Death of a Liberal and other stories

Death of a Liberalman

David Mamet’s announcement that he has foresworn “brain-dead liberalism” for a more Hobbesian strain of conservatism (“I do not think that people are basically good at heart”) prompted page three coverage in the Independent and nearly 400 posts on the Village Voice blog, which carried the original article. Amidst the consolatory Chekov extracts and “Welcome home David” back-patting, Jennifer Matsui wrote: “Now that he pisses into the same golden urinals as Steven Spielberg and air kisses mogul trophy wives at charity events, he can reveal his true colors while posing as a brave and principled "contrarian" a la Christopher Hitchens.” But with all quiet on the Hitchens’ front, Mamet was rather short of defenders. At least only criticised him for the poor style of his polemic: “He jumps willy nilly from point to point, anecdote to anecdote, losing his way every time.” Gawker, mind, was a little more wary of Mamet’s motives: “Maybe you more politically savvy, high-minded types can parse it better than I, but to me it seems to be just a weird, regressive attempt to publicise his new-ish Broadway play November., which may be wise in light of the cool reception revivals such as Speed-the-Plow have received in recent years.

Slave trader Winehouse?

Another week, another accolade for Amy Winehouse – and this time it’s “poster girl of drug abuse”, ‘awarded’ to Amy by the UN drug office’s executive director, Antonio Maria Costa. According to a report by the International Narcotics Control Board, the singer, and other substance-abusing celebrities are partly responsible for the rise in European cocaine consumption, which Costa compared to the slave trade for its potential to devastate West Africa. As Hecklerspray pointed out, “those poor people have got problems enough as it is without feeling the need to stagger round their villages in just their bra shouting "My Blakey!" all the time as well.” But the Telegraph’s Neil McCormick was somewhat baffled as to why the UN had only just managed to draw the link between drug-takers and music-makers (pray, where did Costa spend the 1960s?) and irritated that the argument had been so over-simplified: “Pop culture doesn't tell one story about drugs, it tells all kinds of stories, reflecting society as much as shaping it.” And of course, even if Amy is to repent, could the New Statesman’s Rachel Cooke really handle another celebrity penitential on a par with Alex James’ recent Colombia Panorama special?

Recent arrivals: the New York City Ballet, complete with 85 dancers and its own orchestra for a 14-night stint at the Coliseum. It’s taken more than 25 years, and the combined efforts of Sadler’s Wells and the commercial organisations Askonas Holt and Raymond Gubbay to procure them, but will Balanchine’s dancers justify the wait and £95 top-ticket price? Early reviews from the Guardian and the Times suggest yes.

Just through customs: Mr Lonely, Harmony Korine’s new film, which opens in the UK today. A Marilyn Monroe impersonator takes a Michael Jackson-alike to a Highlands retreat for celebrity seconds. Worth the view? See Daniel Trilling’s feature and Ryan Gilbey.

Ready for departure: not Terry Pratchett, who despite being diagnosed with early-onset dementia, intends to “scream and harangue while there is time”. The writer donated $1 million (£495,000) to Alzheimer’s research this week presumably because he’s fond of screaming.

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.


Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.


May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.


Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.


Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor

John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump