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In this week's magazine | Who owns the future?

A first look at this week's issue.

Yuval Harari, bestselling author of Sapiens: who owns the future? An essay on how the Silicon Valley prophets have taken over from politicians as the leaders of the world.

Craig Raine: how my “Gatwick” poem caused a Twitter storm.

Novelist John King: the left-wing case for leaving the EU.

Tim Farron interview: out of the wilderness, why I want to take on the toughest job in politics.

Jon Holmes, Gary Lineker’s agent: Before celebrating the fall of Sepp Blatter, English football should get its own house in order.

George Eaton asks whether Labour can avoid George Osborne’s austerity trap.

The Leader: The Europe Question and the NS’s endorsement for the Lib Dem leadership.

Xan Rice looks at the growing pay gap between chief executives and the rest of the workforce.

 

Who owns the future?

Yuval Harari notes that we live in an era when politics is “bereft of grand visions”, despite having more tools than ever to shape the future of humanity:

Whereas the Nazis sought to create superhumans through selective breeding, we now have an increasing arsenal of bioengineering tools at our disposal. These could be used to redesign the shapes, abilities and even desires of human beings, so as to fulfil this or that political ideal. Bioengineering starts with the understanding that we are far from realising the full potential of organic bodies. For four billion years natural selection has been tinkering and tweaking with these bodies, so that we have gone from amoebae to reptiles to mammals to Homo sapiens. Yet there is no reason to think that sapiens is the last station. Relatively small changes in the genome, the neural system and the skeleton were enough to upgrade Homo erectus – who could produce nothing more impressive than flint knives – to Homo sapiens, who produces spaceships and computers. Who knows what the outcome of a few more changes to our genome, neural system and skeleton might be? Bioengineering is not going to wait patiently for natural selection to work its magic. Instead, bioengineers will take the old sapiens body and ­intentionally rewrite its genetic code, rewire its brain circuits, alter its biochemical balance and grow entirely new body parts.

Harari writes that “present-day politicians are thinking on a far smaller scale than their predecessors a century ago”. Instead, “business entrepreneurs and corporations” are the entities considering how technological developments will shape the future.

Harari concludes:

This should concern all of us. It is dangerous to mix godlike technology with megalomaniac politics but it might be even more dangerous to blend godlike technology with myopic politics. Our politics is becoming mere administration and is giving up on the future exactly when technology gives us the power to reshape that future beyond our wildest dreams. Indeed, technology gives us the power to start reshaping even our dreams. If politicians don’t want the job of planning this future, they will merely be handing it on a platter to somebody else. In consequence, the most important decisions in the history of life might be taken by a tiny group of engineers and businesspeople, while politicians are busy arguing about immigration quotas and the euro.

 

 

A very corporate coup

In the first part of a new series on the Europe Question, John King makes a left-wing case for leaving the EU. He begins by exploring the extent to which the British public feel hostile towards our current EU membership:

Despite the denials by our political and media elite, the most important issue of the 2015 election was Britain’s membership of the European Union. Nearly four million votes went to Ukip, a party that has been consistently abused and dismissed by our controllers, with much of that support coming from former Labour voters, while big numbers of people backed the little-loved Conservatives.

Both parties offered referendums on Britain leaving the EU – Ukip powerfully, the Tories reluctantly. It is not hard to work out why they did so well, yet there is still little acknowledgement of this fact from the establishment. An arrogant refusal to listen to the public has left Labour and the Liberal Democrats in tatters. Nick Clegg could moan about “identity” politics in the election’s aftermath, but this matters to the majority of people.

King writes an anti-EU position is seen as inexorably right-wing, something he dismisses as “bubblegum politics”. He writes that many form their pro-EU stance based simply on this association:

Backing the EU because the Tories are supposedly against it is pathetic. The EU is not a party issue. It is much more important.

Considering the myriad ways in which he feels the EU to be harmful to the UK, King concludes:

The EU offers us little. It costs billions to belong to a club that interferes in our affairs and has created needless divisions, one that will ultimately lead to our removal from the map. If a European superstate is achieved, the resentment and anger will flow through the centuries to come, creating resistance movements right across the continent.

Leaving the EU would save Britain money that could (in the right hands) be ploughed back into the public sector to safeguard jobs and services. And yet, nearly every mainstream politician lifts his nose in the air and turns away, embarrassed at ideas he considers crass. Across the world people are fighting to be more independent, not less so. They crave democracy and accountability, want to see their identities and cultures live on. The European Union is not new and it is not progressive, its trail winding back to the Roman empire. Britain needs to look to the future.

 

Tim Farron: Escape from the wilderness

George Eaton speaks to Tim Farron about the hardest job in politics, Lib Dem leader.

On coalition:

 “I would not sign off any agreement with any of the other parties that did not entail [electoral reform], end of story. Massive, massive red line, don’t even pick up the phone.”

On his competitors for party leader:

“Who can they [Lib Dems] see inspiring the people who are not yet members of the party and who didn’t vote for us this time round to change their minds next time?

“We need to have a voice that is a lot clearer and a lot louder to compensate for our size being smaller and I think I’m the person who’s the campaigner and the communicator who can do that.”

On his policy priorities:

He names housing, the environment and civil liberties as his priorities and declares his opposition to fracking (“It’s another fossil fuel”) and the like-for-like replacement of Trident (“It’s an act of aggression and will be seen as so by a global community that’s looking for people to disarm, not rearm to the max”).

On Charles Kennedy:

What Charles Kennedy is, is living proof that the good guys can be effective. We’ve just gone through an election where the bad guys were effective . . . Charles is proof that you can be human, you can be rigidly principled to a degree, thoroughly principled, and effective and win elections – and that’s a model I’d love us to follow.

 

Jon Holmes: Before celebrating the fall of Fifa’s Sepp Blatter, English football should get its own house in order

Jon Holmes writes that England shouldn’t feel smug about the fall of Blatter:

For all their righteous indignation about Fifa’s misdeeds under Blatter, the English football authorities were willing participants in the circus, bidding with the triple might of the nation’s royalty, David Beckham and the West Ham- (sorry, Aston Villa)-supporting Prime Minister for the right to stage the game’s premier international contest.

[...]

A transparent and much-reformed Fifa can be a force for good in world football, but if England and the UK are to play a part, then first they have to put their own house in order. Without proper powers and authority given to its governing bodies, without its own government representation at cabinet level, this cannot be. For too long a minister for sport has been a joke appointment, outside the cabinet. The Premier League, with its billions and billionaires, should not exist above the rule of law. Only when it is properly regulated and accountable to those who empower it – the billions of people who ­follow their clubs with cash and devotion – can we truly start to play a meaningful role in the rebuilding process.

 

Plus

Sophie McBain asks, can we survive the information assault of the digital age?

Michael Holroyd: Bernard Shaw, Nietzsche and the cult of the Superman.

Martin Fletcher explores the history and work of the Salvation Army on its 150th anniversary.

Mark Cocker: how much do the new nature writers actually care about nature?

Photo: Getty
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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.