More popular than Enver Hoxha

The worldwide prices of cocaine have not fluctuated much, nor, I am told, has product quality varied

One has to be fair to everyone, I feel. Even to statisticians.

Take, for instance, the old saying “lies, damned lies – and statistics” - in my view it's much too sweeping and condemnatory. I suggest it be modified from now on to “lies, damned lies – and Colombian statistics”. That would point the finger in the right direction, without besmirching the reputations of non-Colombian practitioners of that art who have been suffering unjustly for the crimes of their confreres in Bogota.

Let me explain.

On Friday, President Álvaro Uribe called a meeting of some of his fellow heads of state from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama to discuss drugs.

Not the major drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Just the minor ones such as cocaine of which his country is such a bountiful producer.

Using all his well-renowned guile, the president convened his meeting in Cartagena, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and the port from whence Spanish galleons for centuries took the gold and precious stones of America to Spain. (Readers who haven’t yet visited it should go immediately, having decided whether to lodge in one of those lovely Caribbean beach hotels or share my preference and stay inside the walls of one of the world’s most impressive 17th century fortresses.)

Those who continue to believe, against all the evidence, in the worth and validity of the idea of a war against minor drugs will see nothing wrong in President Uribe’s action. And I wouldn’t challenge their right to believe that or indeed anything else. After all there is no crime in believing the earth is flat.

For me trouble came into view as General Oscar Naranjo, Colombia’s chief of police, announced baldly in Cartagena that over the past six years Colombia’s share of the world’s production of cocaine had fallen from 90 per cent to only 54 per cent today.

Now that’s a big claim you have been making, General, and I realise you are making for the sake of protecting and, if possible, enhancing the reputation of your president and your country. After all, it is one of your jobs.

Yet you must know that your and Colombia’s small store of credibility is hit very hard indeed by statements which fly totally against easily verifiable facts.

A month ago, for instance, we got a report from the picturesquely-named United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (how interesting that the UN gives precedence to the pursuit of minor drugs over the big issue of crime!). About Colombia it said: “In 2007, the total area under coca cultivation in Colombia was estimated at 99,000 hectares. This estimate represented a 27 per cent increase in area under the illicit crop compared to 2006 (78,000 ha).

"This is the first significant increase in coca cultivation after four years of relatively stable cultivation.”

It would have been extremely stupid to try and pretend that Colombia drastically reduced its share of the world market for cocaine at a time when the country’s output remained steady.

It is an act of unadulterated lunacy to put that idea forward when there is a steep RISE in Colombia’s cocaine output. The worldwide prices of cocaine have not fluctuated much, nor, I am told, has product quality varied, nor has any of the agencies which spend good taxpayers’ money searching and trying to measure new plantations of coca bushes which provide the raw material for cocaine found any new plantings.

But then statistics are not well handled in Colombia. A month or two back there were reports that a public opinion survey had thrown up the astonishing statistic that President Uribe’s popularity had reached heights that have seldom been claimed by a politician since the death of Enver Hoxha, the Leninist dictator of Albania, or since the last simulacrum of elections staged by Hosni Mubarak, the Western-backed Tyrant of the Nile – sorry, I meant to say the Noble Guardian of Western and Israeli interests in a turbulent Middle East.

The Colombian survey would have had us believe – and, sadly, some of the more naive New Statesmen readers did believe – that Don Ãlvaro had chalked up a score of 82 per cent popularity in March which slipped just a couple of points the following month. Apparently with a straight face, the polling company told us that their confection was based on telephone calls to 1,000 people in four cities between 24 and 28 April.

It needs to be pointed out to those who don’t know Colombia that millions of poor Colombians haven’t got telephones; that millions more live in comprehensive isolation in the countryside and wouldn’t have the time, the courage or the inclination to answer questions from a stranger if they had a phone, and that the terrorism of the army and the guerrillas over the decades has produced a situation where three million Colombians are refugees in their own country.

Colombian statistics? Don’t make me laugh!

Kinds Of Mildew Screening Toronto.

Types Of Mold Screening Toronto

Show Hide image

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