Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

The Independent's Johann Hari explains why state spending should be increased, not cut:

The cut-cut-cut chorus appears not to have heard of what John Maynard Keynes called "the paradox of thrift". In a recession, it is rational for you and I to cut back on our spending. You holiday at home, put any spending plans on ice and save what you can. So it seems instinctively right to expect governments to do the same. But Keynes showed that if governments cut back at the same time as its citizens cut back, the recession gets even worse. Nobody is buying anything; demand collapses. More people are laid off, and the state has to spend even more in the end.

If only Gordon Brown could argue like that.

Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times that the ugly town hall demonstrations against Obama's healthcare reforms reflect cultural and racial prejudice:

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that's behind the "birther" movement, which denies Mr. Obama's citizenship.

He invokes Yeats's The Second Coming to describe the muted state of the American left:

But right now Mr. Obama's backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn't living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

Steve Richards argues in The Independent that neither Harriet Harman nor Peter Mandelson will be the next Labour leader. Of Mandelson he writes:

Personally he has enjoyed the best media ever. All would change if he were to change from king-maker to king-seeker. If Labour loses the election, the focus will be on the next generation even if the party does not have a single credible younger candidate yet.

Earlier this week I explained why Mandelson, an obedient courtier, would wither like a salted snail in power.

Richards also reveals that Gordon Brown was planning to announce during his party conference speech that he was willing to take part in live debates with Cameron.

The Daily Telegraph's Con Coughlin explains how Bill Clinton's failures as president allowed North Korea to achieve full nuclear capability.

The Clinton administration handed over millions of dollars in aid, food, oil and even a nuclear reactor in the hope of persuading the North Koreans to ditch their military programme. They simply took the aid and carried on with nuclear development regardless, so that by 2006 they were able to detonate a device.

Jenni Russell on Comment Is Free eloquently rails against a TUC motion calling for "extremely sexist" high heels to be banned from the workplace.

It's been one of the great mistakes of the left in Britain to confuse equality with sameness, and to think that if we can just eliminate sexual differences, or sexual awareness in the workplace, the world would be a better, happier, more egalitarian place. Well, it's nonsense. People's minds and skills should all be taken seriously, and treated equally, but not at the cost of a sexless uniformity.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.