She's a celebrity, get me out of here

Beware: this hour and a half of luvvie talk is only for the bravest of listeners

If there's a more terrifying 90 minutes on national radio than Elaine Page on Sunday (weekly, 1pm, Radio 2) then I'd like to hear it. Single-handedly perpetuating the stereotype that there are no people like show people, the diva's slot opened this week festooned with a burst of EP singing fruitily over the soundtrack to The Boy Friend. "Tuum tum teee . . . and that was from the marvellous 1971 version of the musical starring Twiggy and directed by the marvellous - d'you know what? I've had a thought! The marvellous Barbara Windsor was in that! Why don't we get Barbara in some day! Better write that down, Malcolm, else I'll forget . . ."

Malcolm is EP's producer/gimp, who occasionally pipes up from beneath the mountain of Matt Monro to confirm that Elaine is indeed being marvellous. "I'm just writing it down," hurries Malcolm, "what a marvellous idea!"

Elaine laughs. How to describe the deep, deep unconscious aggression of this laugh? A laugh that would doubtless describe itself as "appreciative" or possibly even "lushly upholstered", it believes it's simply drinking in all the marvellousness of the world, but actually throws up an image of Elaine lying back on a cream sofa in a Wimpole Street mews and opening a Blockbuster-Night-In-sized pack of Maltesers, then proceeding to make a series of extremely violent crank calls. The merest hint of this truly shivers the timbers, and whenever it bursts forth, one senses an electricity in the room, the stunned determination of other people in the vicinity to just see it through, that it will end soon.

After several long, extraordinary moments Elaine now welcomes this week's guest, her dear friend Don Black, the most successful lyricist of all time, who has written songs for Lulu, Michael Jackson, and, of course, her. "Hello, Don, marvellous to see you." "Marvellous to see you too, my darling." "Don, let's talk movies."

Elaine is particularly keen to get under the skin of what makes a good Bond theme song. Are there special demands made on the composer, for instance? "Oh, yes," allows Don, "it's got to have irony and the whiff of the boudoir! In my opinion Shirley should sing all of them." Elaine lets this pass and sharpens her voice, determined to whip up an intellectual storm in Don's cortex with a really tough question: has the style of the Bond theme songs changed at all? Don pauses. "I think they've gone more contemporary . . ." he says perspicaciously, ". . . with Madonna and what have you. But 'Diamonds Are Forever' still gives you such a tinkly feeling!"

EP cedes Don's radical theory by permitting Malcolm to play a burst of Shirley being marvellous, but she was clearly keen to get to the bit where she could reminisce about her own turn as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, "the role that first took me to Broadway". "And you were marvellous, darling!" confirms Don. "Your opening in New York was stunning." Elaine sighs. "That was a night to remember, wasn't it," she nods triumphantly. "I was sitting next to Ruthie. . ." continued Don, warming to his task ("Dear Ruthie," murmurs EP) ". . . and there were just tears running down our faces. . ." And so on, until Elaine was simply forced to commit the uncoolest crime on radio and play herself singing something. Sort it out, Malc.

Pick of the week

Jon Ronson and the Quest for the Aryan Cow
10 February, 11am, Radio 4
The peerless Ronson investigates a Nazi zoo.

The Essay: Darwin’s Children

9-13 February, 11am, Radio 3
The link from Darwin to online social networks is pure chimp.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 February 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Revolution 2009

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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