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Editing the New Statesman

Posted on 20 February 2009 | 11:02am

I have bowed to the democratic demands of my Facebook and Twitter friends, and agreed to accept an invitation to guest edit the New Statesman. When I put up an update saying I was mulling over it, a whole load of messages came through basically saying there was nothing to mull, and I should get on with it. So I will, for an edition some time in mid-March.

I have all sorts of ideas for stories and features, a couple of which I would like to launch here and now, as they will require reader input. The first, inspired in part by my recent work on the BBC programme The Speaker, which is a hunt for the best young public speaker in Britain, aims to counter the middle-aged, middle-class myth that ‘young people are not interested in politics.’ I want three young people, aged 16-18, one from each of the three main parties, to say why they have joined a political party and why politics matters to them. So if such people are reading this, or people who know such people are reading this, they should get in touch with a response on the blog.

I would also like to hand over a page, more if the response merits it, which answers the question ‘if I could get one sentence into Labour’s manifesto for the next election, it would say this …’ For all that the Tories may be ahead in the polls, and swanning round like they’re in power already, I think the battle of policy ideas still has more energy on the left than the right, and I hope this reflects that. Again, people can put their suggestions here. I will also be arranging links with other sites and of course with the New Statesman itself.

I will start the ball rolling with a couple of my own. I would like to see:
– Compulsory voting for general and local elections
– An end to charitable status for private schools

The New Statesman has an important place in the history of the policy and ideas debate on the left. When I was in frontline politics, I found it sometimes interesting, occasionally irritating, often irrelevant. Perhaps that will be the mix I come up with too, we’ll see.

There is an interesting profile of David Miliband this week, written by editor Jason Cowley, who came from Observer Sport Monthly (another reason why I leaned towards accepting his offer). I already have a couple of good ‘products’, as we editors call them, in my back pocket, but I hope the two above also generate a good response. In the meantime I am off to make a vlog on why state schools are better than private schools.

  • Judith Haire

    These are crackingly good idea. If you could extend the age bracket to 16-19 you could trawl the politics departments of universities for your young people, note Sheffield University has one of the most vibrant politics departments around, I know that cos I was a politics student there Compulsory voting now thats a breath of very fresh air. To put in practice though, are you going to stop people’s benefits if they don’t vote or take them by the hand to the polling booths? I don’t believe in polls so we have no need to be nervous of the Tories. Keep on blogging good luck all best Judith

  • Leigh Caldwell

    Dear Alastair

    Great to find your blog (via Facebook). I will add it to my list and check regularly.

    I have forwarded your request to Tony Gilland of Debating Matters, who runs an annual competition to find the best debating team among UK schools. It might be worthwhile to look at their pool of talent and see if they have someone for you.

    Also have another idea or two…I will write some notes up and get back to you.

  • Charlie

    Good Luck with guest editing the NS.
    Re your ideas:
    – One sentence for inclusion in the manifesto:
    “What do we do for an Encore?”
    – Voting to be compulsory- I agree, but postal voting bust be reformedv to eliminate possibility of fraud (see Glenrothes)
    – Abolish Charitable Status for Public Schools – Only if you make school-fees tax deductible at the same time. (Anyone paying school fees effectively pays 2x)

  • Jane A

    I’m glad you decided to guest edit : Yes you can!

    One sentence which I’d like to see in the next Labour manifesto:

    Discrimination against people on the grounds of their mental health status should be subject to the same anti-discrimination legislation which covers peoples race, gender, religion or belief, sexual preferences or physical disability. It is the last area of civil rights concern which is long overdue for parity.

    I’m sure you can put that far better than I have, by the way, and probably in one sentence rather than two.


  • Marcus Dillistone

    The thing I find depressing about private education is that too many parents subscribe to it for reasons of social snobbery, not for any considered educational reasons. These same parents also feel that, by paying the school, they can absolve themselves of the need to nurture their own offspring.

    Regarding withdrawal of charitable status: on a practical level, if private schools start to close – and more surely would – there would be a resulting influx into the state system at a time when budgets will be already stretched. This is starting to happen in the SW already as parents can no longer afford fees. Many more will follow because there is a ‘recessional lag’ in private education, it being the last thing many parents will cut.

    The number one priority in all schools is – IMHO – cutting out disruptive behaviour; this is where real effort needs to be made. Rightly or wrongly private education has a natural edge here with smaller class sizes and easier options to expel.

  • Marcus Dillistone

    The worlds environmental problems are caused by three things which seem – whether for political or religious reasons – too ‘hot’ for even the media to discuss. They are; population, population and population. Please, someone open the debate for all our sakes!

    P.S. I will take this commission anytime.

  • kwhite

    An end to charitable status for private schools – absolutely

    An end to selection by aptitude (11+ and its ilk, which – despite 11 years of Labour government – limps on where I live)

    Lead the way on proposing an International Court for the Environment – give us a means of enforcing our environmental rights by public interest action

    Promise that … Read moreour next London Mayoral candidate will be directly elected by our members

    Give MPs a transparent and appropriate salary and move all “expenses” to come under the remit of an independent and accountable body within the scope of the House of Commons organisation

    Move mental health up the political agenda and set out clear reforms to ensure it is properly funded as an NHS service

  • Charlie

    Good Luck with guest editing the NS.
    Re your ideas:
    – One sentence for inclusion in the manifesto:
    “What do we do for an Encore?”
    – Voting to be compulsory- I agree, but postal voting bust be reformedv to eliminate possibility of fraud (see Glenrothes)
    – Abolish Charitable Status for Public Schools – Only if you make school fees tax deductible at the same time. (Anyone paying school fees effectively pays 2x)

  • Clive Birnie

    On your state school / private school theme. Another point of view from my bitter experience. There are those of us who have been left with no choice. My daughter is now at a private school. She is dyslexic and dyspraxic. Confirmed by an eminent Educational Psychologist. Our LA says sorry but there is no funding for her to receive any help. She can’t progress without it. Cannot “access the curriculum” to borrow her SENCO’s words. 10% of the kids at the private school she attends are there for the same reason. So our choice was private education or no education. There is no equality in state education. None. Zip. Kids from the same state school she no longer attends get sent across the county for professional sports coaching because they are “gifted & talented”. I just hoped my daughter could learn to read. For this I am dismissed as a pushy middle class parent with unreasonable expectations.

  • One of the Twitterers

    If I could get one sentence into Labour’s manifesto it would be “To make local and national participation in the democratic process fully accessible online.”

    In terms of e-government initiatives, a few years back(when I was still living in the UK), we were somewhat ahead than the rest of the world. But there’s still much, much more potential for engaging the public online. And I’m not talking about some high tech web voting system or online focus groups to reach young people or residents surveys where you can view the results online (which are all fine, but…) – I’m talking about fully using the internet to systematically engage communities about things that matter to them; to involve them in decision making while they’re sitting at their computers.

    Like for e.g when Mr Campbell made that New Statemen editor decision, I bet his Twitter followers felt really empowered after that! A light example, but you catch my drift.

    I don’t believe the British public is inherently apathetic – I just feel they need the appropriate channels in which to voice their views. I also believe that Labour, as the great modernising party of our time is the only political party to be able to make that huge online leap.

    For the record, I’ve never shared my comments about politics before in a forum – which just goes to show that Mr Campbell’s efforts online are already rousing people who ordinarily would not have a voice or indeed who choose not to use it.

  • Ivan Corea

    Hello Alistair, we met a few years ago and I think I sent you Mark Haddon’s book, ‘A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime.’ Alistair I would really ask you to consider doing a story on how the credit crunch and the deepening recession is affecting the most vulnerable members of society – families with disabilities including autism. Many more families with autism are below the poverty line. Many have to choose between heating an eating. John Battle MP Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty tabled an EDM on Autism and Poverty. 87 MPs signed it. Then Rudi Vis MP tabled a motion in the Commons on Autism and Winter Fuel Poverty. Over 50 MPs have signed it and recently 42 MPs signed David Drew MP’s EDM 710 on Autism Sunday. Chery Gillan MP is bringing an Autism Bill on 27th February. On 2nd April the United Nations marks World Autism Awareness Day. So please consider doing a piece on the Vulnerable and the Credit Crunch and the Recession.

  • alastair campbell

    Ivan, thanks for the book – I remember you giving it to me, and it is a superb book. I was already thinking of something on the theme of recession/charities/the vulnerable. Maybe there is something you could suggest for the manifesto too

  • Alina Palimaru

    To One of the Twitterers:

    I fully agree with your views on internet outreach!

    About the prospects of on-line voting, you will find the video below both amusing and disturbing.


  • The Twitterer again

    Hi Alina, – the vid was hilarious – thanks!

    If I may respond to a comment from Judith earlier. I do think (and I say this lovingly and as someone who thinks that the two greatest things to happen to British politics in the last 100 years was Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair), that the latest polls are to be believed and that Labour is, at the moment, truly four consonants and two vowel. To be in denial about this is to be behaving like the Tories circa 1992. (incidentally was still in school then, but I do have some vague memories)…

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Clive Birnie

    Thank you for sharing your story and being open about it. Don’t worry about how you are being dismissed. It’s what you accomplish that matters!

    As for your daughter’s education, just keep working with her. One of my friends is dyslexic, and he is now attending Law School! Where there’s will, there’s a way.

    Did you bring this matter to your MP’s attention?

  • Lou Rossati

    Glad you accepted the New Statesman’s offer Alistair.

    My sentence for the next manifesto:

    “We will remove top-up fees for higher education (yes, we KNOW we introduced it but it was a stupid mistake – okay, we admit it!), return to a properly funded grants programme and remove the link to parental income, which disadvantages many lower and middle income families.”

  • Nicola Mortin

    if I could get one sentence into Labour’s manifesto for the next election,
    it would say this …to have the voting age begin at 16. They can marry, fight for our country and pay taxes, yet they don’t have a say in what goes on in their community.

  • Will Campbell

    No relation, by the way.
    Did you make any effort to persuade His Nibs (T Blair) of the necessity of withdrawing the tax break of public schools when you were his director of strategy and commuications? Or are you tacking to the left as well?
    As for compulsry voting, we are compulsorily taxed, and now you want to haul us to a booth or at least to fill in a form once every blue moon. Why don’t you focus on persuading more people to vote, as a free choice? Why the urge to compel people to do things?

  • Clive Birnie

    Alina, Thanks for the reply. Yes our MP Dr Liam Fox is aware, as is our councilor, and we also wrote to the PM, his opposite nos. Ed Balls, Sir J Rose etc etc Maybe I should have written to AC here 🙂

  • Francis Bond

    Hiya, im 17 and interested in what you were saying in the blog about young people writing about why politics excites them. Im a member of the Labour Party and an elected member of The National Youth Parliment and would love to contribute to the feature. I don’t know if you want us to give a sample answer on this blog or not but please let me know.

  • Michael Tombs

    If I could get one sentence in Labour’s next manifesto for the next election, it would say this “I would like to see a target of 80% domestic waste recycling throughout the UK by 2020”.

    There is no reason why this cannot be achieved as we now have the technology to recycle all paper, card, plastic, metal, organic plant and food waste, as well as electrical items, batteries and oils, so there are no reasons why local authorities cannot achieve this target within 10 years … recycle means no more waste incinerators being built.

  • Charlotte MacKenzie

    Three ideas: voting at 16, same minimum wage for people of all ages, free local travel for teenagers.

    PS For anyone using Twitter to add to the list including #laboursnextmanifesto means all the suggestions will appear together at when you search for laboursnextmanifesto

  • Mark Dempsey

    First a clear value statement akin to ‘for the many not the few’ that binds a together our vision for the future.

    Second a fundamental and comprehensive reform of the political system to clean up sleaze, make people feel that politics in worthwhile and valuable, and to tackle the cynicism of the media. Should include House of Lords reform (finally), voting reform, and and the wholescale modernisation of Parliament.

  • Francis Bond

    In relation to the manifesto, removal of charitable status for private school is spot on; education is the key to social mobility, which is why good investment(Which the Tories won’t provide) in state schools, commmunity education centres and vocational institutions is crucial if we are to be a society that values everyone, not just a few.

  • colin wilkes

    One sentence to include in the forth coming manifesto is as follows;
    “In recognition of our mission being successfully completed it is now time to remove the New from the Labour party and return it, ruined to its original owners.”

  • Roland Baker

    My one sentence for the manifesto is:

    “We are sorry we rewarded banks and financial non-regulators for destroying the economy so we will prioritise diversified business investment and police it with skills, integrity and sharp teeth instead of ignorance, dishonesty and cold wet noses on our lap.”

  • johnblakey

    We are very,very, very sorry indeed and we will look to our history and make amends for all the wrong things we have done.

  • Neil Fraser

    ‘if I could get one sentence into Labour’s manifesto for the next election, it would say this …’ Replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber and force all politicians to retire at 65, in line with the electorate.

  • Jayne Innes

    My one sentence would be “Bring in more measures from national government to enable and support older people to stay in their own homes.”

    Jayne Innes, Labour PPC for Nuneaton

  • Irene Burton

    My one sentence would read..
    We will increase carers allowance to a living income instead of the token sum full time carers currently receive.

  • Michael Denoual

    I am 17yr old college student from preston. I joined the labour party because i felt that it was the party that best represented my views. They also introduced, what i feel is one of the most important pieces of legaslation in history, this being the minimum wage. Politics is important to me because i feel that if the young people of our country are not intrested then what chance do we have in the future.

    Michael Denoual

  • michelle di leo

    One line for the Manifesto? Introduce tax relief on childcare.

    Best way to make work pay for mothers and fathers alike and give them flexibility.

  • Edith Speller

    My manifesto sentence would go something like this:

    “As we are a party who believes in social justice for all, and climate change disproportionately affects the poor of this country and of the world as a whole, we will take decisive actions to achieve our ambitious CO2 emission reduction targets, and help Britain’s citizens become greener while maintaining a high quality of life.”

    Examples of actions:
    – immediate halt of airport expansion and reintroduction of integrated transport planning plus rail upgrades (e.g. electrification) to make public transport a viable option for more people.
    – free insulation and other home improvements for all council houses + low-income households; double advantage of giving work to people in trades being hit hard by recession
    – immediate halt in all coal power station development; using some of that economic stimulus to invest in green tech.
    – much more but I’ve rattled on plenty long enough already!

    Of course this should all be happening *now*, not after an unspecified general election…

  • Johnny

    One line for the labour manefseto?

    Our National services are for the nation, not for private profit, and we will end PPP and return public transport to the people.

    i can dream can’t I?

  • Rob Brooks

    My sentance would be: We will abolish boom and bust

  • Hollie

    1 sentence:

    Labour are committed to end the age discrimination rife in the National Minimum Wage- we support and EQUAL minimum wage for all workers, regardless of AGE.

  • Rob Taylor

    Prisons, utilities and public transport are not for profit, we will return them to the public sector.

  • Simon Wellavize

    We believe there is such a thing as society, and intend to foster a more equitable society by taxing the top 5% of earners more.

  • Chris Allen

    If I could get one sentence into Labour’s manifesto for the next election, it would say this:

    Introduce a ‘living’ wage over the existing ‘minimum’ wage; reinstate the lower 10p tax band; introduce a higher tax band of 60p for those earning above £100,000; and increase the National Insurance Upper Earning Limit and 40p tax band, all of which would support those on the lowest incomes at the same time as increasing revenue for public services such as the NHS and education.

  • Dean Perry

    If I was given the chance to insert a sentence into the Labour Party Manifesto it would be this;

    ‘It is Labour that understands that internationalism is key to full economic recovery, engagement instead of protectionism is the way forward as well as the continuous investment in public institutions like the NHS and education will place Britain on the road to economic recovery.’

  • Will Parbury

    A national network of cycle lanes separated from the road so people can cycle in safety improve their health, protect the environment and create jobs.

  • Jason Charlton

    Committed to work for Britain, our people, their values and all our futures.


    Sorry, we made a mistake in getting rid of Tony.

  • Duncan Enright

    Every school, and particularly special schools, will have a school nursing team sufficient to coordinate all health needs of the children they serve, saving money, time and lives by transferring resources from the hospitals.

  • Get Labour Out

    My one line would be:

    “We will listen, listen properly and not accuse anyone that disagrees with us of being anti British, racist, against peace or other excuses that Labour have trotted out when someone says something they don’t agree with”

  • LSL

    To take seriously tackling all forms of oppression against women ranging from the pay gap to sexual violence, from objectifying advertising to limited opportunities and to ensure that women become important, autonomous and unoppressed individuals in society

  • Dan

    If i could get one sentence into Labour’s manifesto for the next election, it would say… domestic politics taught in citizenship lessons (age 14+), curriculum set by board of universities.

    a proper aid for democratic involvement, and hey might not be too bad for our party either

  • Sam

    “To create an entrenched constitution which outlines specific individual rights for citizens and non-citizens, which legislation is retrospectively subject to.”

    There could be a list of basic ones and a list of those granted to citizens. I say specific rights rather as opposed to vague ideas like “equality”. This would obviously be very difficult, but if done well and enforced it could address loads of stuff – gendered discrimination, potential abuse in immigrant detention centres, erosion of civil liberties through whimsical legislation etc.

    Shame there’s little incentive for any government to do it (and loads of reasons for them not to).

  • Elizabeth Rhodes

    We will introduce compulsory and fully comprehensive sex education into all primary and secondary schools, discussing not only biology and disease but also sexuality and the embracing and celebrating of all types – including trans-sexuality; intimate partner violence and sexual assault – including discussion of ‘date rape’ and victim blaming; teen pregnancy and choice, including abortion rights – without judgement (that can be discussed in Religious Education, not in Sex education); body issues such as obesity and anorexia, which can feed into personal feelings about sex and sexuality; and sexual pleasure and reciprocation for both parties and the celebration (not shame) of the body.

  • Francis Bond

    We will strive for a country where a child can grow up knowing that the earnings of their parents or the size of their house won’t affect whether or not they can achieve their greatest hopes and furfill their highest aspirations.

  • Chris Jeeves

    If I had one sentence to put into Labour’s manifesto for the next election, it would say this: As in the wise words of Clause 4…

  • tracey

    “Sorry for the last ten years, we’ll abolish Nu Labour and go back to founding priniples.”
    And then I woke up.

  • Mark Houlbrook

    “Hope not fear, action not despotism, utopian before the divine, truth in place of spin and justice as fairness, Relentless in the quest for restorative and distributive justice”

  • Dr Gideon Polya

    According to Professor John Holdren (Harvard University; former chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; President Obama’s Chief Science Adviser) the most acute problems facing the world are (1) nuclear weapons (Labor should take the lead and abolish the UK nuclear deterrent with a quid pro quo of abolition by other nuclear terrorist states e.g. France and Apartheid Israel), (2) poverty (Labor should oppose deadly UK, US, US Alliance and US-backed occupations of foreign countries and take the lead on providing the circa $1 trillion annually that could abolish global avoidable mortality that totals 16 million excess deaths annually), and (3) global warming (some top climate scientists fear that it is almost too late to act and Labor must get the world to meet the 6-8% annual reduction in greenhouse gas pollution that, according to UK Tyndall Center experts Anderson and Bows, is required to avoid catastrophic global warming).

  • Vicky Fowler

    Hi Alastair,
    I am very interested in the Young Political Speaking you mention in your blog.
    Very briefly to your questions, I joined the Labour Party because of the enthusiasm of one current PPC who leapt across the table in a meeting to shake my hand. With the background of the party and the passion shown in this one action – I couldn’t really do anything less than join! As to why politics matters to me, well as you will too well know, there is a whole world of excitement under the ‘shallow veneer’ often portrayed of the political world by too many. However things can be changed for the better, and there ARE so many positive changes to celebrate – that is, by far, the best part!
    How can I get more involved?
    Many Thanks,

  • Tom McGrath

    If I could get one sentence into the Labour Party manifesto it would be:

    “The Labour Party intends to abolish debts: debts of all kinds, first, and third world debt, mortgages, overdraughts, IOUs for a fiver; we will draw a line in time and start again.”

  • MLaugmefeOrgamy

    Free Online Casino Gambling
    So, gambling strategy means some general strategies which are required for playing every casino game, and on the other hand every casino game has distinct type of gambling strategy.

  • Bigmac

    Re biased Media reporting before, during and after the elction.
    Check out the behaviour of Nick Robinson when he discovered that Nick Clegg had decided to talk to the Labour Party. (BBC News 24)

    I complained about his behaviour on his blog message board.
    I did not use abusive language nor did I say anything that was not true. The moderators did not allow my criticism of his behaviour because they said it was defamatory!
    If you want the evidence I have printed out my statement and their reason for refusing to show it.
    Free country? Only if you are a Tory supporter.