Day one: on the way to the G8

In the first instalment in a series of articles on the G8 summit in Germany, Tamsyn from the World D

As the G8 leaders jet into Germany to begin another barbed summit surrounded by thousands of feet of protective fencing (apparently costing 13 million euros!) and tens of thousands of angry protesters, Leila and I are frantically triple checking that our reports, leaflets and cameras are at the ready in time for our 7 o’clock eurostar.

Today is day three of a week of protest and debate in Rostock, the nearest accessible town to the summit, and we are on our way to make the World Development Movement’s presence felt.

The news coverage I have seen in the UK has been slim so far but it seems to have been dominated by the activities of some violent activists and Blair and Merkel statements that the summit will be critical for Africa and climate change.

On the former I have heard from activists on the ground who are saying that the demonstrations have so far been peaceful with a diverse group of people taking part, including many children. The violence so far has been undertaken by a small minority.

On the G8 summit itself, I don’t believe it will deliver for the 1.1 billion living in extreme poverty. The language of a recently leaked draft communiqué is pro-business and anti-development. It’s pushing for investment deregulation, strengthening of intellectual property rights and the opening of markets. These sort of measures are more likely to lock millions into poverty.

Bush’s recent proposal on climate change to set up long term voluntary goals for countries to reduce global green house emissions is nothing but an attempt to distract from the existing UN negotiating process. The US also opposes any mention of the need to stop average global temperatures from increasing beyond 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

This kind of horse-trading over the G8 ‘text’ is par for the course. And at the World Development Movement we have learned not to expect much from the G8 . The G8 is not accountable to anyone, it is a self selecting group and rarely delivers on the promises it makes. You only need to look at Gleneagles - the year of Make Poverty History -where expectations on debt, aid and trade were high. The promises made were disappointing - promises that in many cases have not been fulfilled .

With climate change dominating the agenda it would seem strangely perverse to fly to the event, though many decision makers inevitably will. In the UK, international aviation is the fastest growing source of emissions, yet even though these are increasing, and have a 2-4 times greater warming effect because they are emitted directly in the atmosphere, the government is refusing to include them in their own emission reduction targets.

We will be attending the alternative G8 summit in Germany– taking part in a number of workshops, demonstrations, protests and cultural activities, as part of the anti-corporate globalisation movement, we will speak out about the illegitimacy of the G8.

Tonight we will be catching the overnight train to Rostock from London, joining other activists who are making their way by land to the summit. On arriving in Rostock we will be setting up camp with other activists, before what I expect will be a busy few days.

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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