In this week's magazine | Putin's Wars

A first look at this week's issue.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

5-11 February issue
Putin's Wars

Cover story: Putin’s Wars
From Ukraine to Syria, Elizabeth Pond on how the Russian strongman overreached.

The New Young Fogeys: Is abstinence the ultimate youth rebellion? Eleanor Margolis on Generation Boring and Tim Wigmore on the rise of middle-aged hedonism.

US Election 2016: Emily Charnock on what Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan.

Owen Jones: Why Labour’s right wing lost out to Jeremy Corbyn.

George Eaton: Eurosceptics’ greatest challenge is to conjure up a convincing vision of Britain’s post-Brexit future.

Stephen Bush: How money won the Rhodes statue argument.

Michael Brooks: We must deploy our GM solution to the zika threat.

****

Cover story: Elizabeth Pond on Vladimir Putin’s rotten wars in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin’s war cost Russia its centuries-long shared identity with its neighbour. Now, Kyiv risks betraying the spirit of the Maidan revolution, argues Elizabeth Pond:

When the Russian inquest finally comes, the answer will be clear. It was President Vladimir Putin who lost Ukraine – after a millennium of shared east Slav identity. When the Ukrainian inquest into who lost the – Euromaidan’s “Revolution of Dignity” finally comes, the answer, on the present evidence, will also be clear. It was an elite core of politicians and oligarchs who first worked a miracle in fighting Russia’s military Goliath to a stalemate – only to revert to kleptocratic business as usual when the acute threat eased.

Pond notes that the Duma’s decision to ban the spread of information about Russian casualties across the border (in response to pressure for its release from the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in Russia), hints that Putin has no appetite to resume heavy fighting in the Ukraine in the near future:

This appraisal, however, takes the pressure off the Ukrainian oligarchs to grow beyond the robber-baron stage and become patriotic philanthropists. On the present evidence, they no longer sense much urgency with regard to implementing reform legislation, installing the rule of law, building democratic institutions and rooting out kleptocracy as opposed to exploiting it.

Putin has surely lost Ukraine. The Ukrainian oligarchs have not yet surely lost their own country. But how ironic it will be if he manages to melt their urgency into complacency by easing the pressure on Ukraine, thus paving the way for that final loss of the Revolution of Dignity. It would give the last laugh to Georgy Arbatov, the Kremlin’s leading Americanist who prophesied as the Cold War ended: “We are going to do to you the worst thing we possibly could – we are going to take your enemy away.”

 

Generation Zzzz: Eleanor Margolis on the New Young Fogeys.

Today’s teens and twentysomethings have replaced drinking, smoking and sex with baking, knitting and staying in. Eleanor Margolis asks: is this the most boring British generation ever?

From the cupcake boom to the chart-topping eminence of the bow-tie-wearing, banjo-plucking bores Mumford & Sons, the past decade of youth culture has been permeated by wholesomeness. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), this movement is more than just aesthetic. Not only are teenage pregnancies at their lowest level since records began in the 1960s, but drug-taking, binge drinking and sexually transmitted infections among young people have also taken significant dives. Drug use among the under-25s has fallen by a quarter over the past ten years and heavy drinking – measured by how much a person drinks in an average week – is down by 15 per cent. Cigarettes are also losing their appeal, with under-25 smokers down by 10 per cent since 2001. Idealistic baby boomers had weed and acid. Disaffected and hedonistic Generation X-ers had Ecstasy and cocaine. Today’s youth (which straddles Generations Y and Z) have cake.

Margolis talks to Emma, a 24-year-old graduate and member of Generation Zzzz, to find out what’s going on:

“It feels like everyone is more stressed and nervous,” she says. “It seems a particularly telling sign of the times that adult colouring-in books and little, cutesy books on mindfulness are such a massive thing right now. There are rows upon rows of bookshelves dedicated solely to all that . . . stuff.” Emma would know – she works for Waterstones.

From adult colouring books to knitting (University College London has a knitting society, as do Bristol, Durham, Manchester and many more universities), it is hard to tell whether the tsunami of tweeness that has engulfed middle-class youth culture in the past few years is a symptom or a cause of the shrinking interest in drugs, alcohol, smoking and other “risk-taking” behaviours.

[. . .]

Jess, a self-described “granny”, is similarly wary of alcohol. The 20-year-old Liverpudlian, who works in marketing, makes a bold claim for someone her age. “I’ve never really been drunk,” she says. “I’ve just never really been bothered with alcohol or drugs.” Ironically, someone of her generation, according to ONS statistics, is far more likely to be teetotal than a real granny at any point in her life. Jess says she enjoys socialising but her nights out with close friends are rather tame – more likely to involve dinner and one quick drink than several tequila shots and a traffic cone.

Margolis also interviews Luke, a 22-year-old hospital worker (who describes himself as a “boring bastard”).

Luke’s attitude towards drugs encapsulates the Generation Zzzz ethos beautifully: although he has taken MDMA, he “researched” it beforehand. It is this lack of spontaneity that has shaped a generation of young fogeys. This cohort of grannies and boring bastards, of perpetual renters and jobseekers in an economy wrecked by less cautious generations, is one that has been tamed by anxiety and fear.

Meanwhile, Tim Wigmore crunches the numbers and finds a generational role reversal in full swing: the wholesomeness of millennials is offset by the growing hedonism of the middle-aged:

Those aged 65 and above are now more likely than any other group to drink alcohol at least five days a week, with those aged 45-65 not far behind. Perhaps, as Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies says: “Watching your parents get gozzled might put young people off.”

When they next open a bottle of wine (or three), the parents and grandparents of today’s teens should raise a glass to their responsible offspring. And when politicians complain about “broken Britain”, they should make it clear that they have middle-aged hedonists in mind.

 

Emily Charnock: What Trump could learn from Reagan.

After Donald Trump’s defeat in the Iowa Republican caucuses, Emily Charnock suggests that the larger-than-life “celebrity” candidate for the US presidency is right to push the analogy with Ronald Reagan and could learn more from it:

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Charnock notes that in some respects the two men share a style: “toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism”. Reagan had more substance than Trump does, however, and other attributes that Trump should seek to emulate:

Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then “establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite.

[. . .]

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhances his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters . . . remember who came in second.

 

George Eaton: Eurosceptics’ greatest challenge is to conjure up a convincing vision of Britain’s post-Brexit future – but time is against them.

In his column this week, the NS’s political editor, George Eaton, argues that David Cameron’s renegotiation deal with the European Union has not only undershot, from the Vote Leave point of view, but left Cameron open to accusations of deception:

The draft agreement between the UK and EU does not represent the “fundamental, far-reaching change” that Cameron promised in his 2013 Bloomberg speech. European migrants will be as free as before to travel to Britain. A proposed four-year ban on in-work benefit claims has become a “graduated” increase. The UK’s “red card” veto over EU laws is subject to 55 per cent approval among national parliaments. And Britain has achieved no new opt-outs from social, employment and environmental legislation.

Yet it does not follow that Cameron will fail in his aim to win the referendum (now probably just five months away): Theresa May’s support for the Prime Minister’s deal leaves Boris Johnson as the only front-rank Conservative who could yet oppose him, and the Out campaign has neither a convincing vision nor the time to develop one.

Eaton suggests that Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s campaign director, is acutely aware that “the spectre of our post-EU future could prove as fatal to the Out campaign as the currency question did to the Yes side” in the 2015 Scottish referendum. Yet it is not an issue that can be swerved as Cummings hopes:

The Out side lacks a leader and a unified message. The economy is still growing and sustained hostility to immigration has not translated into support for Brexit. Like Mr Micawber, the Leave campaign is left to hope that something turns up.

 

Owen Jones: Why Labour’s right wing lost out to Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour right crows about its “electability” but shows a baffling lack of interest in understanding the reasons why it lost to Corbyn, Owen Jones argues:

The old Labour right types who – rightly – would urge understanding of what drives working-class people to vote for Ukip show no such intellectual curiosity about what made six out of ten voters in the leadership election opt for Corbyn. Sometimes, their analysis seems to boil down to believing that a bunch of sandal-wearing pinko Islingtonistas has overrun their party. This has often been their approach to the left; the embattled MP Simon Danczuk, for instance, once amusingly accused me of hailing from the “posh part of Stockport”. Some bitterly plot revenge: a counter-revolution to suppress the Labour Jacobins.

[. . .]

There has to be a recognition that Corbyn won because of a thirst for a credible alternative to Osbornomics, a contempt for the established political elite (a phenomenon sweeping the Western world) and a desire for a foreign policy that doesn’t replicate the calamity of the Iraq War and its Isis offshoot. Savvy Labour opponents of Corbyn should surely ask how they could satisfy these desires and attempt to offer an inspiring vision in response. If they don’t, they will provoke much bitterness, but little else.

 

Stephen Bush on a Pyrrhic victory for the backers of Oxford’s Rhodes statue.

Although Oriel College, Oxford has succumbed to calls from donors to keep its statue of Cecil Rhodes, the Staggers editor, Stephen Bush, reports that it may be a “Pyrrhic victory for the statue’s defenders”. He talks to students who were in favour of its retention but feel let down that this was achieved through financial pressure, rather than an argument won fair and square. It is fitting that money talked loudest in the row, Bush notes:

There’s a historic irony here, in that Rhodes, who was almost as controversial in his own time as in ours, bought his statue with a substantial gift to Oriel, donating what would be almost £36m today. He has been kept in his place once again thanks to capital. But the irony probably comes as scant consolation to the defeated Oxford campaigners.

Bush attends a meeting of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Regent’s Park College, a younger and much less well endowed part of Oxford University, to find out what the group now plans to do:

As in all student protests, the demands range from the achievable and somewhat small-minded – a student union sabbatical officer for race and diversity – to the laudable but remote: an immediate end to all racism on campus. But the tone is measured and surprisingly good-humoured. One speaker announces that the campaign has secured the support of “100 per cent” of Oriel’s black British first-year students – before revealing that there is just one.

 

Michael Brooks: It’s time to deploy our GM solution to the threat of zika.

The NS’s science writer, Michael Brooks, argues that we have a responsibility to use GM technology to combat the zika virus:

At some point, we’ll have to stop pussyfooting around with genetic modification. We know how to alter the mosquitoes that are spreading the zika virus in a way that will quickly reduce their numbers. Any risks (and no one has yet identified any) are far outweighed by the risks of allowing the disease to spread. The World Health Organisation considers the threat to be a public health emergency of international concern and it argues that the most essential action is the control of mosquito populations and protecting people from bites. This is something we can do.

 

Plus

Helen Lewis on the real story of the Cologne sex attacks.

Peter Wilby on school holidays, Oxford’s race quotas and
Google’s tax arrangements.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett reads The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by
Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Erica Wagner on Howard Jacobson’s Shakespearean
cover version, Shylock Is My Name.

Mark Lawson is thoroughly intrigued by Florian Zeller’s family-themed
“puzzle” plays The Mother and The Father.

Ed Smith on why the future of work lies beyond the steady job.

 

For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: anya.matthews@newstatesman.co.uk / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396