A belief in science

Icki Iqbal, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and gives his point of view on why embryonic stem cell

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago. Parkinson’s is a progressive, neurological condition, which is currently incurable although it can be managed well with medication. Being a laid back person, I took this diagnosis in my stride, but my wife was absolutely devastated at first. We’ve both had to come to terms with it in our own ways pretty quickly though, we know how important it is for me to keep physically and mentally active to keep living as normal a life as possible, for as long as possible.

My diagnosis came after I went to my GP with two unconnected problems, I had a tremor down my right side (which is the symptom most people will associate with Parkinson’s), and my voice was becoming increasingly inaudible. I was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed Parkinson’s and told me the speech problem was connected to that.

Having Parkinson’s influenced my decision to retire from full-time employment, but it’s the little things that have made the biggest difference really.

I’ve been to language therapy classes, which have been a big help, but my voice often still lacks volume, which can cause problems socially and in business meetings. I have less power in my legs so my driving speed is slower. And Parkinson’s affects the fine motor skills, so everything I do, from doing up a button, to putting on a seat belt, takes longer than it used to.

However there is no reason why early Parkinson’s should deter you from leading an active life. I am a non-executive director of a pension fund, Governor of a school. I am also involved in a couple of start up insurance operations and am writing a novel. Staying mentally active has been easy; ensuring adequate exercise has been harder.

My Parkinson’s symptoms are managed by drugs at the moment, and this is very effective – I’m lucky that my symptoms haven’t progressed too far yet. But of course I would like there to be a cure, to know that I don’t have to live with this condition for the rest of my life.

I got involved with the Parkinson’s Disease Society’s Research Network earlier this year because I wanted to find out more about research in Parkinson’s – there’s so much research being done, both in terms of long-term treatments and cures, as well as things that are going to help people live better in the short term.

I’m a great believer in science and I do believe that scientists will eventually discover what causes Parkinson’s and how to prevent it; it’s just a matter of time.

Stem cell research is one area of science that has attracted a lot of interest in recent years, and the reports that have come back so far are quite exciting. Stem cells are unspecialised cells that have the ability to develop into different types of cells, such as nerve, brain, blood, skin, etc. Because they are so versatile, scientists hope that they can be used to repair and renew cells in the brain lost in neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s.

There are several different ways to get stem cells that can be used for this kind of medical research, including, from early embryos, from blood cells taken from umbilical cords at birth, and from bone marrow. Embryonic stem cells are the most effective for research purposes. Because of this, and the shortage of alternatives, these cells are the ones Parkinson’s research is concentrating on.

I know there are ethical arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells and I do sympathise with pro-life campaigners, but there is no loss of life involved here. Without using embryonic stem cells, there simply wouldn’t be enough stem cells available for this research. And without this research the hope of a cure for Parkinson’s in my lifetime would look increasingly distant. If this kind of research helps discover preventative cures for conditions like Parkinson’s, then it should be encouraged.

There are many different avenues of research being pursued at the moment and I believe it’s important that the current systematic approach is continued to allow the 120,000 people with Parkinson’s in the UK, including myself, to continue to hope.

Icki Iqbal (62) is a retired actuary from Surrey. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago and has since become involved with the Parkinson’s Disease Society’s Research Network. This is a group made up of interested and non-expert members who review research projects seeking funding from the Society to assess their benefit for people living with the condition.
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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