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19 April 2023

Letter of the week: The NS great and the good

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By New Statesman

Helen Lewis writes (Notebook, 14 April), “Can it really be a full decade since the 100th anniversary of the New Statesman?” I’m similarly inclined to ask: can it really be 60 years since I acquired two books by Edward Hyams on the first 50 years of the NS (one on the history, the other an anthology)? I had been reading it every week since 1957.

When I was a presenter on the BBC German Service, I knew all Westminster politicians with good spoken German, including Richard Crossman. In 1970, when he was the New Statesman editor, I interviewed Crossman for a programme on John Maynard Keynes. As chairman of the NS board, Keynes took a great interest in the weekly issue and, when assistant editor (1938-40), Crossman had to go to see him on or before press day every week at his home in Bloomsbury, with the proofs. Halfway through the interview we were interrupted by Anthony Howard, then the NS political editor, who was bursting to tell the editor what he had just heard from a US senator. Later, I became one of Howard’s editors on the World Tonight programme on BBC Radio 4.
Harry Schneider, London NW7

[See also: Letter of the week: A multipolar world]

Golden years

The late 1970s enjoys near mythical status in the history of the NS, as evident from the 110th anniversary issue. Julian Barnes’s reminiscences (“How to Make a Magazine”, 14 April) took me back 40 years, when I was a PhD student: my thesis was a history of the magazine’s original incarnation. I spent weeks mining the archives at Great Turnstile but not once swapped aperçus with Martin Amis or hung out with Christopher Hitchens. While they were down the pub sorting out the world or lauding Saul Bellow, I was eating my sandwiches in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The only member of staff I ever met was the editor, Bruce Page. When I found files at Kew identifying the founding editor, Clifford Sharp, as a spy, Bruce relished the irony – almost every week the paper carried a piece on espionage, so now it would expose one of its own. I was astonished to find my account of Sharp’s anti-Bolshevik activities run as a cover story.

The suggestion that Sharp was a spy came from Norman MacKenzie, whose colourful CV included 20 years as Kingsley Martin’s assistant editor. Norman divided his time between advising the education secretary of state Shirley Williams and editing the letters of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Norman was extraordinarily generous with his time. Most documents related to the New Statesman can be found at the LSE, or in the voluminous archive that Bloomsbury grandees such as Leonard Woolf and Quentin Bell established at Sussex in the 1960s.
Adrian Smith, emeritus professor of modern history, University of Southampton

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On the offensive

To say I agree with Andrew Marr is a gross understatement (“How Labour lost the moral high ground”, 14 April). I can’t conceive, from Keir Starmer down, who thought these social media attack ads were a good idea. They are lazy tropes with about enough thought behind them to shame a bright primary-school child. Facile enterprises like this can only bring retribution, and soon it will be open season on both sides.
Judith A Daniels, Cobholm, Norfolk

I read Andrew Marr’s dinner-party sermon just before going on a Saturday-evening shift as a listening volunteer. Hearing the real-life health (mainly mental), financial and social challenges of callers has taught me that nothing matters more than ridding the country of this government. But it appears the UK electorate is not open to Marr’s style of reasoned argument. So instead, they have to be shocked into understanding where the blame lies for the disintegration of the UK.

Sad, but the reality of today’s politics.
Richard Bentley, Blackborough, Devon

The age of AI

Jason Cowley (Editor’s Note, 14 April) is right: we are in an age of profound transition. This year will be remembered as a pivotal time in the world of work. The age of AI probably began with 100 million people joining ChatGPT in two months at the start of 2023. It is already transforming every sector that relies on communication. Too many people are in denial about this.

Policymakers, as Cowley’s column notes, are wholly unprepared. Without transformation in our political structures – to guarantee global ethical frameworks for artificial intelligence – this change will be almost entirely beyond our control.
Josiah Mortimer, London SW2

Profumo’s redemption

Richard Ingrams is wrong to say that John Profumo was “never heard of again” following the Christine Keeler affair (Encounter, 14 April). Soon afterwards, he began work as a volunteer at Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, eventually becoming the charity’s chief fundraiser. In 1975, he was recognised with a CBE.
Peter Barnes, Simpson, Buckinghamshire

The unbearable absence of culture

John Gray’s interesting review of Milan Kundera’s book (The Critics, 14 April) fails to mention Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who would have agreed with Kundera that “there is no living culture in Europe, and its posterity inhabits a void created by the disappearance of any supreme values”.

Solzhenitsyn, like Kundera, still had hope in his “One Word of Truth…” Nobel speech in 1970. Then, after living in the West like Kundera, he lost it and eventually became a Russian nationalist in his homeland.
Tom Steele, Peebles, Scottish Borders

Any inconvenience caused

Regarding Matthew Engel (“The Lost Continent”, 14 April) and his comments on Swiss railways, I once boarded a train in Berne due to depart at midday. It left at 12.02, followed by an announcement apologising for the late departure.
RJ Jarrett, London SE26

Samuel Moyn, author and professor of history and law at Yale University
This is excellent – can’t wait to read David Edmonds’ bio. A good comparison for writing a philosophical masterpiece under tenure deadline is Being and Time.
“Derek Parfit: the perfectionist at All Souls”, David Edmonds, 12 April

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[See also: Is “National Conservatism” a dead end for the Tories, or a sign of what is to come?]

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This article appears in the 19 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Axis of Autocrats