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The back of Bush

'With conservatives in the majority in Europe and America, fear and fatalism have dominated. Obama's

George W Bush has done more than any other US president to undermine the reputation of the USA in the world. Less than one in five Europeans approve of President Bush's handling of international policies. Europeans are not anti-American - almost four out of 10 Europeans still believe that US leadership in world affairs is desirable (although this figure is down from over six in 10 in 2002).

So what is my expectation of the new president? I understand why some people think that anyone is better than George W Bush, but surely Sarah Palin makes people doubt McCain's seriousness. As president of the PES - the European political party bringing together Europe's socialist, social democratic and labour parties - I am unashamedly excited at the possibility of a young, charismatic Afro-American called Barack Obama becoming President. What difference would it make? I believe there would be three significant changes.

First, whereas Bush cut social spending and gave tax cuts to the super rich, Obama's Plan for America offers clear commitments to widen health care, tackle poverty and improve education for all.

A US president with a commitment to the well-being of ordinary citizens would generate renewed interest in social justice and social policy worldwide. It would be good not only for the workers of America but also for social democracy in Europe. It would inspire trade unionists and progressive politicians throughout the world.

Already the US Democrats have engaged with European social democrats on reform of the international financial markets. Like the PES, the Democrats want financial markets that sustain jobs in modern industries instead of seeking excessive, short-term profits at the expense of others.

Second, whereas Bush is an oilman and was for many years a climate sceptic, Obama wants to tackle climate change. It is a monumental task, but one cannot afford not to take on. The prospect of the US and the EU sharing the same goals would make meaningful global action far more feasible. Committing to Kyoto would alone be a reason for rejoicing, and here even McCain is better than Bush.

Third, Obama promises to renew American diplomacy, and to talk to foes as well as friends. The Texan cowboy will be gone. This would offer an opening for a renewed partnership between the EU and US, and possibly more cooperation with the UN. Obama does not see the world only as a security problem - a place to pursue a global war against terror - he knows the other issues: climate, energy, poverty, disease.

I am not naïve. Differences in EU-US priorities would not melt away. The new president would have to protect American interests through a recession. US Democrats are suspicious of world trade. But the difference if Obama was elected is that US Democrats have a real desire to engage with others, to find common ground, to work in partnership.

With conservatives in the majority in Europe and America, the fear and fatalism have dominated. Obama's message of change brings hope. Perhaps the biggest factor is psychological - a new, young, gifted President offering the possibility of a new dialogue on the world's problems, the hopes of the planet. It won't be easy but it will be better. I am looking forward to it.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, is President of the Party of European Socialists, and was Prime Minister of Denmark 1993-2001

The discussion will continue at America Votes, Europe Responds, a conference held by the Fabian Society on 8 November

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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