Shakespeare’s Globe

The people, the places, the events

We are all Keynesians now. After being out of fashion for 30 years, the name of John Maynard Keynes is regularly invoked and Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are fond of his policy of borrowing and spending our way out of a recession. But have they forgotten that Keynes, like David Cameron, went to Eton College which, according to some in the Labour Party, disqualifies a man from taking part in public life? Eton has, of course, also provided us with arguably two of the country’s finest socialists: namely George Orwell and the Earl of Longford.

Cambridge-born Keynes, the father of modern theoretical macroeconomics, revealed on his deathbed his "only regret": "that I did not drink more champagne". There is another piquant connection which has a contemporary resonance. William Haslam, father of socialite Nicky Haslam, was a Cambridge contemporary of Keynes and became his private secretary at the Genoa conference which proposed a partial return to the gold standard in 1922. Nicky, of course, likes nothing better than to quaff champagne and spend, spend, spend - as his bash last month at Parkstead House in Roehampton testified. If you want to be a true Keynesian, you should party like there is no tomorrow.

Yes, we can. According to a government report published this month, social mobility is on the rise. Naturally social mobility, like share prices, can involve a downwards as well as an upwards direction. So what next for Tory historian Andrew Roberts? Being friends with him can be a dangerous occupation. There was Conrad Black, who now resides in jail serving a six-year sentence for criminal fraud and obstructing justice. And Roberts has long been a great cheerleader for George W Bush and his neocon friends. For his pains, he received a pair of presidential cufflinks on a visit to the Oval Office. Obama’s victory marks the end of his special relationship with the White House.

Roberts admits it is unlikely he will be invited to the White House in the next eight years (conceding the next election before it is fought). Perhaps imminent redundancy explains his current ubiquity. On election night he was drumming up new friends at five consecutive London parties, if we exclude the possibility that, like Winston Churchill, one of the subjects of his latest book, he had hired a double. If anyone can prevent relegation from society's premier league, Roberts can.

Not that I can claim any fancy social footwork. I arrived at the launch of my wife’s book, The Art of Conversation, at Ralph Lauren in New Bond Street, to find her alone with six paparazzi and a bunch of mannequins – and promptly introduced myself to a dummy (my eyesight isn’t what it was).

Later that night, Germaine Greer gave me a useful tip: "Dr Samuel Johnson, on meeting the poet Helen Maria Williams - who, by the way, was incredibly nervous at meeting the great man - simply recited one of her 14-line poems back to her. Now that is the art of conversation."

Perhaps Jonathan Ross should try it, given that his antics led even Gordon Brown to comment. “This is clearly inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, as is now widely recognised,” said the Prime Minister.

But how do you define bad behaviour? One man's horseplay is another's hanging offence. The BBC's director-general Mark Thompson bit a colleague on the arm in 1988 in a fit of rage when he was the newly appointed editor of the Nine O'clock News - and he still kept his job.

David Cameron also jumped on the moral bandwagon. There is no doubt that it suited the Tory leader to keep his embattled shadow chancellor George Osborne and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska off the front pages. But Tony Blair was truly a dab hand at hijacking the news agenda. In 1998, during his premiership, he demanded the release from prison of Deirdre Rashid (now back to being Deirdre Barlow) - a fictional character in Coronation Street.

Still, only two people out of an audience of 380,000 saw fit to complain to the BBC when the controversial Russell Brand Show was first broadcast on Radio 2. The trouble only came about because a Mail on Sunday journalist happened to be listening to the show at home while he cooked himself a dish of pasta. There is no more poignant image than that of a bachelor staying in on a Saturday night masticating his dinner. The reporter, Miles Goslett, landed a huge scoop through happenstance - being in the right place at the right time, on this occasion in his kitchen.

This must rank as the most expensive bachelor supper in history - resulting in the 12-week suspension of Ross (which would have earned him a salary of £1.5m) and the resignations of the Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas, another senior BBC executive, and Brand. Still, at least man-biter Mark Thompson remains in situ. Awaiting his pound of Goslett's flesh?

Sebastian Shakespeare is editor of the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary

This article first appeared in the 17 November 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obamania

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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