Audio Long Reads, from the New Statesman


Stalin and Putin: a tale of two dictators

What does Vladimir Putin owe Stalin? In this week’s audio long read, the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore reflects on the parallels between the two Russian leaders, from their formative years to their ultimate reckoning in the history books. 


Putin keeps half of Stalin’s library in his office, annotated by the former dictator, and has embraced the Soviet cult of ruling through fear and control. By invading Ukraine, he has made a colossal gamble on securing his own legacy.


Written by Simon Sebag Montefiore and read by Adrian Bradley.

Read the text version here. It was first published on the New Statesman website on 9 March 2022, and in the magazine on 11 March 2022.

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Thomas Mann, German identity and the romantic allure of Russia

Why, six months into Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, is Germany still struggling to come to terms with the new European reality? For explanations, some point to the country’s reliance on Russian gas; others to the legacy of the Second World War or the Cold War. Yet, as Jeremy Cliffe argues in this essay from theNew Statesman’s 2022 Summer Special issue, to fully understand Germany’s instinct to maintain cordial relations with Russia, we have to go back much further than 1945 – into the nation’s cultural history and “the darker, older mists of the German psyche and imagination”.Fortunately, says Cliffe, “there is a guide”: Thomas Mann’sReflections of a Nonpolitical Man, first published in 1918 and reissued in English in 2021. In it, the German novelist set out his nationalistic views in the wake of the First World War, but also his strong conviction (inspired by German romanticism) that a special kinship existed between Germans and Russians. The two peoples, Mann thought, were united by a profound appreciation of “culture”, which he contrasted with a rationalist, liberal, “Anglo-French” regard for “civilization”. In subsequent years his views changed drastically, as he shifted towards the liberal left and an embrace of democratic Western rationalism.Cliffe’s piece tells the story ofReflections, Mann’s political journey in the decades that followed and the related journey that Germany itself would also take. This progression, he argues, illustrates a dualism that continues to mark German identity – as torn between west and east, the rationalist and the romantic traditions, a liberal-democratic political vocation and an enduring cultural attraction to Russia. Understanding this tension, says Cliffe, helps to explain why Germany greeted the end of the Cold War with such euphoria three decades ago, and why it finds it so difficult to accept today that the era of post-Cold War optimism has come to an end.This article was published in the 29 July 2022 issue of theNew Statesman. You can read the text versionhere.Written and read by Jeremy Cliffe.You might also enjoy listening to“Wrestling with Orwell: Ian McEwan on the art of the political novel”.Podcast listeners can get a subscription to theNew Statesmanfor just £1 per week, for 12 weeks.

Euros 22: how women’s football became the more beautiful game

On Boxing Day 1920, 53,000 people watched the Dick, Kerr Ladies beat St Helens Ladies 4-0 at Goodison Park – the largest-ever crowd recorded for a women’s football match in England. The game had blossomed during the First World War, as lunch-break kickabouts at munitions factories evolved into 150 women’s clubs across the country. But months after the Boxing Day fixture, the sport was banned by the Football Association – deemed“unsuitable” and dangerous. The ban remained for 50 years.In this rich personal reflection on the women’s game, theNew Statesman’s podcast producer May Robson looks at how it has evolved since 1971 – both less well-funded but more inclusive and vibrant than the men’s game. Robson’s own grassroots club, Goal Diggers FC, now has over 200 members and an international reach; an exceptional England women’s team reached the final of the Euro 22 tournament. How did they get here? In the words of the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC captain Alice Kells, more than 100 years ago: “We play for the love of the game and are determined to go on.”This article was first published on thenewstatesman.comon 20 July 2022. You can read the text versionhere.Written and read by May Robson.You might also enjoy listening to I was Joni Mitchell's "Carey": an interview with Carey Raditz by Kate Mossman.Podcast listeners can get a subscription to the New Statesman for just £1 per week, for 12 weeks. Visit

Boris Johnson: the death of the clown

On 7 July 2022 Boris Johnson announced he would resign as Prime Minister. Despite surviving a series of scandals, Covid-19 and a parliamentary no-confidence vote, Westminster’s “greased piglet” was finally undone by the alleged sexual improprieties of his chief whip,Christopher Pincher, and the mass resignation of his cabinet.For many, the mystery was that such a policy-light, contradiction-heavy leadership had lasted so long. But in this dazzling satirical essay, the novelist Ed Docx shows us exactly how Johnson got away with it for so long – by playing the clown, a sustained performance he charts through four acts of increasing complexity. First, his breakthrough show, “Mayor”; his widely celebrated follow-up, “Brexit: the Referendum”; the underrated international piece, “Foreign Secretary”; and his most ambitious artistic work, “Prime Minister”, featuring“the largest cast of supporting clowns he had ever used. Those he called‘ethics advisers’were custard-pied one after another as they came by on a merry-go-round featuring characters fromPeppa Pig. Those he called ‘donors’ showered the stage with money.”Both wildly funny and deeply revealing, Docx captures the antics and emptiness of the Johnson premiership – as well as the public’s and politicians’ willingness to applaud, or at least accommodate, this “perfect ambassador of meaninglessness”. When did the booing start? Shamefully late, it turns out.This article originally appeared on the on 13 July, and in the 15-21 June edition of the magazine. You can read the text versionhere.Written and read by Edward Docx.You might also enjoy listening to Stalin and Putin: a tale of two dictators by Simon Sebag Montefiore.Podcast listeners can get a subscription to the New Statesman for just £1 per week, for 12 weeks. Visit