Patrick Druckenmiller wears a costume depicting Titanic Captain Edward John Smith as he waits in line to board the Azamara Journey. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Word Games: Titanic

Anyone else bored of the Titanic? Perhaps that's insensitive but there is such a thing as overkill (sorry, sorry). It's the centenary, hence the TV show, the events, the exhibitions. I had a teacher once who was a Titanic obsessive - he collected memorabilia and could rattle off trivia (number dead, water temperature, lifeboat dimensions). I can just about get my head round intense enthusiasm for trains - they are, after all, things that are a functioning part of the world. But a vast ship at the bottom of the ocean, whose unfortunate encounter with an iceberg tragically killed hundreds of people, strikes me as a little creepy as hobbies go.

But then, the Titanic evidently captures imaginations and not only that of James Cameron. Aside from the obvious horror and drama, a winning combination for any entertainment, it's the social history that sucks us in - the images of pre-war soirees in chandeliered ballrooms, while the third-classers were cabin-crammed below, and that proportionally, more of those travelling first class survived than those in second or third.

The Titanic was one of the shipping company White Star Line's three grand new liners. The other two were christened RMS Olympic and RMS Britannic but the poor Titanic was lumbered with the more ominous name. The Titans were the giants in Greek mythology who went to war with the Olympians and lost. The back story is brilliantly grotesque and worth a read - Cronus the Titan indulges in a good dose of children-swallowing, followed by regurgitation of said children after being given a mixture of mustard and wine. But that's by the by - when the Titans try to mount the heavens, Zeus and his crew summarily toss them into Tartarus, the abyss beneath the underworld.

Which, I suppose, is not far off where the Titanic lies now - 12,000 feet below the ocean surface, gradually disintegrating, interrupted only by tourists, salvage-hunters and the endlessly underwater James Cameron, footling around in one of his swish machines. But for those who can't make the trip and fancy a morbid gawp, there's a permanent exhibition at the Luxor Las Vegas hotel and casino. Now, that's my idea of the abyss.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 02 April 2012 issue of the New Statesman, France is my enemy

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times