Weekly Briefing

Koreas: conflict

North Korea has never recognised the western sea border drawn by the UN after its conflict with South Korea in the 1950s. The imaginary line has been the setting for several clashes in recent years. After months of tension, violence and gunfire have erupted once again.

First, Pyongyang warned Seoul to halt military drills being held in the area. When the South refused, the North shelled Yeonpyeong, a small island nearby, killing two marines and sparking further retaliation. The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, has threatened to strike a North Korean base in response to any further artillery fire.

The New York Times reported that satellite images showed no sign of "preparations for general war". But the US and the South have agreed to a co-ordinated response to Pyongyang.

New Zealand: miners

Barely a month since Chile celebrated the rescue of 33 of its miners, tragedy has struck New Zealand. A second underground blast at the Pike River mine on 24 November has sealed the fate of 29 men who had been trapped underground for six days following a first explosion.

The group included 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African.

“It is our belief that no one has survived and everyone will have perished," Gary Knowles of the police told reporters on the scene. The prime minister of New Zealand, John Key, described the loss of life as a "national tragedy". He added: "The 29 men whose names and faces we have all come to know will never walk among us again. We are a nation in mourning." It was the country's worst mining disaster since 1914, when a gas explosion left 43 dead.

Sudan: voting

“The rhetoric by all parties must be toned down - I repeat, the rhetoric by all parties must be toned down," a worried Benjamin Mkapa, chair of the UN's Panel on the Referenda in Sudan, warned at a press conference in the southern Sudanese capital, Juba. With the referendum on
the south's independence due in January, voters have been registering at home and in countries including the UK, the US, Egypt and Uganda.

But there have been reports of southern leaders encouraging those outside the south not to vote, as well as intimidation and violence. Funding, too, is said to be short: the Khartoum and Juba governments have reportedly supplied the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau with only $179m of the $370m required.

US: drug trade

Another trade association! And another involved in health care! Just what America needs. What is surprising, however, is the industry in question: medical marijuana, its growers, dispensers and consumers.

The new National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), based in Washington, will act as lobbyists. Fifteen states have legalised the drug for medical use but the NCIA has high hopes for cannabis's future. Its top goals, according to its executive director, Aaron Smith, are "to end prohibition on a federal level" and "for the federal government to stop kicking in the doors of these legitimate businesses".

Russia: bank hard

“Bruce Willis is power. He works much better than cabbage," Dmitry Chukseyev of the Russian bank Trust explained.

A leather-jacketed Willis gruffly peers from Trust's billboards beside the slogan: "Trust - it's just like me, only [it's] a bank."

Until 2009, Vladimir Turchinsky, a bodybuilder and TV star, lent the bank a manly image. But after his death, Trust tried a new approach - adverts featuring cabbage, Russian slang for cash. But its rival, SKB, had come up with the idea first and won exclusive rights to use the
much-loved vegetables. Luckily, Willis, also popular with Russians, was available.

This article first appeared in the 29 November 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Congo

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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