Weekly briefing

Croatian novice

Inexperience is not usually an advantage in a presidential race, but it is working in the Croatian Ivo Josipovic's favour. Following an inconclusive first vote, he is expected to beat Zagreb's mayor, Milan Bandic, in a run-off.

The economy - estimated to have contracted by 5 per cent in 2009 - is a major election issue. But in a country ravaged by organised crime and high-level shady dealing, corruption is just as important. The Social Democrat Josipovic, a scholar, composer and the director of Music Biennale Zagreb, has been described as politically inexperienced and lacking in charisma. But in comparison with the independent candidate Bandic - who is accused of fixing bids for public contracts and trying to escape police after driving drunk - Josipovic seems like a very attractive option.

Five wives Zuma

Tentative congratulations to Thobeka Mabhija, the Durban socialite who has become the fifth Mrs Jacob Zuma. The polygamous president isn't exactly famous for his forward-thinking attitude to women. During his abortive trial for rape in 2006, he described his accuser as asking for it, and referred to her genitals as "her father's kraal" (a term for an animal enclosure). His late wife Kate Mantsho, who committed suicide in 2000, described her marriage to Zuma as "24 years of hell".

But despite Zuma's appalling behaviour towards women, gender equality in South Africa has leapt forward under his leadership. His cabinet is 42 per cent female, women have a stronger role in the labour force and the country has shot up to an enviable sixth place on the Global Gender Gap index (Britain languishes at number 15). It seems there has never been a better time to be a woman in South Africa, as long as you're not romantically involved with the president.

God is in the detail

Just days after Malaysia's weekly Catholic newspaper the Herald had won the right to use the name Allah for the Christian "God" in its Malay-language edition, the decision was suspended when the government filed for a stay of execution. For three years, non-Muslims, who make up 40 per cent of Malaysia's population, have been banned from using "Allah", on the basis that proselytising to Muslims is illegal. Allowing its use was a landmark decision for Malaysia, where religion and language are highly sensitive. But the suspension is significant, too. The country's lower courts have shown growing independence in recent decisions, leaving the government to flex its muscles only after the event.

Hardware porn

What do you get if you cross unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) - remotely piloted military aircraft carrying laser-guided bombs and so-called "fire-and-forget" missiles - with YouTube? An internet sensation known as "drone porn", that's what!

Filmed from aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, the clips, posted by the US defence department, have titles such as "UAV kills six heavily armed criminals" and "Hellfire missile hitting a tank". They live up to the gory promise of these lines, and have received more than ten million views so far. Apparently intended to promote the drones' work, among a certain audience the clips appear to be doing just that: "It's a bit like burning ants with a magnifying glass," muses one thoughtful YouTube commenter.

Mother Russia

Just days before Vladimir Putin hit the slopes of south Russia for some holiday snowmobiling - wearing the recommended safety garb of helmet and goggles at all times, even during a backie from a woolly-hatted President Medvedev - the prime minister presented Russia with some astonishing news. In 2009, for the first time in 15 years, the country's population was found to have grown. Or at least, it will be found to have grown when the official statistics are released, which they haven't been just yet. It makes sense: the government has made strenuous efforts to raise Russia's low birth rate, offering bumped-up child benefits and prizes such as fridges and TVs to those who give birth on Russia Day. Besides, Putin made his announcement with "a high degree of confidence". And who would doubt a politician offering that? l

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Obama: the year of living dangerously

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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