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Déjà vu. Labour tribalists block a “progressive majority” - again

Beckett, Blunkett and Reid should hang their heads in shame.

If David Cameron wins a Commons majority at the next general election, on redrawn boundaries and under first-past-the-post, he should send a personal note of thanks to a former acting Labour leader and two former Labour home secretaries. Margaret Beckett, John Reid and David Blunkett were at the forefront of the Tory-funded, ultra-conservative No to AV campaign, loudly defending the dysfunctional electoral system that helped deliver the 20th century to the Conservative Party.

Beckett was president of No to AV; Reid shared a platform with Cameron for a joint No to AV campaign event on 17 April; Blunkett, meanwhile, on the eve of the referendum, cheerily confessed to having been fully aware of the No to AV campaign's lies and smears.

AV looks likely to be defeated. The result isn't out till this evening but I hear YouGov is predicting a 2:1 majority for the No side.

Do you get a sense of déjà vu? Just a year ago, it was Blunkett and Reid who led the (successful) attempt to scupper a "rainbow coalition" between Labour, the Lib Dems and the nationalists, preferring to luxuriate in opposition as Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith squeezed the middle and demonised the poor.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform our broken, majoritarian voting system that disenfranchises millions of voters and puts power in the hands of a hundred thousand or so "swing" voters in "Middle England" marginal seats has been lost. It was our last chance – supporters of PR who opposed AV, such as the RMT's Bob Crow, whom I debated on the Jeremy Vine show yesterday, were perhaps asleep when Osborne pointed out that a No vote in the referendum would settle the issue of electoral reform "for the foreseeable future". He's right.

But John Harris and Guido Fawkes are wrong: there is a progressive, social-democratic, anti-Tory majority in this country, a majority of voters who back well-funded public services and redistributive taxation. The problem is that it doesn't have a hope in hell of being represented until the likes of Blunkett, Reid, Beckett, John Prescott and the rest – David Cameron's "useful idiots" inside the Labour Party – get out of the way.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Did Titantic do more for climate change than Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary?

Sex, icebergs and individual plight: the actor’s earlier outing teaches us more about vast disasters than his new docufilm about global warming’s impact, Before the Flood.

“Now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me . . . in every way that a person can be saved.” Or did he? For Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio, there is one way in which Jack never did rescue Rose: from the threat of climate catastrophe. 

Over the last 15 years, DiCaprio has made the issue a personal mission. Yet even in his role as UN climate ambassador, he stills feels far from heroic:

“If the UN really knew how I feel, how pessimistic I am about our future . . . I mean to be honest, they may have picked the wrong guy.”

So begins his new documentary, Before the Flood. A quest for answers on climate change, the film sees Leo racing around the world, marvelling at the sound of endangered whales, despairing at the destruction caused by tar-sands – “it looks like Mordor” – and interviewing a series of concerned experts, from professors to Barack Obama to the Pope.

There are plenty of naysayers to stand in his way and put him down. “Who better to educate world leaders on made-up climate change and a crisis that doesn't exist, than an actor with zero years of scientific training?” mocks one commentator from Fox News.

But if DiCaprio can gather enough evidence to believe in himself – AND believe that there are viable solutions out there – then so can we. Or so the story arc promises. His journey thus stands as a guide for our own; a self-education that will lead to salvation for all. 

It's all a little messianic. The film is even named after a biblical painting. And will those who don't already know who DiCaprio is even care? 

The sad fact is that, while DiCaprio’s lasting popularity still owes so much Titanic, the 1997 box-office smash that made his name, his new documentary fails to recapture the dramatic wisdom that put him there. It doesn’t even quip about the icebergs.

This is an oversight. Titanic didn’t win 11 academy awards for nothing. As well as a must-see rite of passage (pun intended) and soundtrack for infinite school discos, it taught me something invaluable about storytelling. Though I was not initially a DiCaprio fan, over the years I’ve come to accept that my lasting love of the film is inseparable from my emotional investment in Leo, or at least in his character, Jack. What Titanic showed so brilliantly was that the fastest way to empathise with suffering on a vast scale – be it a sinking ship or a sinking planet – is to learn to care for the fate of one or two individuals involved.

Every part of Jack and Rose's story is thus intimately linked with the story of the ship. Even that famed sex scene gains its erotic force not from the characters alone, but from their race through the blazing engine room (situated as it is between the foreplay of the naked portrait and the famous post-coital ending in the back of the cab).

And such carefully crafted storytelling isn't only essential to great entertainment but to great activism too. It can literally inspire action – as evidenced by fans’ desperate attempts to prove that both Jack and Rose could have climbed to safety aboard the floating piece of wood.

So would Before the Flood have been better if it had been a little bit more like Titanic and less like An Inconvenient Truth? Yes. And does that mean we should make climate films about epic polar bear love stories instead? Not exactly. 

There are many powerful documentaries out there that make you emotionally invested in the lives of those experiencing the consequences of our indirect (fossil fuel-burning) actions. Take Virunga, a heart-wrenching insight into the struggle of those protecting eastern Congo’s national park.

Sadly, Before the Flood is not one of them. Its examples of climate change – from Beijing air pollution to coral reef destruction – are over-familiar and under-explored. Instead of interviewing a Chinese official with a graph on his iPad, I would have preferred visiting a solar-panel factory worker and meeting their family, who are perhaps suffering from the effects of the smog in a way I can't yet imagine.

If you want a whistlestop tour of all things climate change then this necessary and urgent film is the movie for you. But those hoping it will give new depth to climate activism will be disappointed.

DiCaprio's distant relationship with the effects of climate change leave him stranded at the level of a narrator. He makes for a great elderly Rose, but we need a Jack.

Before The Flood is in limited theatres from 21 October and will be shown on National Geographic on Sunday 30 October.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.