As the dust settles

If the G8 leaders represent us, why are they forced to hide behind fences?

As the 2007 G8 summit concludes today, we hear that the G8 leaders have been re-packaging their existing aid commitments in order to appear to be ‘doing something’ about poverty. But the aid increases were not enough back in 2005 and they are not enough now. And regardless of how much aid cash that rich countries are prepared to spend, there is something much more important at stake.

As the activists have being saying here all week, for genuine change we need to fundamentally shift the way we structure our global economic system - but perhaps that is expecting a bit too much of the G8!

As for their statement on climate change - that they will "consider seriously... at least halving global emissions by 2050" - this kind of woolly rhetoric is nothing short of insulting to the thousands of demonstrators in Germany and the millions facing imminent climate chaos across the world.

We need to start a radical process immediately if we are actually going to make any positive difference to the impacts on millions of people around the world.

While journalists, NGOs, and policy-makers pour over the detail of the communiqué and file their verdicts, Rostock is set to return to normal. Delegates will fly home, activists will pack up their tents, and the camps and blockades scattered around Heiligendamm will move toward Rostock city centre for a closing rally by the harbour.

Our experience has been a positive - one of collective action. Both the activists and the local people in Rostock have been incredibly welcoming to us, with only a few shops boarded up.

A German friend told us that the headline of the Hamburg regional paper reads: "Success for the G8 blockaders." Not sure who or what they were referring to but this is an interesting statement to have seen in the press. Was it a success? The fact that thousands and thousands of people felt the need to travel to Germany to register their protest I think is a success in itself.

The fact that protesters managed to successfully blockade roads, train lines, and attempted to block the sea is also a success. The fact that once again, people from all walks of life, ages and nationalities stood up to be counted - and that violence was minimal – is perhaps the greatest success of all.

The G8 summit may have managed to continue, and produced little or nothing new, but they know that we were there in our tens of thousands. And when leaders are forced to hide behind huge fences - and spend millions on security evading the people they are meant to represent - the movement can only feel vindicated.

As for us, it is time to take stock, reflect and relax with a beer, before packing up our tent, and making the long train journey back to the UK. I think we’ve earned it.

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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