Gaddafi's death: voices from Libya

"I've been waiting for this my whole life." Young Libyans who have never known anything but Gaddafi'

It was hard to hear anyone properly over the car horns, ululations, chants and cheers in Martyrs Square, but my friends -- students and young professionals who have known little other than Muammar Gaddafi's repressive, totalitarian, paranoid rule -- tried gallantly to describe what it feels like to wave the former "Brother Leader" goodbye for the final time.

"It's amazing," Yusef shouts over the crowds. His friend Zuhair wrestles the from him phone to add "It's an incredible feeling. I've been waiting for this my whole life." They pass the phone to Noor, but she is too excited to do more than scream.

With the entire of central Tripoli blocked, they abandon Zuhair's car several streets away and walk into the central square on foot. "Everyone is coming out of the houses and joining us now. There are thousands of people coming out onto the street, and office workers are leaving their buildings still wearing their suits to come to the square," Yusef explains.

Yusef was already planning to head to Martyrs Square when he heard that Sirte had fallen, but when he saw the news of Gaddafi's death on TV "we started jumping in front of the TV, and people just ran outside, to see their neighbours and get candy and chocolates. People were spraying perfume on each other, and giving each other chocolates. We were so happy."

He left his mother and sisters at home. "Some people are afraid to go out, because of the random shooting," he says, but the problem hasn't been as bad as he feared. "There have been three or four cases of people shooting up into the air, but the crowd just started shouting at them and threw water bottles and things at them until they stopped."

His conversation was halting as he called back greetings and congratulations to strangers in the street. Before the revolution, many Libyans had all but retreated into the relative security of their family homes, fearful of Gaddafi's security forces and neighbourhood gossip. Despite six months of civil war, Libyans are learning to trust one another again, and ordinary citizens are reclaiming public spaces -- both physically, and politically.

Al-Jazeera has reported that mobile phone pictures of Gaddafi's injured body are already being blown up to make posters to hang in public squares. The reaction is simultaneously distasteful and understandable, but the Libyan people have more to celebrate today than the sorry death of a terrible tyrant. Despite the frenzied excitement of this morning, Yusef was already focusing on the long-term implications of this final military victory.

"Finally we can focus on rebuilding our country, on creating a transitional government, on elections. Until now we have just been focusing on liberating Sirte and finding Gaddafi. Now we can move on." The National Transitional Council's political challenges are far greater than the military one they've just overcome. But at least now they are ready to move on.

Sophie McBain is a staff writer for Spears. She previously lived in Tripoli.

 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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How the Conservatives lost the argument over austerity

After repeatedly missing their deficit targets, the Tories can no longer present spending cuts as essential.

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity,” declared David Cameron at the Conservatives' 2009 spring conference. Fear of spending cuts helped deny his party a majority a year later, but by 2015 the Tories claimed vindication. By framing austerity as unavoidable, they had trapped Labour in a political no man's land. Though voters did not relish cuts, polling consistently showed that they regarded them as necessary.

But only two years later, it is the Conservatives who appear trapped. An austerity-weary electorate has deprived them of their majority and the argument for fiscal restraint is growing weaker by the day. If cuts are the supposed rule, then the £1bn gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party is the most glaring exception. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to justify this largesse as "investment" into "the infrastructure of Northern Ireland" from "which everybody will benefit" – a classic Keynesian argument. But this did not, he hastened to add, mean the end of austerity: "Austerity is never over until we clear the deficit."

Britain's deficit (which peaked at £153bn in 2009-10) was the original and pre-eminent justification for cuts. Unless borrowing was largely eliminated by 2015, George Osborne warned, Britain's public finances would become unsustainable. But as time has passed, this argument has become progressively weaker. The UK has cumulatively borrowed £200bn more than promised by Osborne, yet apocalypse has been averted. With its low borrowing costs, an independent currency and a lender of last resort (the Bank of England), the UK is able to tolerate consistent deficits (borrowing stood at £46.6bn in 2016-17).

In defiance of all this, Osborne vowed to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 (a goal achieved by the UK in just 12 years since 1948). The Tories made the target in the knowledge that promised tax cuts and spending increases would make it almost impossible to attain – but it was a political weapon with which to wound Labour.

Brexit, however, forced the Conservatives to disarm. Mindful of the economic instability to come, Philip Hammond postponed the surplus target to 2025 (15 years after Osborne's original goal). Britain's past and future borrowing levels mean the deficit has lost its political potency.

In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that voters are increasingly inclined to look for full-scale alternatives. Labour has remade itself as an unambiguously anti-austerity party and Britain's public realm is frayed from seven years of cuts: overburdened schools and hospitals, dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, uncollected bins.

Through a shift in rhetoric, Theresa May acknowledged voters' weariness with austerity but her policies did not match. Though the pace of cuts was slowed, signature measures such as the public sector pay cap and the freeze in working-age benefits endured. May's cold insistence to an underpaid nurse that there was no "magic money tree" exemplified the Tories' predicament.

In his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond conceded that voters were impatient "after seven years of hard slog” but vowed to "make anew the case" for austerity. But other Tories believe they need to stop fighting a losing battle. The Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. If the Tories are to retain power, yet another metamorphosis may be needed: from austerity to stimulus.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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