With the global warming deniers at their most vociferous during the Copenhagen summit, here is a way to test the strength of their convictions. Ask if they hold cat bonds. "Cat" is short for "catastrophe" and the bonds, mostly issued by insurance companies, give a far higher rate
of return than any conventional corporate, bank or government investment. The snag is that you lose everything if large numbers of hurricanes and floods occur.
For those who don't think global warming is happening or that it will play havoc with the climate, this investment should be a no-brainer. Melanie Phillips, Christopher Booker, Peter Hitchens, Lord Lawson and other prominent "sceptics" are invited to drop a postcard to me at the New Statesman revealing whether or not they hold such bonds. (No proof required; they are honourable, God-fearing folk on whose word I am prepared to rely.) If they are indeed putting their money where their considerable mouths are, I might start taking them seriously.
Whatever the outcome of the proposals by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, on bankers' bonuses, they are merely a gesture. They won't make any difference to the underlying state of affairs.
It is often said that, if you owe the bank a few thousand pounds, it's your problem. If you owe it several million, it's the bank's problem. Now the banks owe us, the taxpayers, tens of billions, and it is very much our problem. That is why the outcome of the financial crisis was not, as we lefties hoped, that the banks were humbled, but that their interests moved higher up the government agenda than ever. The dilemma for ministers is that anything that weakens indebted banks - by, for example, wholly prohibiting bonuses at RBS so that its smarter traders defect to rivals overseas - also weakens their capacity to repay the taxpayer and thus repair the public finances. So enormous are the banks' debts, and so weakened is the capacity of other industries to produce tax revenues, that the interests of the state are now coterminous with those of the financial services sector. We have government of the bankers, by the bankers, for the bankers.
No minister dare admit this, let alone act to resolve the dilemma by fully nationalising the banks, selling off their dodgy investment operations and keeping the bits that look after our savings and hand out mortgages. Even if they did that, they would have to employ bankers, at exorbitant fees, to make the necessary arrangements. Thanks to Tory and Labour governments of the past 30 years, we cannot escape the bankers.
Why has the left - the true left, not New Labour - been so hopelessly wrong-footed by this crisis? Because if we lefties truly believed in the wickedness of capitalism and the desirability of its destruction, we would have wanted just about every financial institution to collapse, wiping out savings, pension funds and insurance policies. Fourteen months ago, we were very close to that. This was the revolutionary moment, with capitalism foundering, as Marx predicted, on its own contradictions. How many of us shouted "Bring it on"? We cannot, at this stage, expect Darling to engineer a more satisfactory solution.
The whining Windsors are at it again. The royal family "will no longer tolerate" the use of telephoto lenses to snatch pictures of them "at play", the Sunday Telegraph reports. No doubt they hope that anyone who loiters near Sandringham or Balmoral carrying a camera will soon be subject to the anti-terrorist "stop-and-search" procedures that are used, according to the Independent, against innocent tourists snapping St Paul's Cathedral.
I sympathise with Fabio Capello, the England football manager, who successfully complained about press breaches of his privacy. His job is to win football matches. The Windsors' job is to be gawped at, preferably while battering harmless birds to death, thus giving us all a frisson of outrage. There is no point in them, otherwise.
Say what you like . . .
When I was at the Independent on Sunday, we ran a little weekly feature called "Say what you like about". For example: "Say what you like about Saddam Hussein, but (1) he's got a terrific moustache, (2) he really hates the ayatollahs." This seems the only way to cope with the annoying resurgence of Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. "Say what you like about Peter Mandelson, but (1) he used to have a terrific moustache, (2) if it weren't for him, David Miliband might be PM." Or: "Say what you like about Alastair Campbell, but (1) he's loyal to lost causes such as Burnley Football Club and New Labour, (2) he's introduced Gordon Brown to the concept of a joke." Playing this game, I find, helps one take a more positive attitude to life.
New Statesman sub-editors will be aware that in this column, I have written, for the first time, New Labour with the "n" capped. NS style on this changed some time ago, but as a writer I have kept resolutely to the lower-case "n" used throughout my editorship, leaving the long-suffering subs to correct it. So here, for the last time, is the case for lower case.
Nobody, despite what Tony Blair said on election night in 1997, ever voted for a New Labour party. It did not and does not appear on ballot papers, official election returns or party-political broadcast titles. I hold a bright red card declaring my membership of "The Labour Party", not "The New Labour Party". However, New Labour will soon be history and I have decided the poor thing deserves, as a mark of respect for its dying agonies, the upper case.
Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005