Weekly Briefing

US: midterms

Barack Obama did his best, campaigning in Illinois just days before the midterm elections, but the jubilant Republican Mark Kirk still turned the Senate seat red. Much of the House of Representatives went the same way - thanks largely to voters' discontent at the fragility of the US economy - and the Republicans took control.

But the elections had their bright spots, too. The Senate remained under the control of the Democrats. And Christine O'Donnell, despite her telegenic looks and whatever magical powers "dabbling in witchcraft" might have brought her, was trounced by the Democrat Chris Coons by a double-digit margin in Delaware. Other Tea Party members won their seats but the failure of one so warmly endorsed by Sarah Palin might have an interesting fallout for the country's premier mama grizzly.

Zimbabwe: diamonds

“Our compliance must entitle Zimbabwe to immediately and unconditionally export [diamonds]," Obert Mpofu, the country's mines minister, told the Kimberley Process, the industry's trading body. Last year's ban on sales from the Marange region following human rights abuses on the diamond fields infuriated Robert Mugabe's government, which viewed it as "a tool to regulate improperly the flow of exports out of Zimbabwe". The ban didn't impress human rights activists, either, as Zimbabwe's sales were not fully suspended.

Monitors in the country are divided. Those from the US and Australia want the ban to remain. But the majority, from Israel and various parts of Africa, argue that conditions have improved greatly. Some say they are no worse than in other developing countries.

Japan: Russia spat

Islands have been causing some headaches for Japan. First, it was a cluster known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan that both countries claim as their own. Now, a dispute over the Kuril Islands, seized by Russia at the end of the Second World War, is the focus of the trouble.

On 1 November, President Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian leader to visit the islands - which he pointedly described as "a very important region in our country" - causing Japan to recall its envoy from Moscow. It is less the land than the sea around the Kurils - rich fishing waters with some promise of oil and gas reserves - that is of interest to the squabbling nations. The islands have had little attention since they became part of Russia.

Serbia: Ratko Mladic

“Mladic will be arrested without question if he is within the reach of the Serbian security services," Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, assured the daily newspaper Blic. The former general is believed to be in Serbia; the price on his head has increased tenfold to €10m.

Serbia sees the arrest of Mladic, indicted along with Radovan Karadzic for genocide and crimes against humanity, as the final hurdle to be overcome on its path to joining the EU. But the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, disagrees: "We're a long, long way from the end of the process." Negotiations with Kosovo - whose government lost a vote of no confidence in late October - are also essential.

Australia: swim smarts

Does swimming make you smarter? It's an unlikely question, but researchers in Queensland have become the first in the world to address it.

The four-year study will survey more than 10,000 children under the age of five to ascertain how the sport affects their mental and physical development. "[Kids who swim] are exposed to a language that they wouldn't be exposed to anywhere else," said Robyn Jorgensen.

She didn't say whether she swam as a child, but explained: "We want to see if it does make them smarter, more physically developed, better linguistic."

This article first appeared in the 08 November 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Israel divided

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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