Audio Long Reads, from the New Statesman
The long shadow of the Iraq War: how one town honoured Britain’s fallen soldiers
It started as an accident of geography: after one RAF runway closed, the bodies of British soldiers killed in action were repatriated from Iraq and Afghanistan to RAF Lyneham and then through the Wiltshire market town of Wootton Bassett, on their way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. From April 2007 until August 2011 the town became the site of unofficial national mourning: relatives, tourists, foreign media, politicians and dignitaries came to pay their respects as the funeral corteges made their way down the high street. In 2010 the town became a site of political conflict: Anjem Choudary’s Islam4UK threatened to protest the murders of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was met by a pre-emptive rally of Tommy Robinson’s far-right English Defence League. In this rich and deeply reported long read, the New Statesman’s editor, Jason Cowley, revisits the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq invasion. He tells the story of one fallen soldier – a relative – and of the town at the centre of England’s response to wars that were increasingly unpopular. He talks to Tony Blair, who justifies the invasion as an opportunity for Britain to redefine its role in the world; and to the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who describes it as a “disaster... because Blair used his presentational skills to persuade people of something that turned out not to be true, namely the existence of weapons of mass destruction”. Twenty years on, the consequences are still being felt, in the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 – and in the small market town of Wootton Bassett. Written by Jason Cowley and read by Hugh Smiley. This article originally appeared in the 17 March edition of the New Statesman, and is an edited extract from the new edition of Jason Cowley’s Who Are We Now? Stories of Modern England, published in paperback on 31 March (Picador). You can read the text version here. If you enjoyed this episode, you might enjoy listening to “Nothing prepares you”: a journey through Ukraine at warSubscribers can get an ad free version of the NS Podcast on the New Statesman appPodcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.
The long and stupid decline of the British university
Once the envy of the world, British universities are being hollowed out by a managerial class, argues Adrian Pabst, a New Statesman contributing writer and professor of politics at the University of Kent. Instead of intellectual excellence and civic responsibility, the emphasis is increasingly on “churning out graduates who will serve the interests of City firms and the non-governmental organisation industry”.Where did the rot set in, and can it be cured? Pabst traces the university’s decline from the advent of the student loan and a 1990s proliferation of “Mickey Mouse” degrees, via New Labour and the Cameron-Clegg coalition’s embrace of marketisation and bureaucracy. As degrees have become more expensive, the work that goes into them has become more mediocre – with tutors and students assessed against arbitrary metrics. The universities' "corporate capture... is a profound cultural loss," he writes.In this excoriating essay, originally published as the New Statesman’s 10 March 2023 cover story, Pabst diagnoses the causes, examines the costs – and proposes solutions to the current crisis. You can read the text version here.Written by Adrian Pabst and read by Emma Haslett.If you enjoyed this episode, you might also like The great housing con: why the coming crash will rewrite the UK economy.Subscribers can get an ad free version of the NS Podcast on the New Statesman appPodcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.
The strange death of moderate conservatism
Much ink has been spilled in recent years on the woes of centre-left parties across the West – some of it prematurely, as Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz, Spain’s Pedro Sánchez, Australia’s Anthony Albanese and perhaps soon Keir Starmer in Britain can attest. The bigger and quite possibly more lasting story of political decline, however, is on the centre-right. A decade ago, moderate conservative figures like David Cameron and Angela Merkel were pre-eminent. Today the tendencies those leaders represented have largely been sidelined, the parties in question having moved to the right, been ecclipsed by more hardline forces, or both. In this long read Jeremy Cliffe, the New Statesman’s writer at large, charts that international pattern, from Trumpism in the US to the rise of the hard-right in European countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Sweden. He also explores the deeper structural forces behind those shifts and how the electoral and sociological foundations that long sustained moderate conservatism – and made it the dominant Western political tendency for much of the past seven decades – are breaking up. What, he asks, does the future hold for right-of-centre politics? Written and read by Jeremy CliffeThis article was originally published as the New Statesman’s 15 February 2023 magazine cover story. You can read the text version here.If you enjoyed this episode, you might also enjoy: Era of the rogue superpower: what Trump’s bid means for the US, Russia and China.Subscribers can get an ad free version of the NS Podcast on the New Statesman appPodcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.
The rise and fall of Nicola Sturgeon
The New Statesman’s Scotland editor Chris Deerin has been reporting on the SNP since 1996, when as a young political correspondent he sparred with its then leader Alex Salmond. The party was then an outlier, with only three Scottish MPs to Labour’s 49. Just over ten years later, in 2007, Salmond became first minister and appointed a shy, ambitious protégé as his deputy: Nicola Sturgeon. In this definitive account, Deerin traces Sturgeon’s political journey – to the top of her party, through the 2014 independence referendum, a bitter fallout with Salmond, and ultimately her resignation. Was her commitment to new gender recognition legislation, and to a second independence referendum, a miscalculation? How will she be remembered in Edinburgh, Westminster and beyond? Written and read by Chris Deerin. This article was originally published as the New Statesman’s 24 February 2023 magazine cover story. You can read the text version here. If you enjoyed this episode, you might also enjoy: World Prince: what drives Emmanuel Macron’s global ambitionsSubscribers can get an ad free version of the NS Podcast on the New Statesman app Podcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.
Can literature teach us how to grieve?
When her mother died Johanna Thomas-Corr, the literary editor of the Sunday Times, fretted that she was misremembering her somehow. “I kept reaching for my own figures of speech, only for them to writhe out of my hands,” she writes. “Writing about her was easy: she was so distinctive. But writing about my relationship with her – this was a slippery business.” In this essay, struggling to find a language for her loss, Thomas-Corr turns to literature for answers. She draws on a rich tradition of writing about grief – from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief (2021), Ian McEwan’s novel Lessons (2022), to Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living (2018). Through their pages, she explores our inevitable entanglements with our mothers and grief in all its phases – the anticipatory, the humorous and the weird. “I have come to like images of myself, simply because they remind me of her,” she writes. “I used to be so self-conscious... but I rather like the fact I now look a bit like my mother did. I find I am not fighting it.” Written by Johanna Thomas-Corr and read by Emma Haslett. This article was originally published in the 25 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman; you can read the text version here. If you enjoyed this episode of the audio long read, you might enjoy listening to How does a music writer grieve? With playlists, of course.Podcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.
The great housing con: why the coming crash will rewrite the UK economy
Every year since 2009 new records have been set for UK house prices, and every year people have asked how long the market can continue to defy gravity. But this year is different. Mortgage rates have risen steeply, while the cost of living accelerates; the past four months have seen the longest sustained drop in property prices since 2008. And it’s a global issue, as central bankers make borrowing more expensive in an attempt to curb inflation.Is this a necessary correction or the dawn of a calamitous crash – one that will drive an unaffordable rental market, negative equity and a dearth of social housing? In this definitive account of the property crash, the New Statesman’s business editor, Will Dunn, explores Britain’s doomed love affair with bricks and mortar – from the boomer “house-blockers” at the top of the chain to the Gen Zers with little prospect of buying their own home. “It is a mass exercise in self-deception,” he writes, “a substitute for economic growth. It was a substitute people accepted: the expensive house that sucked up a lifetime’s wages became the savings account, the pension, the inheritance. That wealth is now beginning to dissolve.”This article was originally published as the magazine’s cover story on 3 February 2023; you can read the text version here.Written and read by Will Dunn.If you enjoyed this episode of the audio long read, you might enjoy listening to What drives Liz Truss? The people and ideas behind her economics.
“Nothing prepares you”: a journey through Ukraine at war
In late January 2023 the New Statesman’s Bruno Macaes travelled to the front lines in Ukraine. In the Donbas, in the east, he found scenes of total devastation – levelled villages and burned forests, the remaining residents “walking the streets like ghosts”. At the front the Russian army is sending wave after wave of troops in the hope of making the Ukrainians despair, making them believe that the war will only be won when they have killed every one of them. In this vivid and sometimes surreal dispatch, Macaes talks to the soldiers and medics for whom this has become everyday life. How long is the gap between the warning siren and a shell, he asks? Two minutes, they joke: first the shell and then the siren. From the Donbas he travels to Kyiv, where he meets President Volodomyr Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podolyak, still living with the president in a bunker beneath the palace. Can Ukraine really win the war? Yes, says Podolyak: “You vastly overestimate the collective intelligence of the Russian Federation. They will not be able to notice the moment when they objectively have begun to lose. They will miss it.” Nearly a year after the invasion, this is a fascinating account of a country under attack, told through its leaders and those living in the deepest fog of war. This article originally appeared in the New Statesman magazine on 3 February. You can read the text version here. Written by Bruno Macaes and read by Katie Stallard. If you enjoyed this episode, try The Belarusian ultras who took on Alexander LukashenkoPodcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.
Lea Ypi on mothers, the motherland and the cruelties of UK immigration
In November 2022 Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, told parliament that the south coast of England faced “an invasion” of small boats. “If Labour were in charge,” she said, “they would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country.” Since then, others have suggested that the nearly 200 unaccompanied children found to have gone missing in the UK were Albanians “willingly joining” organised gangs. In this moving and often funny personal piece, Lea Ypi reflects on life as an Albanian in the UK and the everyday cruelties of the country’s immigration system – from having to share romantic letters to her husband with officials, to the fact her brother has never been allowed to visit. But it was when her mother was denied a visa soon after she gave birth that the cruelties hit home hardest. “The UK’s immigration system does not find criminals,” she writes, “it creates them. It projects criminal intent well before any criminal act has occurred.” Lea Ypi is professor of political theory at the LSE. Her book “Free: Coming of Age at the End of History” (Allen Lane) won this year’s Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. This article was originally published in the magazine on 7 December; you can read the text version here. Read by Rachel Cunliffe. If you enjoyed listening to this you might enjoy Operation warm welcome: the hotel that became home to 100 refugees
A doctor’s prescription for saving the NHS
In south-west England, where Phil Whitaker practises as a GP, his colleagues have frequently resorted to driving critically ill patients to hospital – because there are no ambulances, or because the queue for emergency care is typically eight hours long. In January 2023 the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimated that 500 patients were dying weekly because of delays and, along with other NHS bodies, it has called on the government to take emergency action. After a sleepless night in a hospital corridor (there is no bed for his 85-year-old mother), Whitaker contemplates what that action should be. A third of the hospital’s acute beds are occupied by patients who are medically fit, but who can’t be discharged because of a lack of social care. This is half the problem. The other half is that there are too many patients who shouldn’t be here. Listening to their stories with a GP’s ear, Whitaker estimates that only two of a dozen cases in the corridor require hospital treatment. In this personal essay, the New Statesman’s medical editor diagnoses the long-term decline of the NHS, and suggests his own prescription for radical change: starting with more GPs and a rapid expansion of social care. Can we treat the present crisis with the urgency we did the Covid pandemic? And can we do it without spending more money? Read by Tom Gatti. This article was originally published in the New Statesman on 20 January 2023. You can read the text version here. If you enjoyed listening to this article, you might enjoy What does a doctor do? by Phil Whitaker.Podcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.