Weekly Briefing

Kyrgyzstan: riot starter

"These 300-500 people must be well equipped . . . We must tell each of them: 'Here is two or three thousand for you. If you do it, you'll be given the same amount again.'" If Maxim Bakiyev, son of Kyrgyzstan's deposed president, did give these furtive instructions, recorded during a tapped telephone call, it is going to be very hard to overturn the charges against him. The interim government accuses him of orchestrating the riots that have displaced a quarter-million Uzbeks resident in Kyrgyzstan and killed almost 200, in an attempt to derail a constitutional referendum due on 27 June.

Bakiyev Jr flew to the UK on 13 June to claim asylum, but the Kyrgyz government has called for his extradition. It insists that the referendum will go ahead.

US: Oval Office speech

Following two days spent visiting Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, President Barack Obama returned to the White House to address
the nation over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In the first Oval Office address of his presidency, he pledged to "make BP pay" and to "do whatever's necessary" to help the Gulf recover. But with little concrete detail about fixing the region's problems, the speech was never going to be popular.

The president's critics also questioned the need for his visit to the Gulf, but there, at least, he could provide hands-on support. According to reports, he put his mouth where the government's money will, it is hoped, end up - helping local traders by consuming large quantities of fried shrimp, crab cakes, crawfish tails and seafood salad.

Romania: wet protests

Even in the 38°C summer heat of 14 June, Bucharest's police probably weren't thrilled to have buckets of water flung at them. But then again, the thousands of people protesting against the government's austerity measures - which will cut pensions by 15 per cent and public-sector wages by 25 per cent - weren't in the best of moods either. Pensioners told reporters that they are already desperate and struggling to pay for food and medicines.

The protest was a reprise of mass demonstrations in May, and coincided with a no-confidence vote against the government.
But with a safe majority, the government survived. The cuts will survive, too, so that the country can meet payments for the €20bn IMF loan it received in March.

Prime Minister Emil Boc called the cuts the "lesser of two evils". The other option is not paying pensions or wages at all.

Iran: ships to Gaza

Just as Israel consented to allow thousands of tonnes of aid into Gaza from the flotilla on which nine activists were killed, progress has ground to a halt. Iran has said it will shortly send two supply ships to Gaza, through Egyptian waters, and those around Gaza - which are under Israel's control.

Israel had reportedly been considering easing the blockade on the Strip. Bans on goods such as ketchup, fruit juice, needles and thread had been lifted. But Israel is suspicious of Iran: discussions have returned to the smuggling of "deadly weapons, rockets and missiles that are used against the people of Israel". Once again, the region is back where it started.

South Africa: horns

If there's one thing the vuvuzela - the South African horn that has provided the droning soundtrack to the summer so far - is good at creating, it's statistics. Sainsbury's sells 22,000 in 12 hours! One million iPhone vuvuzela app downloads! Days after the World Cup kicked off, 545 complaints
to the BBC!

If there's another thing the glorified plastic tubes can create, it's a good myth. Rich Mkhondo, Fifa spokesman, has solemnly explained to disgruntled critics that the vuvuzela is "traditional". But the South African sports broadcaster Thabiso Tema reckons the horns have been around for "ten years - at the very most".

This article first appeared in the 21 June 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The age of ideas

Show Hide image

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