Blogging Bali

The World Development Movement's Peter Hardstaff reports from the Bali conference on climate change

Ok, let’s get it straight from the outset. The irony is not lost on me that many hundreds of people have flown across the world – no doubt with the total carbon footprint equivalent to the entire annual emissions of a poor country – in order to attend a conference on climate change. How can this use of precious ‘resources’ (oil and the atmosphere) possibly be justified?

Well, for governments, that depends on whether they do the right thing and create a process that will give us a fighting chance of getting out of this climate change mess we have created. And let’s face it, there’s no way this can happen without governments meeting in person.

Anyone who works in an office will know how badly wrong communicating by e-mail can go. One typo (‘I do apologise Mr Chinese Environment Minister, I missed an ‘r’ in the message I sent last week. I meant to say “we have some concerns over the draft document you submitted.” The British Government wishes to apologise for any offence and to assure you that I have been re-assigned to a junior position in the tea and biscuits department.’)

And even with the wonders of modern technology, it’s hard to imagine video conferencing between dozens of countries. So they need to meet. Granted, it seems pretty bizarre coming to the holiday island of Bali to do the job – maybe they thought the stifling heat would help increase the pressure for a deal. Who knows?

As to the cost/benefit of the rest of us flying across the world for the climate conference, I feel less certain. The guys I play football with in London were quick to raise an eyebrow when they heard about this trip – particularly given what I do and who I work for - and I imagine many others would think the same.

To be honest, there’s no simple and compelling reason why myself, or any other individual campaigner, should be here. However, I strongly believe that some campaigners need to be here and the extent to which it is worthwhile depends on whether we can play an active and positive role in making something happen.

Again, the face-to-face stuff is important. Governments need to be scrutinised and kept to their word. The way these things develop - with constant shifts in positioning and tactics during the talks – it’s useful to have people who don’t work for the government keeping an eye on things. There might have been a time when it could have been argued that it is the media’s job to keep tabs on the powers that be, expose hypocrisy and keep governments to their word. But these days, with some notable exceptions, most journalists covering the climate talks simply have not had the experience, or been given the time by their employers, to understand the detail of what is happening.

So there it is. Alongside governments, ‘civil society’ as they call it, in all its myriad forms - from business lobby groups and academic researchers to local authorities and development/environment campaigners - is here en masse. Whether every single one of us needs to be here is a reasonable question, but I’ll leave it to you to work out the complex algebra needed to create a fair quota system that reduces overall numbers while giving all interested parties a voice.

For now, let’s just hope the outcome in 12 days time makes all this worthwhile.

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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