Weekly Briefing

Israel: friends again

"I think he's willing to take risks for peace," said Barack Obama of his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu. The two leaders met the day after Israel confirmed that it would allow more consumer goods - although it remains unclear exactly what or how much - into the Gaza Strip.

Obama himself seemed rather risk-averse. The public friendliness of the meeting was in stark contrast to a meeting in March, when Obama refused to hold a press conference with Netanyahu and left him to eat dinner alone at the White House. But the conversation didn't touch on issues such as the continued Israeli construction projects in East Jerusalem, which had caused the frostiness between the countries in the first place.

China: economy slows

"Pretty horrific" is how Dariusz Kowalczyk, a China economist for Crédit Agricole in Hong Kong, describes the recent activity on the country's stock exchange. The Shanghai composite index has lost 32 per cent of its value since August, the lowest it has fallen since April 2009.

In fact, this is probably good news for China: the country's economy is still growing, but the frantic, unsustainable pace it had reached is expected to slow to a still-impressive 8 or 9 per cent by the end of the year. By that time, China's economy is likely to have surpassed Japan's to become the second largest in the world.

But while China's premier, Wen Jiabao, seems relaxed about the "expected direction" of his country's economy, there are fears that China's more leisurely pace may drag the world's other, less stable economies further down.

Somalia: extremists

In Somalia, independence day comes on the first, not the fourth, of July, and this year is the 50th since British and Italian colonists shipped out. But most of Somalia wasn't celebrating. Hizbul Islam, one of the Islamist groups that control almost all of the country, had warned that festivities would incur violence. Amid heavy fighting between insurgents and the transitional government, most people avoided the risk.

On 5 July, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed appealed for military and financial aid for the country. He said that Somalia "is in the hands of al-Qaeda and extremist groups", and outlined his ultimate fear: that the country will soon implode altogether.

US: women's rights

After years of discussions, the UN finally has an agency focusing on women's rights. And just in time, too: the deadline for the organisation's Millennium Development Goals is in five years' time, and the progress on goals such as reducing maternal mortality is lagging.

UN Women will bring together the four existing agencies that work for women, with the aim of creating a more influential body to deal with policies and promoting and monitoring international agreements.The new agency is expected to get its first director in September, but she is unlikely to be European or North American - a figure that embodies western feminist values is not expected to get a particularly warm welcome in many countries. Instead, Chile's former president Michelle Bachelet is the current hot tip.

Belgium: dust to dust

"Some Belgians find the idea of being dissolved and partly flushed away disturbing," reports Der Spiegel. The Flemish Association of Undertakers is seeking permission to dispose of the deceased by using caustic potash solution to turn corpses into mineral ash and liquid. The ashes could be buried or scattered in the traditional way but the European Commission is also checking whether the liquid could be flushed into the sewage system.

The process, argues the association, is energy-efficient and, unlike cremation, produces no CO2 emissions. The public and the media have countered with the incisive argument that the whole idea is a bit creepy.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the mask

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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