corbyn talks to Jason Cowley about the EU, Nato, Greece and whether he would quit if he won the Labour leadership.

The Leader: Labour MPs are at war with their own party members.

John Gray: What Hayek got right – and what he got wrong.

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Stephen Bush on the hidden influence of Blair and Brown on Labour’s leadership election.

John Bew wonders whether Jeremy Corbyn is really the heir to Clement Attlee.

Rowan Williams reflects on violence and religion as inevitable consequences of human nature.

PLUS: An exclusive short story by Jeanette Winterson, a poem by Clive James, and friends of the NS nominate books that every 16-year-old should read.

Jason Cowley meets the left’s new hero, Jeremy Corbyn 

The New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, meets Jeremy Corbyn, currently the surprise front-runner in the Labour leadership race. 

On Europe, Corbyn says the world’s treatment of Greece has made him question the future of the EU:

“Taken slightly historically, the turning point in the EU was actually the Single European Act, the Thatcher/Maastricht-era stuff, which was turning the EU into very much a market system,” he says. “Setting up an independent European Central Bank, which then promotes the euro, and I think the sheer brutality of the way they’ve treated Greece, makes me question an awful lot. The other side of it is, I think, that Labour should be making demands about working arrangements across Europe, about levels of corporate taxation across Europe. There has to be agreement on environmental regulation . . . Why are we leaving it all to [David] Cameron to put together a statement, when he’s had no negotiations with anybody?”

He returns to the plight of Greece. “Look at it another way: if we allow unaccountable forces to destroy an economy like Greece, when all that bailout money isn’t going to the Greek people, it’s going to various banks all across Europe, then I think we need to think very, very carefully about what role they [the EU] are playing and what role we are playing in that.”


Corbyn also sets out his foreign policy agenda – an end to Trident and withdrawal from Nato:

He supports the abolition of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent (“nuclear weapons are immoral”) as well as withdrawal from Nato (“I’d rather we weren’t in it”) – issues that contributed to the Labour split in 1981. A hard Eurosceptic, he told me he had not “closed his mind” to Brexit – so I was slightly surprised to read on 29 July that he had issued a statement arguing that Britons should not “walk away” but “fight together for a better Europe”.


However, although he is a republican, the monarchy gets a reprieve for the moment:

He is a republican, but abolition of the monarchy can wait, because “my priority is social justice”. He supports the removal of the charitable status of independent, fee-paying schools (“I’m not saying we’re going to get rid of them straight away”) and he would force state-funded academies and free schools to return to local authority control (“I would bring them back into the orbit of local education authorities”).


Cowley asks Corbyn what his plan is to win voters who did not choose Labour last time – for instance, in England, south of the Severn-Wash line, excluding London, Labour holds just 11 of the 197 seats.

Corbyn says: “Let’s erase the line for a moment and talk about the whole of Britain, where 36 per cent of the electorate didn’t vote . . . the registration system mitigates against young people registering. And so I think we have to think in terms of the disillusioned who didn’t vote. We can grow the electorate: the Obama strategy, actually, that’s a lot of what Obama did.”

Corbyn also dismisses suggestions he would stand down if he won the contest:

“Listen, if we win this election, we’re in it for the long run . . . I hope the party would want to hold together and I’m sure it would. I hope the party would recognise that the most democratic election we have held has produced an important result and has mobilised more importantly a very large number of people. I’ve never seen so many people at Labour Party meetings.” 


John Gray on Friedrich Hayek, darling of the New Right

In this wide-ranging essay, John Gray discusses the relationship between the Nobel-winning Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek – whom he met – and John Maynard Keynes, and what Hayek got right and what he got wrong.

Hayek was most original when he argued that the market is a means of discovering and transmitting information that is dispersed throughout society. It was this insight into the knowledge-creating function of markets that enabled him to formulate a decisive argument against central economic planning.

[. . .]

[His] blind spot with regard to politics was clear in the early 1980s when the first Thatcher government, in an attempt to reduce inflation and bring the public finances closer to a balanced budget, was raising interest rates and cutting public spending. As he had done during the 1930s, Hayek attacked these policies as not being severe enough. It would be better, he told me in a conversation we had around this time, if Thatcher imposed a more drastic contraction on the economy so that the wage-setting power of the trade unions could be broken. He appeared unfazed by unemployment, which was already higher (more than three million people) than at any time since the 1930s, and would rise much further if his recommendations were accepted.  

Stephen Bush asks: Where are Labour’s giants?

The editor of The Staggers, Stephen Bush, argues that Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham are still suffering from the legacy of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair – in an unexpected way.

Like Ed Miliband, [Cooper] is notorious among mandarins for her inability to make decisions. At one department, she is said to have left behind a car boot full of unsigned papers and unopened boxes. At another, the minister who came after her apparently met piles of unanswered correspondence.

That said, very few New Labour ministers are regarded positively by their former civil servants. One departmental staffer estimates that, of the dozen or so ministers they served under, just three were able to make decisions quickly and effectively.

Why? This is one occasion when the fault really does lie with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Bush says that, of the two New Labour titans, Blair was too little interested in who came after him, and so neglected to ensure that a Blairite flame would keep burning after he left Downing Street. Brown had the opposite problem:

The Brown camp spiked the careers of several would-be heavyweights before their man got going in 2007, managing selections to head off potential rivals, slowing the progress of ministerial colleagues who could have challenged him. This is why none of the post-Brown candidates for the Labour leadership – not the Miliband brothers, not Kendall, not Cooper and not Burnham – have looked quite like the genuine article. They survived precisely because they were never a threat to Brown. 

John Bew: Corbyn is not the heir to Attlee

John Bew, who is writing a biography of Clement Attlee, warns Labour about recasting him as an uncomplicated hero of the left.

Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters see in Attlee both the victorious outsider and the embodiment of Ken Loach’s “spirit of ’45” – the moment when the British public showed it had just been waiting for a truly socialist agenda. Such comforting myths, recently recycled by Owen Jones, Billy Bragg and Clare Short, are not new. When Attlee’s majority was reduced to five seats in February 1950, despite Labour having won an even higher portion of the popular vote than in 1945, Richard Crossman consoled himself that 13 million people had voted for pure socialism. Forget the loss of more than a hundred seats – this was progress! 

Leader: Labour MPs are at war with the party’s members

In this week’s Leader, we warn that Labour is heading for a split – between its MPs and party members. This could have been avoided if there had been more scrutiny in the last parliament of Ed Miliband’s reforms to rules governing leadership contests.

While it would be manifestly wrong to change the rules midway through a contest (although it is incumbent on Labour to carry out background checks of those registering as supporters to vote), urgent reform will be necessary, not least because Labour MPs have been so disempowered.

The Conservative model provides a possible template: MPs vote on their choice of leader and only their two most favoured candidates are presented to the members, who make the final decision. This process ensures that any leader will be acceptable to the MPs as well as having the broad support of the membership.



Edward Platt profiles the Morning Star newspaper and meets its new editor – a young, Mandarin-speaking Oxford graduate.

Laurie Penny: London may be a plutocrat’s playground but there’s still a commune here for me to call home.

Helen Macdonald welcomes her favourite sign of summer: the brief season for glow-worms.

Xan Rice goes to Brussels to meet a man who speaks 32 languages.

Christopher Frayling on the evolution of Bond villains.