Happy 10th birthday Kyoto

As people at the Bali conference sing 'happy birthday dear Kyoto' Peter Hardstaff reports on America

Last night I ended up at a ‘party’ to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol and had the curious experience of hearing a bunch of delegates singing 'happy birthday' to the climate change treaty.

Speeches were made with several would-be orators making rather laboured attempts to compare Kyoto to the story of a growing baby.

It's a curious choice because, if Kyoto were a infant, when she was born it was without all of her limbs - Australia and the US were missing; aviation and shipping had been omitted to name just a few of her deformities.

Despite this fragility, she has abused (missed targets), misused (dodgy carbon-trading projects) and, in some cases, just plain ignored.

Cut to the present day and we find Kyoto, battered and bruised, on a hospital operating table. Part of an arm, (Australia) is sewn on. But the child is still in critical condition as dozens of doctors are row over how best to proceed with her treatment.

Some want to get the arm and leg on, give the kid a massive shot of adrenaline (extra commitments from rich countries + aid and technology transfer) and send her on her way.

Others want to ignore the leg operation entirely and are arguing that the original arm can be properly attached but Kyoto can only be saved if a whole new arm (binding commitments for big developing countries) is also sewn on. Trouble is, attaching a third arm will effectively create a different person.

The argument between the doctors is threatening to break into a full-blown fight. Kyoto is lying on the operating table. Her breathing shortens. Her pulse becomes more erratic. Will the doctors stop fighting? Will they agree on the right operation? Can the child be kept alive?

Ok, I got a bit carried away with the analogy. As for what is actually happening, the politics is ramping up. Conversations in the corridors reveal that the US is playing a blocking game; amongst other things undermining progressive moves to establish targets and create a meaningful process to transfer technology to poor countries.

I’ve heard that in the international trade talks at the WTO, when it comes to the crunch, Ministers and Heads of State start working the phones in order to persuade others to shift their positions. Well, the crunch is here; we now have less than three days to keep this thing not only alive but in a fit enough state to stand a chance of becoming a fully fledged climate deal. So, Hilary Benn, Gordon Brown; it’s time to get on the blower and find out if our relationship with the US administration really is all that ‘special’.

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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