Pay for it twice? It's not a Saudi arms deal

Gordon and little John set up a charity shop to raise money for Africa. But for Cherie, parting with

Scene 1: The Blairs' flat. Cherie is at her dressing table applying make-up. Gordon trots in with little John.

John: Hello, Auntie Cherie.

Cherie: What do you two want?

Gordon: Lovely morning. Looking beautiful, as ever, Cherie.

Cherie: Cut the smarm. You're after something.

Gordon: As a matter of fact we're raising money for Africa.

Cherie: Oh, not again. Will that place ever stop bleeding us white? Put me down for 50p. I'll have to owe it to you. I'm skint.

Gordon: Actually, young John has decided to set up a little shop in Downing Street selling gifts donated by all the nice people working here.

Cherie: Really. And he dreamed that up on his own?

Gordon: Yup. Clever little lad, eh? And we knew you wouldn't want to miss out.

She throws one of Tony's egg-stained ties at him.

Cherie: There.

Gordon: Er, well, we were hoping you'd do a bit better than that. Everyone's been very generous. Hilary Benn has offered his services as a share tipster. I've donated a nuclear submarine made of lolly sticks. And John Reid's given us a signed copy of habeas corpus - which'll be quite a rarity once it's been repealed.

Cherie [rummages in her bag]: OK, you scrounging do-gooders. Have that.

Gordon: A lipstick?

Cherie: I lent it to Angela Merkel at the G8. And Ludmilla Putin. It's decorated some of the world's most powerful smirks.

Gordon: OK, thanks. And how about that lovely handbag, too?

Cherie: No way. It's worth nearly a grand. It's a Tanner Krolle, custom-made for me by . . .

Gordon: Grab it, John.

John snatches the bag and runs out.

Cherie: Hey, come back, you little thief.

She rushes to the door. Gordon blocks her path.

Cherie: Out the way!

Gordon [eases her back to her chair]: Come on, Cherie. You've got lots of bags.

Cherie: That one's special.

Gordon: But think of the poor, underprivileged people who can't afford a bag like that.

Cherie: It's for Sarah? You should have said.

Scene 2: Tony's office, two hours later. Tony is going through his MI5 phone directory, trying to flog honours while he still can. Cherie comes in, fuming.

Tony: What's up?

Cherie: Bastard Features next door has pinched my handbag.

Tony: Pinch it back.

Cherie: I can't. He's leaked it to the press that I donated it to John's stupid "shop for Africa" stunt.

Tony: We'll get you another.

Cherie: It's unique, Tony. Tailor-made from baby seal fur to make my hips look narrower. You'll have to buy it back.

Tony: What, pay for it twice? It's a bag, not a bloody Saudi arms deal. Anyway, we can't afford it.

Cherie: Try shifting more honours.

Tony: I am trying. And it's not that easy. I just offered David Beckham a KBE for five grand. Cheeky sod turned me down. Reckons it's too early in his career. What the hell's wrong with these people?

Cherie: He's probably holding out for a peerage.

Tony: But he's just a clapped-out midfielder. It'll look very odd putting him in the House of Lords.

Cherie: What, because he's loaded and useless and can barely remember his own name?

Beat.

Tony: You're right. He'd be perfect.

Scene 3: The Cabinet Room. John is counting up the cash. Only one thing remains unsold. Gordon decides to auction it.

Gordon: Come on, folks. Final item. Just five grand for this lovely handbag, which Cherie has generously donated - well, after a small scuffle. Come on. It's in a noble cause.

Cherie: Yeah. Making you look good.

Gordon: Well, hardly. All this money will buy 30 water purification units for children's hospices in Africa.

Cherie: So next time Madonna goes orphan-shopping she won't have to bring her own Evian.

Tony: Shut up, darling, you're making a fool of yourself.

Gordon: Any takers?

Hazel Blears is jumping up and down with her hand up, but no one can see her.

Gordon: Hilary? Come on. We know you can afford it.

Harriet Harman raises her finger.

Harman: I'll have it.

Cherie: What? You never spend more than fifty quid on a bag. And it shows.

Harman [writing a cheque]: It's not about the bag, is it, silly. This is about investing in the future.

Gordon: Absolutely, deputy prime minister. I mean Harriet. So we have a sale. Unless there's a better offer in the room . . .

Hazel Blears leaps up on to the table, making herself just visible over Hilary Benn's head.

Blears: Gordon. I'll give you six grand.

Gordon: That's more like it.

Harman: Six grand? For a handbag? It's a disgrace. What kind of country are we living in? I'll offer seven.

Blears: Eight.

Harman: Nine.

Cherie: Ten.

Gordon: Done.

Cherie: What?

Gordon: Sold to Cherie Blair. What a beautiful gesture. Ten thousand pounds for Africa.

Cherie: Er, Tony?

Tony: Don't look at me.

Cherie: Might be time to call Lord Beckham.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New Britain - The country Brown inherits

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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