Don't mention the Europeans

Palin fans found among the Conservative Christian bunch, really like to spread the word that voting

Don’t mention Europe anywhere near a Republican – it makes steam streak out of their ears.

Europe is another world to them, where medicine is “socialised” and all religion is banned. I heard one Republican apologise to the Today programme’s James Naughtie before laying into this part of the world: “We don’t want to be like Europe,” he said, in tones heavy with the emphasis that being European would be the stuff of his nightmares.

This is quite obviously why a good section of the Republican party like Sarah Palin - because she is nothing like Europe, and is a proper American. And that would be because she likes to carry a rifle around (hurrah), isn’t interested in anything outside her national borders (excellent), and has only just discovered what a passport is (who cares).

Those Palin fans found among the Conservative Christian bunch, really like to spread the word that voting Democrat would be a vote for being a bit more like Europe, or worst of all, France. France epitomises, for them, all that is wrong with the world, and that would be because France, a Republic set up in the late 18th Century, separates church and state, a bit like, err, the United States. Oh yes, but that would be something that founders got wrong.

So if you want to be rude to a Republican – and god knows why you should – then suggest they might look a little bit French.

What is it that European countries have that they don’t want? Well, first off, of course, there is the point that Europe is a cornucopia of countries, 27 in the EU, and others that aren’t; each with their very own culture.

However some things that some European countries have that US Republicans might hate: a lower teenage pregnancy rate; higher social mobility; health systems free at the point of use; contraception.

This anti-Europeanism strain is strong in middle America, where is mixes with a good soupcon of anti-elitism, which is why GW Bush’s Man from Midland act played so well. Very down-home, hogs and all. Maybe these two threads explain why Jimmy Carter was pushed so far out of the spotlight at the Democratic convention.

Carter, a Nobel Prize winner and a man with an in-depth understanding of foreign affairs, didn’t get a starring role with the Obama show. The Democrats don’t have many ex-presidents in their back pocket, but they certainly have found it convenient to forget this one. Carter, an elder statesman, who definitely knows where his passport is kept – keeps himself busy trying to build coalitions in the Middle East, and talking in liberal international relations terms that are frankly a bit too European for many Americans. Mix that with worries about alienating the Jewish lobby, which have been critical of Obama on Israel, but not as critical as they are of Carter on Israel – and the consequence is that the Obama team might be just a bit scared of getting Carter too close to their bandwagon.

If they wanted a bit more foreign policy knowledge – and who is to say they do – then the last person they would be dialling would be James Earl. Not now, not ever. No way.

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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