Bush rails against angry left

More curious tales from the Republican convention as Matt Kennard continues his reports from St Paul

George W. Bush graced the convention yesterday via video link and took the time to rail against the “angry left” who, he claimed, could “never break” John McCain. He then compared “angry left” opponents of his administration to the North Vietnamese who captured and tortured McCain during the war in Indo-China. So there you go.

As the delayed convention got going inside the action on the outside started to peter out. At the State Capitol there was, however, a music concert which showcased legendary hip-hop act Dead Prez, who rapped their “F*** the Police” and directed their wrath toward what is possibly the most heavily-policed city on earth - at least for the moment.

There was later a rally by the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign in a park near the Excel Center with maybe a 1,000 people listening to more speeches and some performances. I left before the pepper spray came out, which, according to news reports, it did later.

The tension between the serious protesters and a small band of ‘anarchists’ is coming much more to the surface now. There were grumbles from the Poor Peoples Campaign that they hoped their serious march would not be hijacked by militants who are smashing windows around the city and getting themselves arrested. In terms of media exposure, these self-avowed ‘anarchists’ are stealing the show, and have managed to tarnish the protests in the eyes of mainstream America.
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What might not be clear to people in the UK or the U.S. is how far the Convention season is just an almighty booze-up. There is a narrative that Hurricane Gustav has blunted the party season here, but it’s hard to notice as every night the strip in Minneapolis becomes a bustling Republican Mecca of open bars and live music.

On Monday night I saw Megan McCain, John’s daughter, at one of these social events and a country singer with a new hit “Raising McCain”. Last night I went along to the University of Minnesota to attend a Grammy Foundation fundraiser. The organisation gives the esteemed music award, the Grammy, and when we arrived we were shown three pages of names of Senators and Congressmen and women who would be in attendance. In the end none showed up.

After the initial clearing of throat, which, at the RNC, usually involves a long list of corporate sponsors, this time including Lockheed Martin, we were given a show by The Abdomen, an anodyne three-piece band that had formed at Grammy Camp, a youth arm of the organisation which wants to put out the next generation of musicians.

With the warm up over there were still only about 100 people, out of an expected 500, in the huge room and the PR manager was looking a bit worried. There was a mound of tuna and some bread for food, and the ubiquitous open bar. Next was the singer-song-writer Greg Laswell. He played a few plaintive numbers, then said, “I used to write sad songs, but then I dreamt that my grandma told me to write happy songs, then I wrote this…” And he played an upbeat track. Then he said, "This song is a lie. Sometimes a lie turns into the truth," referring to "How The Day Sounds," a tune he wrote for his parents who were worried about his state of mind.

For the finale, four country singers took the seats, and took it in turns to spin a track. Joe Nichols played “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and “Cool To Be A Fool”, while Brett James sang his “Jesus Take The Wheel” number, which was about a car crash being avoided when Jesus takes over control of the vehicle, steering it to safety.

Alice Peacock then played her blockbuster “Bliss”, which is now being used by Hershey’s chocolate advertisement, she told us. She even inserted the word “chocolate” into her rendition to push the point. She sang: “Hey it’s really very simple, follow my example, learn to love each other, your sister and your brother.”

At the end of the performances we were ambushed by the PR agent and suborned into interviewing some people.

"We brought out fine top-calibre songwriters – a really unique opportunity," said Peacock, who is originally from White Bear Lake, Minn. She added: "It's great to see the convention in Minnesota."

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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