Jason Cowley: Jeremy Corbyn’s hermit security is not an option for the UK as world order crumbles.
Letter from the Beqaa Valley: Xan Rice on the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon.
Letter from South Carolina: Laurie Penny survives a Donald Trump rally on board the USS Yorktown.
Owen Jones: Across Europe, the radical left’s moment has come.
George Eaton: can anyone unite the divided Labour Party?
Rowan Williams on alchemy, miracles and witchcraft – the history of magic.
E is for the “Ed Stone”: Helen Lewis, Anoosh Chakelian, Stephen Bush and Caroline Crampton round up the A to Z of the political year – plus our pick of the best political cartoons of 2015.
“The Kill Fee” by Ian Rankin: a new short story.
The rocker Wilko Johnson talks to Kate Mossman about life after near-death.
Rev Richard Coles on the story of a displaced family in need of emergency shelter – “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”
Andrew Harrison on the return of The X-Files: can the hit American show survive in a post-9/11 world?
The New Statesman poems of the year with Clive James – plus “Lineage” a new poem for Christmas by Carol Ann Duffy.
Daisy Dunn on Greece, Rome and what the classics mean today.
Jason Cowley: hermit security is not an option for the UK as the world order crumbles.
In a column for the Christmas and New Year issue, the NS editor, Jason Cowley, argues that Jeremy Corbyn’s isolationist and utopian world-view is out of step with the British electorate and will prevent him from being taken seriously by world leaders:
He never speaks about the national interest and, because his politics were forged in the fires of the upheavals of the late 1960s and the anti-Vietnam War protests, his instinct is to denounce “Western imperialism”. As he told Stop the War’s Christmas fundraising dinner, “I’m not interested in bombs. I want a world of peace.”
No one sane wants a world of war but sometimes nation states must fight for peace. It’s not something that arrives gift-wrapped. To approach every conflict with fixed, preconceived positions is to reduce the complexity of statecraft to a student slogan as well as to show little feeling for what Max Weber described as “the tragic sense of life, the awareness of unresolvable discord, contradictions and conflict which are inherent in the nature of things and which human reason is powerless to solve”.
[. . .]
Corbyn is correct to assert and defend his positions – he won an astounding mandate in September and knows he has the support of most of the members and activists. But he must do more than speak to the converted. What the Labour leader needs most pressingly is to understand better the country of which he aspires to become prime minister. Perhaps he doesn’t want to – after all, he has spent his entire career surrounded by people just like him – but he needs to make the effort all the same if he is ever to be taken seriously by world leaders.
Some on the left may wish it otherwise but Britain remains a great power and, indeed, a force for good when world order seems to be crumbling.
Cowley suggests that Corbyn’s “peacenik advisers” would do well to spend the Christmas holidays reading the historian John Bew’s latest book, Realpolitik: a History. He also warns:
We can’t simply turn away from what’s happening and wish it wasn’t so. A condition of hermit security isn’t possible in such an interconnected world.
Letter from the Beqaa Valley: Xan Rice on the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon.
Six million people live in Lebanon. Today, one in every four of them is a Syrian refugee. The NS features editor, Xan Rice, spent five days in the Beqaa Valley to find out how the refugee crisis is affecting the country:
Turn your back on the Mediterranean in Beirut, drive east along the highway, and you’re soon in the foothills of Mount Lebanon, the range that runs along the country’s spine. As the road gets steeper, the grey urban sprawl gives way to conifer forest and the summer apartments of wealthy city-dwellers seeking to escape the coastal heat. Higher still, the turns become sharper and old VW combis are parked by the roadside with the rear door open to show off Italian coffee machines. A hot drink is tempting; it is winter now, and soon the slopes will be covered with snow. Close to the summit, at 1,500 metres, is the first Lebanese army checkpoint, and a sign in Arabic and French confirming the way to the frontière syrienne. This is the road to Damascus.
The far side of the mountain is more barren and beyond it unfolds a wide, fertile plain known as the Beqaa Valley – the north-easternmost extension of the transcontinental Great Rift Valley. The Beqaa is famed for its archaeological ruins, vineyards, “Red Leb” cannabis and agricultural produce. In recent years it has become known for something else: Syrian refugees.
It was here in the central Beqaa, not far from the Beirut-to-Damascus highway, that Mona Chamali arrived one day in November 2013. She was with her husband, Abdurrahman, her four daughters, aged between eight and 18, and her two sons, in their early teens. It was their first time in Lebanon. They brought a few carpets and mattresses and savings in the form of gold jewellery – all that remained of their lives in Syria.
“When we got here the first feeling was just relief that we were safe, that the children were safe,” Mona told me recently.
As the refugees’ struggles have mounted, so, too, has a sense of unease among Lebanese about the impact on their country, Rice reports:
Poorer Lebanese complain that the refugees are taking their jobs and driving down wages. Syrian migrants have long worked in agriculture and construction, but refugees have entered many other sectors, from the taxi business to restaurants and retail. On the streets of downtown Beirut, Syrian boys shine shoes and offer to “kiss your feet for a dollar”. Girls sell roses.
Laurie Penny: Letter from South Carolina
At a rally on board the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier rented out by Team Trump, Laurie Penny finds that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is no longer funny but frightening:
The aircraft carrier is an enormous hulk of metal menacing the sunset. Inside, everything that isn’t a gun or a flag has a picture of a gun or a flag on it. Cheesy rock music pounds under the floodlights. The room is already packed; we have to push through to the back to find standing room. Despite the police, this is a private event, as the organisers make clear. The crowd is encouraged to surround any suspected troublemakers and point them out by yelling “Trump, Trump, Trump!”
[. . .]
After some customary bashing of his Republican rivals, who are weak and stupid, we get on to the meat of the matter: Muslims and what to do about them. Trump’s theme is the recent murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, by two killers of Muslim descent. He conveniently avoids the reality that most of the hundreds of mass shootings in America this year alone have been perpetrated by white men. Nor, more pertinently, does he mention one of the deadliest hate crimes in decades on American soil, in June 2015, when the white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, just over the water. That’s not the kind of terrorism that Donald Trump’s followers care about.
“We have to look at mosques,” Trump says. “We have no choice. Something is happening in there. We have to be strong. Don’t worry about profiling.” Then comes the money quote. “Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Thunderous applause. This is what we have all been waiting for. He’s done it again: he has said something so outrageous that nobody else would dare to go there, so he must be telling the truth.
Whether or not Trump becomes president is, at this stage, beside the point, Penny argues:
A Donald Trump presidency looks about as likely as – actually, it looks about as likely as a victory for Hitler looked in 1924, when Weimar Germany considered the Nazis a joke, albeit one that Jews, gay people and gypsies could already see wasn’t funny. But democracy does not begin and end at the ballot box. Donald Trump has shifted the conversation about race, immigration, health care, abortion and national security sharply to the right and in the process made the rest of the Republican Party look sane.
Owen Jones: across Europe, the radical left’s moment has come.
Owen Jones reflects on a year in which the idealistic left gained power across Europe:
Social democracy, in its established form, is imploding. Its original social base – an alliance of the industrial working class and the progressive middle class – has fragmented. Social democrats’ acceptance of pro-market nostrums in the 1990s and 2000s left their political mission ever vaguer. When mainstream social democracy – however reluctantly – embraced austerity, attacking its own supporters and leaving it without any clear purpose (what is a social democrat who doesn’t support public investment?), it left a desperately large vacuum. Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum, so this has been filled.
But even securing power was not enough in itself, as the example of Greece showed:
Syriza inspired people like me not just because Greece had been left shattered and immiserated, its youth robbed of jobs and its hospitals of medical supplies. We thought that if Syriza won concessions from its tormentors, that would embolden similar political forces across Europe.
Unfortunately, the EU’s leaders may be ruthless but they are not stupid, and these hopes were their fears. Under no circumstances could the revolt of tiny Greece be seen to succeed in any way, or it would spread. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, admitted it was “political contagion” rather than “financial contagion” that was feared from Greece, and he warned of 1968-style unrest sweeping the continent. A courageous and overwhelming rejection of the EU’s austerity package by the Greek people – OXI! – in a referendum led to short-lived euphoria. The most radical left-wing government ever democratically elected in Europe was compelled to implement the most right-wing economic policies on the continent. Syriza had led a revolt; now it was leading a semi-colonial regime, implementing policies it violently rejected, at the behest of foreign powers.
George Eaton: can anyone unite the divided Labour Party?
Although the Labour leader has survived longer than his detractors believed he would – many had predicted that Jeremy Corbyn would be “gone before Christmas” – the NS’s political editor, George Eaton, argues that the split in the party between MPs and members appears ever more intractable:
Surveying a party more profoundly divided than for thirty years, Frank Field, the Labour chair of the work and pensions committee, suggested the election of two leaders: one to represent MPs and one to represent members. Neither side will endorse the proposal but it exposes Labour’s fragmentation. Corbyn has both a stronger mandate among members and a weaker mandate among MPs than any of his predecessors. The question that both sides daily contemplate is whether anyone can command support among both.
Until Corbyn or an alternative is capable of doing so, Labour will remain united in name but divided in spirit.
Arts Interview: Kate Mossman meets the rocker Wilko Johnson.
The NS arts editor Kate Mossman meets the singer and guitarist Wilko Johnson who, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, has now been given a clean bill of health and a new lease of life. So what next for the ageing rocker?
”Tell you what, you can take my PPI refund and shove it up your f***king arse, you c**t!”
Wilko Johnson is well again. In spring last year, he was delivered of the three-kilogram tumour he thought would claim his life, and now he is dealing with a cosmic anticlimax: declaring in public that he was going to die, and then not doing so.
The euphoria with which Wilko was meeting his end – captured magically in Julien Temple’s recent documentary The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson – has evaporated, but he is better-tempered than he used to be, he says, after replacing the receiver on the unfortunate cold-caller.
[. . .]
His was a story so improbable, he tells me, it would have been rejected by publishers if it were a novel, “then sent to a soap opera, and they wouldn’t want it either”. The cancer diagnosis, the decision not to treat it, the public farewell. The full-on career revival that followed. The hit album with Roger Daltrey, the world tours and more press than he’d had since 1977. Then an amateur rock photographer, who just happens to be an oncologist, is watching you at one of your farewell gigs, gets backstage and tells you that if you really had what they said you have, you’d be flat on your back by now. Turns out your cancer is operable. You go in to hospital flanked by your best friend (a boxer) and a Japanese lady. The fan who saved your life is called Charlie Chan.
The most stubborn man in rock tells Mossman that he avoided visiting his band mate Lee Brilleaux, the lead singer of Dr Feelgood, in the final days of his life:
“I let it be known, that yes, I’d like to see him, but I would actually like someone to come and get me and take me there. I’m not going to go and knock on his fucking door, you know? But no one took me there.”
We also hear of Johnson’s unorthodox family Christmases with a collection of Japanese groupies:
Until recently there was another woman living in Wilko’s house – a Japanese lady called Yuriko, who moved over to nurse him after his operation. “She’s only little,” he says, “and she’d push me in my wheelchair right through the corridors, out of the hospital and right out to the perimeter fence. I’d be leaning on the fence, pretending I was in the country, while in fact there’s all these tubes coming off me . . . I was pathetic.”
He explains that Yuriko was one of his groupies from the old days.
“There were several Japanese girls like this,” he says, “They were what you would call girls rather than women. And they used to come and stay for Christmas. Poor Simon grew up thinking Christmas was a time when the house filled up with Japanese ladies who taught him how to count and swear in Japanese.”
Christmas Column: Rev Richard Coles
In a guest column, the Rev Richard Coles considers the meaning of the Christmas story:
Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it brings Nativities – and another opportunity to consider the widening gap between what we custodians of the religious tradition make of it, and what everyone else does. At one school I visited recently, instead of Three Wise Men, Three Nutty Professors presented gifts to God Incarnate. At my first Nativity here in the parish of Finedon, Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior were joined at the crib by Darth Vader. Another time, someone replaced the Baby Jesus in the manger with a plastic velociraptor, which sent quite the wrong message, at least as far as I was concerned.
[. . .]
The Nativity is the story of a displaced family in critical need seeking emergency shelter during a housing crisis. In the well-known version, they are shoved round the back of a pub in a sort of lean-to, and I think of those shoddily converted garages let to recent arrivals in the UK, lit by the unearthly light of TVs and PCs rather than wandering stars, visited not by kings but housing officers.
Anthony Loyd analyses the emergence of Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Douglas Alexander reviews John Bew’s new book and argues that we need to rediscover the meaning of “realpolitik”.
Encounter: Stephen Bush talks to Bernard Donoughue about what makes a Labour prime minister.
Peter Wilby: Michael Gove “the fanatical neocon” appears in a quite different light as the Justice Secretary – he should be praised for his guts.
Paul Kingsnorth on how technology is making us forget what it means to be truly human.
The Mog creator, Judith Kerr, pays tribute to her father, the German Jewish émigré and theatre critic Alfred Kerr.
Henry Wilkins goes in search of the last private investigators in London.
The TV critic Rachel Cooke on why the BBC owns the Christmas holidays this year.
Ed Smith: sportsmen are victims of the myth of their own stupidity.
Food: Felicity Cloake on Boxing Day curry and the feeding of the 4,000 at Crisis centres.
A winter reflection from the award-winning writer Helen Macdonald.