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14 March 2013updated 12 Oct 2023 10:15am

In this week’s New Statesman: The German problem

PLUS: Sex and the web – should politician stop your children watching porn?

By Charlotte Simmonds

Brendan Simms: Cracked heart of the old world

In our cover story this week, the author and professor of the history of international relations at Cambridge Brendan Simms writes about “the spectre of German power” – an issue that has dominated European politics for more than 600 years and which, Simms argues, will continue to do so. He outlines how “the struggle for Germany drove internal politics across Europe” through history and he asserts:

One way or the other, the German question persists and will always be with us. This is because, whenever Europe and the world think they have solved it, events and the Germans change the question.

Contemporarily, the dilemma lies between a growing “Germanophobia” as the country flexes its fiscal muscles and the worry that “Germany is not using her power actively enough due to the country’s historically based discomfort with exercising military force . . .” As the author notes: “The foreign minister of Poland, Radek Sikorski, spoke for many when he remarked, in a speech in Berlin in 2011: ‘I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.’ ” And Simms reasons:

That is the dilemma of German power today – Germany is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.

Read this piece in full on our website now

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Rafael Behr: Generation X-Rated 

Estimates for the proportion of the internet given over to porn “vary from 4 per cent to 40 per cent” but, writes our political editor, Rafael Behr, “No one disputes that the briefest excursion into the digital red-light zone can expose extreme scenes of violent, degrading sexual acts.” The topic “slips easily into moral panic”; however, it is hard to deny that “something quite unprecedented is happening”.

Behr asks how the governing generation, which grew up in an analogue age, can hopeto curb online pornography and police the behaviour of the digital generation. Behr talks to Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes in Hampshire who advises David Cameron on childhood and internet safety, about how some parents are “in digital oblivion”, and have “no idea” about “what their children are doing with computers and phones”, or the extent of the pornification of young people:

[Perry] spelled out her concern that a generation is learning about sex from sources that strip away humanity and celebrate cruelty. It is, she argues, distorting perceptions of what it means to be a woman, when girls are already subjected to intense and contradictory pressures to conform. “It is now normal for 16-year-old girls to think they shouldn’t have pubic hair. That is an idea derived from porn . .”

Behr talks to Perry about her failed online “opt-in” proposals, as well as to campaigners and internet service providers who make the case both for and against censorship.

The free speech argument is not that pornography is a sacrosanct form of expression . . . It is that politicians and corporations must not be trusted with technology that is explicitly designed to obstruct the flow of information.

A dangerous precedent is set when society accepts the banning at source of whole categories of material . . .

“The argument tends to get polarised between people who say ‘all porn is evil’ and those who demand a completely free internet as part of the common good,” says Dido Harding, the chief executive of the telecoms group TalkTalk. “The truth is going to be somewhere in between . . .”

Harding sees fellow ISPs as having a moral obligation to provide parents with the tools to protect children, but she warns that filters are no substitute for engaged parenting. “It’s not good enough to say technology can keep children safe. When an 11-year-old goes out of the front door you ask where she is going. Online, it’s too easy not to ask the same question.”

Tom Watson: Chris Huhne spent his last night of freedom watching me do karaoke 

Tom Watson – the MP for West Bromwich East and Labour’s deputy chairman – writes a diary for us this week on the “trust deficit” between the public and its institutions in a post-Leveson society; and on karaoke with Chris Huhne on the eve of his eight-month jail sentence. He also responds to last week’s NS politics interview, in which Jim Murphy blasted “Lazy Labour”:

The finest part of the weekend was the wedding of Charlotte Harris – the incisive media lawyer who cracked open the phone-hacking case – and her debonair fiancé, James Burr. Poor Chris Huhne was there, looking wistful. I couldn’t help thinking that spending your last night of freedom listening to me singing “Teenage Kicks” with a karaoke band would make prison seem a more tolerable fate. He got an eight-month sentence the next day.


Michael Brooks: The new gold rush

Our reporter at large for this week, the author and NS resident science expert Michael Brooks, travels to Lancashire, where much-disputed but little-understood method of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to unleash natural gas offers the hope of energy security for Britain. But protesters say fracking is a black art – and its experimental technology is shrouded in rumour and paranoia. Brooks writes:

The new estimate [by the British Geological Survey, of how much shale gas we have in Britain] is reportedly between 1,300 and 1,700 trillion cubic feet . . . By way of comparison, the world’s largest oilfield, the South Pars/North Dome field beneath Iran and Qatar, contains 1,235 trillion cubic feet of gas. Currently, North Sea production is at roughly 1.3 trillion cubic feet per year, so the Bowland Shale could possibly see us through the next century . . .

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of UK fracking is that so many educated people think the safety issues will take care of themselves. “We’ve got such good regulation in this country; it’s pretty unlikely we’d have a problem,” says [Michael Stephenson of the British Geological Survey] . . . This national pride in Great British Regulation would be a lot easier to swallow if it wasn’t being raised at a time when we’ve discovered that up to 1,200 people may have been killed at the Stafford Hospital, and that thousands of supermarket beef dishes are composed largely of horse meat.

Rafael Behr: The feeling grows that David Cameron is a leader with nothing left to say 

In the Politics Column this week, Rafael Behr writes of the sense of “chronic impermanence” pervading Westminster, from Chris Huhne’s “speedy transition from cabinet minister to jailbird” to coalition U-turns. This sense “also fuels leadership speculation” and has done the Conservatives no good. This “critical mass of speculation diminishes the leader’s authority”, Behr argues, and David “Cameron’s allies need to do a better job of defending him.

A big factor in the equation is the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, which seals off the emergency exits from coalition and all but guarantees that polling day is 7 May 2015. By then, Cameron will have had a decade at the helm of his party. Everything that voters could want to know about him will be known, while Miliband still has the capacity to surprise. That doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous for the Labour leader still to be so fuzzily defined. But it is no less dangerous for the Tories to serve out the rest of this parliament under a leader with nothing left to say.

Read this piece in full on our website now

In the Critics

Richard J Evans, Regius professor of history at Cambridge, examines the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s new draft national curriculum for history.The new curriculum, which appears to be the work of Gove alone, “tells pupils what to think”. It is, Evans argues . . .

preparation for Mastermind or a pub quiz; it is not education . . . If he really wants more rigour in education, Gove should tear up his amateurish new curriculum and start listening to the professionals.


  • Historian Amanda Foreman reads The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev by Simon Morrison. 
  • Nicholas Timmins, the former public policy editor of the Financial Times, reviews God Bless the NHS by Roger Taylor. 
  • Sophie Elmhirst reviews The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon.
  • Vernon Bogdanor writes about Mr Speaker: the Office and the Individuals Since 1945 by Matthew Laban. 
  • Ryan Gilbey enjoys Lee Daniels’s film The Paperboy.
  • Rachel Cooke watches A History of Syria with Dan Snow on BBC2.
  • Will Self’s Real Meals column tackles Costa coffee chains. 

    And much more. Read our full “In the Critics this week” blog pos here

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