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Wouldn't you prefer an on-site beauty therapist, a Rover or free fruit to a trip on Concorde? Giles

I haven't paid for a meal, taxi, book, theatre ticket, journey by train, boat or plane, pad of paper, pen, stamp, tank of petrol or holiday since 1995. I thus hesitate to pour scorn upon those honourable friends of ours who have been implicated in Perksgate.

What makes me sick, however, sick do you hear me, is to have the poverty of our leaders' imaginations laid bare before the eyes of the world. Jack Cunningham, for example, who claims to have a PhD, rewarded himself for 20 grim years slogging his way into the top ranks of a vain and gruelling profession with, according to press reports, "several nights in a plush hospitality complex owned by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd".

A plush hospitality complex. I think we have all stayed in one of those places with geometrically patterned green synthetic carpets that spark when you walk on them in socks, pay-per-view porno TV, Fry's chocolate creams in the mini-bar and tournedos rossini with pommes dauphinoises in the "convenient restaurant and bar, open till 9pm". Whatever happened to droit de seigneur, your weight in gold, lands in Aquitaine, or a place in Valhalla? You would never have got a crusade going on the promise of plush hospitality complexes.

Would it have impressed Idi Amin? Daniel Arap Moi? Francois Mitterrand? I think not. "But Jack," Idi would no doubt have pointed out to Dr Cunningham, as he nibbled on one of the many choice human titbits stored up and refrigerated as part of his own famous reward system, "if you'd got a Saturday job at Hoseasons you could have had a free fortnight in Bermuda."

Chevening? Chequers? Dorneywood? Soulless and sad. Offices with nice gardens, and anyway you have to give them back when you get caught accepting a free cheese from a local scoutmaster. Newspaper editors who have their houses given to them by their munificent proprietors do not have to give them back. At least, not as far as they know.

Concorde, schmoncorde: a plane full of grotesque old men in shiny suits, grown fat on expenses, trying to hustle stewardesses into the loos. Nobody rich actually travels on it at all. In my experience, 90 per cent of the punters have won magazine prizes or Blind Date, and they spend the whole flight tutting at the noisy kids at the back who wrote to Jim'll Fix It. Speed is all very well, but with an IMF/World Bank meeting at the end of the journey, I'd have thought the most desirable flight is the one that takes longest to get there. You'd want as many crap films and strange pink cheesecakes as possible to make up for having to listen to the Belgian finance minister talk about okra, or whatever they do there.

Now, Airforce One is a perk - that is the sort of thing that might persuade a chap to go into politics. America's continued confidence in Bill Clinton is due almost entirely to his having a cool aeroplane. And think of the Harrison Ford movie Airforce One - if someone made a thriller in which Tony Blair got kidnapped they'd have to call it Quite Nice Rover.

The Prime Minister's decision to forgo large chunks of a fairly innocuous salary package, which the cabinet followed like a stack of grumpy dominoes collapsing, has created an environment in which politics is suddenly something you do for your God or your country or your principles, and any talk of making a living is a bit rude. You are meant to do it because you love it.

Like footballers - most of whom have courtesy cars. Last week a fifth Manchester United player took delivery of a new Ferrari. And yet Gordon Brown is embarrassed over a few helicopter flights round Bangkok. Now, what is sleazy about that? Well, yes, OK, but not the money part of it.

Frankly, I'd rather be a nurse. A glance through last week's Nursing Times found the Gloucestershire Royal Trust offering "on-site beauty therapist and holistic massage service" as part of a perks package for staff, not forgetting to mention, to those pained by the thought of relocation, "Gloucester's attractive docks area, home to the fascinating National Waterways Museum". More enticing still, the Leicester Royal Infirmary offered potential recruits a guided tour of Leicester night life and a free raffle with prizes from Next.

Nor is perk-related indignation confined to these shores. A Dutch newspaper headline on 6 January lamented "Jobless Irish flown to Holland by private jet" and went on to rant that hundreds of Irish people were being offered, in return for working in Dutch factories, four free air tickets home a year. (Bad workers, I suppose the joke goes, were offered six.)

If perks are to determine your choice of job, then who would not forgo the sad life of a cabinet minister with its miserable extras for, say, a job with Pertemps Recruitment, which offers long-term staff the services of a dating agency? Or with Reuters, which has recently signed up Impropera, an itinerant improvisational opera show, to help motivate jaded hacks? Workers at Loot have been receiving free fruit since the mid-eighties and Virgin Atlantic Airways staff get an annual party at Richard Branson's home with funfairs, Sumo wrestling and boating. Besides such riches, do not the charms of Concorde seem a little wan?

In a survey by Hogg Robinson Financial Services it transpired that 75 per cent of UK workers who have life insurance as part of their pay package do not know they have it - the ingrates! Perhaps dear Jack should take heed of their professed ignorance and claim he did not know his hospitality complex was plush.

Such a ploy would never appeal to BP's operations support secretary, Marion Culder, however, who revealed in the same survey that she had recently received her "dream perk": a "familiarisation visit" to Gleneagles, to be shown the facilities and attend a banquet.

It is all a question of ethics. But help is at hand. The Infoworld website attempts to help workers through this moral labyrinth with five easy guidelines suggested by Bill Nance, professor of management information systems at San Jose State University. I particularly like number two, in which he advises workers to "Follow the 'would I tell my mom?' rule: if you're engaging in an activity that you would feel uncomfortable telling someone about whose approval you seek - like your mother - then think twice before conducting that activity." Otherwise known as the Code of Onan, this little gem could be just what Tony Blair is looking for to tidy up his cabinet.

On a personal note: aside from the occasional three-star titbits that fall to my feet as a restaurant critic, and the holidays which are, after all, a terrible burden to write up, and the taxi journeys which are crucial because if I was on the bus my writing hand might get damaged, it is not all a bed of roses. When, in 1996, a short article on aftershave required the acquisition of £1,500-worth of complimentary designer pong I was burgled within a week by young men who took every bottle but the Old Spice. When I phoned my insurers to explain that these freebies had been nicked, they informed me that I could claim three-quarters of their full value. I thus trousered £1,125.

"Great," said my girlfriend. "We can go to Barbados."

"We already are," I said despondently. "The paper's paying."

Cash, you see, had become utterly useless.

Giles Coren is restaurant critic for "Tatler" and editor of "Tatler About Town". Research for this article was carried out at the Paris Ritz. His wife picked up the bill

This article first appeared in the 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again

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Why Jeremy Corbyn is a new leader for the New Times

In an inspired election campaign, he confounded his detractors and showed that he was – more than any other leader – in tune with the times.

There have been two great political turning points in postwar Britain. The first was in 1945 with the election of the Attlee government. Driven by a popular wave of determination that peacetime Britain would look very different from the mass unemployment of the 1930s, and built on the foundations of the solidaristic spirit of the war, the Labour government ushered in full employment, the welfare state (including the NHS) and nationalisation of the basic industries, notably coal and the railways. It was a reforming government the like of which Britain had not previously experienced in the first half of the 20th century. The popular support enjoyed by the reforms was such that the ensuing social-democratic consensus was to last until the end of the 1970s, with Tory as well as Labour governments broadly operating within its framework.

During the 1970s, however, opposition to the social-democratic consensus grew steadily, led by the rise of the radical right, which culminated in 1979 in the election of Margaret Thatcher’s first government. In the process, the Thatcherites redefined the political debate, broadening it beyond the rather institutionalised and truncated forms that it had previously taken: they conducted a highly populist campaign that was for individualism and against collectivism; for the market and against the state; for liberty and against trade unionism; for law and order and against crime.

These ideas were dismissed by the left as just an extreme version of the same old Toryism, entirely failing to recognise their novelty and therefore the kind of threat they posed. The 1979 election, followed by Ronald Reagan’s US victory in 1980, began the neoliberal era, which remained hegemonic in Britain, and more widely in the West, for three decades. Tory and Labour governments alike operated within the terms and by the logic of neoliberalism. The only thing new about New Labour was its acquiescence in neoliberalism; even in this sense, it was not new but derivative of Thatcherism.

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 marked the beginning of the end of neoliberalism. Unlike the social-democratic consensus, which was undermined by the ideological challenge posed by Thatcherism, neoliberalism was brought to its knees not by any ideological alternative – such was the hegemonic sway of neoliberalism – but by the biggest financial crisis since 1931. This was the consequence of the fragility of a financial sector left to its own devices as a result of sweeping deregulation, and the corrupt and extreme practices that this encouraged.

The origin of the crisis lay not in the Labour government – complicit though it was in the neoliberal indulgence of the financial sector – but in the deregulation of the banking sector on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1980s. Neoliberalism limped on in the period after 2007-2008 but as real wages stagnated, recovery proved a mirage, and, with the behaviour of the bankers exposed, a deep disillusionment spread across society. During 2015-16, a populist wave of opposition to the establishment engulfed much of Europe and the United States.

Except at the extremes – Greece perhaps being the most notable example – the left was not a beneficiary: on the contrary it, too, was punished by the people in the same manner as the parties of the mainstream right were. The reason was straightforward enough. The left was tarnished with the same brush as the right: almost everywhere social-democratic parties, albeit to varying degrees, had pursued neoliberal policies. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair became – and presented themselves as – leaders of neoliberalism and as enthusiastic advocates of a strategy of hyper-globalisation, which resulted in growing inequality. In this fundamental respect these parties were more or less ­indistinguishable from the right.

***

The first signs of open revolt against New Labour – the representatives and evangelists of neoliberal ideas in the Labour Party – came in the aftermath of the 2015 ­election and the entirely unpredicted and overwhelming victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Something was happening. Yet much of the left, along with the media, summarily dismissed it as a revival of far-left entryism; that these were for the most part no more than a bunch of Trots. There is a powerful, often overwhelming, tendency to see new phenomena in terms of the past. The new and unfamiliar is much more difficult to understand than the old and familiar: it requires serious intellectual effort and an open and inquiring mind. The left is not alone in this syndrome. The right condemned the 2017 Labour Party manifesto as a replica of Labour’s 1983 manifesto. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

That Corbyn had been a veteran of the far left for so long lent credence to the idea that he was merely a retread of a failed past: there was nothing new about him. In a brilliant election campaign, Corbyn not only gave the lie to this but also demonstrated that he, far more than any of the other party leaders, was in tune with the times, the candidate of modernity.

Crises, great turning points, new conjunctures, new forms of consciousness are by definition incubators of the new. That is one of the great sources of their fascination. We can now see the line of linkage between the thousands of young people who gave Corbyn his overwhelming victory in the leadership election in 2015 and the millions of young people who were enthused by his general election campaign in 2017. It is no accident that it was the young rather than the middle-aged or the seniors who were in the vanguard: the young are the bearers and products of the new, they are the lightning conductors of change. Their elders, by contrast, are steeped in old ways of thinking and doing, having lived through and internalised the values and norms of neoliberalism for more than 30 years.

Yet there is another, rather more important aspect to how we identify the new, namely the way we see politics and how politics is conceived. Electoral politics is a highly institutionalised and tribal activity. There have been, as I argued earlier, two great turning points in postwar politics: the social-democratic era ushered in by the 1945 Labour government and the neoliberal era launched by the Tory government in 1979.

The average Tory MP or activist, no doubt, would interpret history primarily in terms of Tory and Labour governments; Labour MPs and activists would do similarly. But this is a superficial reading of politics based on party labels which ignores the deeper forces that shape different eras, generate crises and result in new paradigms.

Alas, most political journalists and columnists are afflicted with the same inability to distinguish the wood (an understanding of the deeper historical forces at work) from the trees (the day-to-day manoeuvring of parties and politicians). In normal times, this may not be so important, because life continues for the most part as before, but at moments of great paradigmatic change it is absolutely critical.

If the political journalists, and indeed the PLP, had understood the deeper forces and profound changes now at work, they would never have failed en masse to rise above the banal and predictable in their assessment of Corbyn. Something deep, indeed, is happening. A historical era – namely, that of neoliberalism – is in its death throes. All the old assumptions can no longer be assumed. We are in new territory: we haven’t been here before. The smart suits long preferred by New Labour wannabes are no longer a symbol of success and ambition but of alienation from, and rejection of, those who have been left behind; who, from being ignored and dismissed, are in the process of moving to the centre of the political stage.

Corbyn, you may recall, was instantly rejected and ridiculed for his sartorial style, and yet we can now see that, with a little smartening, it conveys an authenticity and affinity with the times that made his style of dress more or less immune from criticism during the general election campaign. Yet fashion is only a way to illustrate a much deeper point.

The end of neoliberalism, once so hegemonic, so commanding, is turning Britain on its head. That is why – extraordinary when you think about it – all the attempts by the right to dismiss Corbyn as a far-left extremist failed miserably, even proved counterproductive, because that was not how people saw him, not how they heard him. He was speaking a language and voicing concerns that a broad cross-section of the public could understand and identify with.

***

The reason a large majority of the PLP was opposed to Corbyn, desperate to be rid of him, was because they were still living in the neoliberal era, still slaves to its ideology, still in thrall to its logic. They knew no other way of thinking or political being. They accused Corbyn of being out of time when in fact it was most of the PLP – not to mention the likes of Mandelson and Blair – who were still imprisoned in an earlier historical era. The end of neoliberalism marks the death of New Labour. In contrast, Corbyn is aligned with the world as it is rather than as it was. What a wonderful irony.

Corbyn’s success in the general election requires us to revisit some of the assumptions that have underpinned much political commentary over the past several years. The turmoil in Labour ranks and the ridiculing of Corbyn persuaded many, including on the left, that Labour stood on the edge of the abyss and that the Tories would continue to dominate for long into the future. With Corbyn having seized the political initiative, the Tories are now cast in a new light. With Labour in the process of burying its New Labour legacy and addressing a very new conjuncture, then the end of neoliberalism poses a much more serious challenge to the Tories than it does the Labour Party.

The Cameron/Osborne leadership was still very much of a neoliberal frame of mind, not least in their emphasis on austerity. It would appear that, in the light of the new popular mood, the government will now be forced to abandon austerity. Theresa May, on taking office, talked about a return to One Nation Toryism and the need to help the worst-off, but that has never moved beyond rhetoric: now she is dead in the water.

Meanwhile, the Tories are in fast retreat over Brexit. They held a referendum over the EU for narrowly party reasons which, from a national point of view, was entirely unnecessary. As a result of the Brexit vote, the Cameron leadership was forced to resign and the Brexiteers took de facto command. But now, after the election, the Tories are in headlong retreat from anything like a “hard Brexit”. In short, they have utterly lost control of the political agenda and are being driven by events. Above all, they are frightened of another election from which Corbyn is likely to emerge as leader with a political agenda that will owe nothing to neoliberalism.

Apart from Corbyn’s extraordinary emergence as a leader who understands – and is entirely comfortable with – the imperatives of the new conjuncture and the need for a new political paradigm, the key to Labour’s transformed position in the eyes of the public was its 2017 manifesto, arguably its best and most important since 1945. You may recall that for three decades the dominant themes were marketisation, privatisation, trickle-down economics, the wastefulness and inefficiencies of the state, the incontrovertible case for hyper-globalisation, and bankers and financiers as the New Gods.

Labour’s manifesto offered a very different vision: a fairer society, bearing down on inequality, a more redistributive tax system, the centrality of the social, proper funding of public services, nationalisation of the railways and water industry, and people as the priority rather than business and the City. The title captured the spirit – For the Many Not the Few. Or, to put in another way, After Neoliberalism. The vision is not yet the answer to the latter question, but it represents the beginnings of an answer.

Ever since the late 1970s, Labour has been on the defensive, struggling to deal with a world where the right has been hegemonic. We can now begin to glimpse a different possibility, one in which the left can begin to take ownership – at least in some degree – of a new, post-neoliberal political settlement. But we should not underestimate the enormous problems that lie in wait. The relative economic prospects for the country are far worse than they have been at any time since 1945. As we saw in the Brexit vote, the forces of conservatism, nativism, racism and imperial nostalgia remain hugely powerful. Not only has the country rejected continued membership of the European Union, but, along with the rest of the West, it is far from reconciled with the new world that is in the process of being created before our very eyes, in which the developing world will be paramount and in which China will be the global leader.

Nonetheless, to be able to entertain a sense of optimism about our own country is a novel experience after 30 years of being out in the cold. No wonder so many are feeling energised again.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

Martin Jacques is the former editor of Marxism Today. 

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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