Weekly Briefing

Haiti horror

It's hard to know which is more horrifying: the photographs of traumatised, bloodied Haitians stumbling through the rubble of what used to be central Port-au-Prince, or the sense that disaster is constantly around the corner for the Caribbean state. One of the world's poorest countries, it is
also among the most politically - as well as climatically - unstable.

Hours on from the latest disaster, the US and Britain were among those promising aid. But in Haiti, aid brings its own problems. Often channelled through NGOs bypassing the government, critics argue aid leaves the authorities mistrustful, dependent and even indifferent to Haiti's problems. The infrastructure to distribute aid is also lacking; instead, it often turns up on the black market.

Tackling the latest disaster is now the priority. But solutions to the aid dilemma must be sought.

Orange men

It's a month of anniversaries, for detention camps. Eight years after the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay, on 11 January 2002, European countries were urged by human rights organisations to do more for prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries.

As Amnesty International, the legal charity Reprieve and the US Center for Constitutional Rights have pointed out, even avoiding the contentious question of Yemeni prisoners, around 50 of the detainees who remain at Guantanamo are still there purely because they have nowhere else
to go: they are at risk of torture in their home countries.

January also sees the first anniversary of Barack Obama's promise to close Guantanamo before the end of this month. Writing for the NS last January, Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve UK's director, warned how serious a challenge this was; but now even his analysis seems outlandishly optimistic. Then, around 240 prisoners were held at the camp. Dealing with "the first group is the easiest - the 140 or so prisoners who can just be repatriated," predicted Stafford Smith. But one year on, little progress has been made, and about 200 detainees remain.

Censor sensibility

In an English-language blog post, Google announced it is "no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn", after Gmail accounts of rights activists were hacked. Google's departure from China seems inevitable.

But many suspect pulling out is more about business than the company's "don't be evil" motto. Google's Chinese market share, one third, is tiny relative to its dominance outside. And a public blog, in English, was never likely to sway China's government - although it might just make anti-censorship Westerners feel more warmly about the internet giant.

Chávez culture

President Hugo Chávez has waded in at the shallow end of his war against Venezuela's media. In the past, he has likened moguls to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, criticised the media's part in the 2002 coup and, more sinisterly, refused broadcast licences to TV stations he didn't like.

This time he has merely called for more "socialist soap operas". It's happened before: in 2004, Love Inside the Barrio followed a young Chávez supporter and her lover, a journalist whose father hated the president. But the show failed to distract Venezuelan viewers from their usual diet of glossy commercial telenovelas.

Avatar city

Residents of Vatican City are not the only ones to have criticised James Cameron's 3D alien eco-spectacular Avatar for being "bland". Nor are they the only ones to sigh wearily at its distinct whiff of New Age. But they're probably the only ones worrying about "all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium"

In a recent speech, the often less than forward-thinking Pope Benedict expressed his concern about climate change and deforestation. But he warned, too, against the dangers of "neopaganism" and turning nature into a "new divinity".

You can almost seeing him now, shaking his head as he reads L'Osservatore Romano's film review section by the light of a burning copy of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood and thinking, "I told you so."

This article first appeared in the 18 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Palin Power

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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