Letter of the week

Perhaps the most unseemly aspect of the left's response to the terror attacks is the deluded conviction - repeated by Jackie Ashley last week ("History and social democracy start again", 8 October) - that they somehow herald a revival of old-style social democracy and the subordination of the market to the public sphere. Over recent weeks, the op-ed sections and letters pages of the left-wing press have been dominated by professional pontificators and bearded academics called Max drooling at the prospect of a new statist world order of restricted trade and neo-Keynesian big government.

Ashley, for example, says that "the power and authority of the state have been confirmed". Er, how exactly? By the failure of the world's best-funded government intelligence agency to detect the most brazen terrorist attack ever? Or by the ignorance of the combined diplomatic and military might of the new "alliance" as to how to overcome one man (Osama Bin Laden) and his tinpot backers (the Taliban)? Or by the common link between the states that breed terrorists, which is that they all have lots of what the old left love (public officials telling citizens what to do) and very little of what the old left loathes (free trade, inward investment)?

Most risible, however, is the hope that western governments will now embark on grand state spending projects to support their economies and provide security - a fantastic expectation that was immediately shot to pieces by George Bush's call for a $60bn tax cut to boost consumer demand. The saddest part of all this is not the false and ill-considered nature of the old left's argument, but that they gleefully seize upon even the most devastating of human tragedies as an opportunity to revive their defunct ideology.

Janan Ganesh
Croydon, Greater London

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, A nation in panic

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Labour tensions boil over at fractious MPs' meeting

Corbyn supporters and critics clash over fiscal charter U-turn and new group Momentum. 

"A total fucking shambles". That was the verdict of the usually emollient Ben Bradshaw as he left tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. His words were echoed by MPs from all wings of the party. "I've never seen anything like it," one shadow minister told me. In commitee room 14 of the House of Commons, tensions within the party - over the U-turn on George Osborne's fiscal charter and new Corbynite group Momentum - erupted. 

After a short speech by Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell sought to explain his decision to oppose Osborne's fiscal charter (having supported it just two weeks ago). He cited the change in global economic conditions and the refusal to allow Labour to table an amendment. McDonnell also vowed to assist colleagues in Scotland in challenging the SNP anti-austerity claims. But MPs were left unimpressed. "I don't think I've ever heard a weaker round of applause at the PLP than the one John McDonnell just got," one told me. MPs believe that McDonnell's U-turn was due to his failure to realise that the fiscal charter mandated an absolute budget surplus (leaving no room to borrow to invest), rather than merely a current budget surplus. "A huge joke" was how a furious John Mann described it. He and others were outraged by the lack of consultation over the move. "At 1:45pm he [McDonnell] said he was considering our position and would consult with the PLP and the shadow cabinet," one MP told me. "Then he announces it before 6pm PLP and tomorow's shadow cabinet." 

When former shadow cabinet minister Mary Creagh asked Corbyn about the new group Momentum, which some fear could be used as a vehicle to deselect critical MPs (receiving what was described as a weak response), Richard Burgon, one of the body's directors, offered a lengthy defence and was, one MP said, "just humiliated". He added: "It looked at one point like they weren't even going to let him finish. As the fractious exchanges were overheard by journalists outside, Emily Thornberry appealed to colleagues to stop texting hacks and keep their voices down (within earshot of all). 

After a calmer conference than most expected, tonight's meeting was evidence of how great the tensions within Labour remain. Veteran MPs described it as the worst PLP gathering for 30 years. The fear for all MPs is that they have the potential to get even worse. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.