Issue of 15 – 21 January 2016
Cover story: David Bowie
A tribute to the man who reinvented pop culture, by John Burnside, Paul Du Noyer, John Gray, Philip Hoare, Olivia Laing, Kate Mosse, Kate Mossman, Will Self and Yo Zushi.
Dan Jarvis: Labour must face up to why it lost in order to renew itself as a force for change.
Labour vows to draw a line under conflict but who will dictate terms? George Eaton on yesterday’s shadow cabinet exchange between Andy Burnham and John McDonnell.
Robert Skidelsky: George Osborne has presided over a fragile, incomplete and unfair recovery.
Helen Lewis: The junior doctors’ strike demands our solidarity.
Peter Wilby on the sting in the tail of the Prime Minister’s plan for “sink” estates.
Felix Martin: When successful investors warn of a global market crash,
we should all be nervous.
A pivotal year in modern history? Andrew Marr reviews two new books about 1956.
Arise Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton? Kevin Maguire on the tearoom gossip about a title for the retiring Prime Minister.
Guest Column: Dan Jarvis
The Labour MP for Barnsley Central, Dan Jarvis, argues that only his party “can build a national movement of all classes to lead the country into a great age of reform and social renewal”. But in order to do so it must first face an uncomfortable truth:
Until Labour accepts the lessons of two successive election defeats [. . .] we will not renew our politics and reconnect with the public. During the election I campaigned up and down the country. People frequently told me that although they knew the Tories were unfair and represented the interests of the better-off, they did not trust Labour with their taxes. We have to win back their trust.
That’s why we need to publish our official party inquiry into why we lost [in 2015]. Once we understand that we have been out of step with the electorate, we can start to build our political recovery and respond to the policy challenges Britain faces.
Looking ahead, Jarvis proposes that 2016 “should be about Labour renewal: renewing our structures, politics, policies and how we work. The debate will be passionate and tough but we have a membership the Conservatives can only dream of.” He warns, however, against using online polling to make policy:
The branch meetings and committee meetings that worked for us in the past don’t now. Our old party structures need to change and become more flexible. Tom Watson, our deputy leader, is working hard to make Labour a party of the digital age. The internet plays an important role helping people who are busy juggling kids and work to engage with the party. Social media attracted many of our new members into the party and will be essential for keeping them engaged.
But we need to make sure that our members can contribute fully, beyond the odd online poll. These short-circuit institutional checks and balances on those in power, they lead to poorly designed policy, and if they are conducted online, they exclude those without access to the internet.
George Eaton: All sides in Labour want unity – but on whose terms?
As internal divisions in Labour Party, the NS political editor, George Eaton, reports on an apparent truce between Andy Burnham and John McDonnell:
The mood at the first shadow cabinet meeting of the year on 12 January was sombre. “We can’t go on like this,” Burnham told colleagues. To the surprise of some present, McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally, agreed, vowing to “draw a line” under recent conflicts. All sides in Labour recognise that unity, a quality revered by the wider labour movement, is desirable. The question that divides them is: “On whose terms?” Corbyn’s recent reshuffle further polarised a party that is more profoundly split than at any time since the 1980s.
Eaton also notes that Burnham has pledged to resign if Labour endorses abolition of the Trident nuclear missile system, and two other shadow cabinet ministers say they would follow. The most despondent members of the party tell Eaton that “the only unity in sight [. . .] is that of the dead”.
Read George Eaton’s NS.com interview with Owen Smith, MP for Pontypridd, in which he expresses an interest in the Labour leadership.
The Staggers editor, Stephen Bush, on a motion to remove Jeremy Corbyn’s PPS, Steve Rotheram, from Labour’s National Executive Committee.
Robert Skidelsky: George Osborne has presided over a fragile, incomplete and unfair recovery.
In an essay for this week’s issue, the economic historian Robert Skidelsky argues that, far from running full steam ahead, the British economy has been damaged by austerity and our ability to produce output has been weakened:
The recovery from the financial crisis was the weakest on record, and the result of this is a yawning gap between where we are and where we should have been. Output per head is between 10 and 15 per cent below trend
Skidelsky concedes that the Chancellor, George Osborne, can
. . . justifiably congratulate himself on having avoided the worst disasters to which Treasury accounting rules and narrow ideology could have led him. But in the non-political recesses of his mind he must understand that the recovery over which he has presided is incomplete, fragile and, above all, unfair.
The first necessary step is to reform the way we do our national accounts, in order to dispel the deficit and debt phobia that blights sensible policy.
Peter Wilby on David Cameron’s grand plan for sink estates.
In his First Thoughts column this week, Peter Wilby notes that the Prime Minister returned from the Christmas break reassuringly “invigorated with new ideas”:
Among those that David Cameron discussed on The Andrew Marr Show and scattered like confetti across the Sunday and Monday papers was a plan to get rid of “sink” estates comprising “brutal high-rise towers”, where poverty is “entrenched” and social problems “fester”, and replace them with better housing. Naturally, this is not to be done with state money, except for a £140m start-up fund. The intention, as most of such estates occupy prime urban land, is to persuade developers to build high-value private homes, the proceeds from which fund regeneration for the rest of the estate.
The plan might sound enlightened but, Wilby notes, it will result in a net loss of affordable housing:
The Sunday Times helpfully explained how this will work. The model, it reported, is the Packington estate in Islington, north London, where 538 “structurally unsound flats” were replaced by 791 houses and flats, 491 of them for social rent. In other words, the housing available for people on modest incomes fell by 8.7 per cent.
Helen Lewis on why the doctors are right to strike.
The NS deputy editor, Helen Lewis, considers the lot of junior doctors and decides that their strike demands our solidarity:
If I had any doubts about the junior doctors’ strike, they were dispelled by the Sun’s hatchet job on 10 January. The paper – which, like all newspapers, is exclusively staffed by vegan, teetotal hermit monks on the minimum wage – trawled through the Facebook pages of junior doctors who are also reps for the British Medical Association, the industry’s trade body. It brought us the shocking news that some of them were “champagne-swilling” (translation: champagne-drinking) “socialists” (translation: advocates for better pay and conditions). Others had the temerity to “enjoy lavish holidays and parties” (go abroad, go to the pub) and some even “own £500,000 homes” (otherwise known as the average price of a home in London).
[. . .]
NHS doctors are already paid substantially less than they could get through private practice, or by emigrating to one of the many English-speaking countries that would be only too delighted to have them. You’ll notice that the free marketeers are suspiciously silent on this issue: the “going rate” for a senior registrar is far more than they are getting.
Instead, we are told to hate doctors because they have holidays and homes and access to carbonated alcohol. It’s a tactic designed to undermine support for the NHS and the left should have no part of it.
David Bowie (1947-2016): A tribute.
For this week’s cover story, writers reflect on the meaning of David Bowie. For Philip Hoare,
. . . the problem with writing about Bowie is that we are all writing about ourselves. That’s how important he was. For a suburban boy in Southampton in the 1970s, there were few expectations of transcendence. If I’d thought at all about my future, I would have felt sorry for the boy I was, rather than the person I would become. But in 1972 Bowie reached out of the television in our front room and, posing like a corrupt, tinselled Nijinsky, pulled me into an entirely new world of art and otherness. Like Oscar Wilde before him, he commodified decadence for the suburbs, an everyday alien in a telephone box, a queer messiah in a man-dress.
Although he admits that he cried when he heard Bowie had died, Will Self explains that he was not a Bowie obsessive:
I engaged fervidly with his music at times, then cooled and drifted away. I might’ve been expected to cleave to the work of his heroin-addled Berlin years but I didn’t: Bowie loomed so large, was so fucking big during those years, that it became a point of honour for anyone with pretensions to being avant-garde to try to avoid him.
Paul Du Noyer, who met Bowie on several occasions in his “sober elder-statesman phase”, encountered a “stubbornly extrovert wallflower” who disliked interviews but always managed to turn on the charm:
He was like someone who had studied how to pass as human by watching others, and who now practised his normality as carefully as a spy. But I wonder if he yearned to be simply David Jones from Bromley all over again.
[. . .]
And yet, to the end, he could not stop making art that defied banality. David Jones had willed himself into becoming David Bowie, and there really was no way back to Bromley.
On the day Bowie’s death was announced Kate Mosse felt transported back to her childhood bedroom.
Vinyl stacked on the floor. Fourteen or 15 in an unflattering school uniform, playing “Station to Station” over and over. Lifting up the stylus at the end of the track to drop it again back on the LP, the hiss and crack of the portable record player, the sound of metal on metal of the railway tracks as the song began again. I was the girl with the mousy hair in “Life on Mars” or a Kook, or dancing around to the honky-tonk beat of “The Prettiest Star”.
Hou Hsiao-hsien: The art-house grand master on his award-winning
new martial arts epic, The Assassin.
Laurie Penny on David Bowie: Give thanks to a man who made it OK to be weird.
Letter from Madrid: Alistair Dawber on how the rise of Podemos has led to political paralysis in Spain.
John Berger on the void of history and the Iraqi poet Abdulkareem Kasid.
Books: Frances Wilson on the evolution of Vanity Fair from Bunyan to Condé Nast and Erica Wagner reads a startling French memoir of the Holocaust, But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens.
Film: Ryan Gilbey revels in the confines of Lenny Abrahamson’s Room.
Tim Wigmore attends an evening with the Big Short author, Michael Lewis.
Science: Michael Brooks argues that our ability to predict the future
does nothing to change it.
For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396