Liberal hijack

Who's really in charge at the Bali climate conference? It must be those pesky European liberals, mus

It’s the weekend and chaos levels have been adjusted to ‘moderate’; which gives me the chance to have a political rant (of a sort). I was scanning through my e-mail in-box yesterday when I happened across a press release from the Heartland Foundation, a Chicago-based ‘think tank’. This lot claims, in reference to the agenda of European governments, that “European liberal groups have hijacked the [climate] conference and are pushing a pre-determined outcome.”

Now the term ‘liberal’ is a pretty flexible concept (‘free market liberal’? ‘social liberal’?), but they seem to be implying that European politics is dominated by radical lefty-greenies. Has the Heartland Foundation actually looked at European politics recently and seen the steady drift towards deregulation, privatisation and free markets? And the European agenda on climate change is often pretty timid and subject to intense industry lobbying (biofuels anyone?).

Looking at the European Parliament, the largest group of MEPs is the conservative group - not known for being left wing radicals. The second largest group is the Party of European Socialists (which bizarrely includes MEPs from New Labour). Yup, let's face it the ‘socialist group’ is socialist in name only and, again, most could hardly be described as lefties.

And what of the Green Party? Green MEPs make up just 5% of the total in the Parliament. Now I know some highly competent Green MEPs but I think they would agree that 5% hardly constitutes a power base from which European politics can be controlled.

So, if the Heartland Foundation thinks that ‘lefty-greenies hijacking Europe/the UN‘ is a credible theory, then how about the following…

For the past two years it has not, in fact, been Arnold Schwarzenegger calling the shots in California, it has actually been Ralph Nader wearing a cleverly constructed body-suit. In a night time raid on his California mansion in 2005, Arnie was kidnapped and murdered by that slimy greeny and his cabal of crazed environmental zealots. The Governator is no more. It’s really an imposter.

And what about the new Australian government that has just ratified the lefty-inspired Kyoto Protocol? Not actually human beings. Just weeks ago, shape-shifting Martians (the little green bastards!) landed in Wollongong and then spread out, quickly assuming mind control over the Australian elite.

Lizards (far too green to be trustworthy) have taken over the…..oh, David Icke has the got the copyright on that one. And if there’s one thing these guys believe in its strong intellectual property protection. After all, how else are we going to cover the gargantuan research, development and marketing costs to develop all the life saving drugs like, um, Viagra, that poor people in the third world desperately need?

Lefty-greenies running Europe at the moment; I mean, how did these guys come up with this stuff? What complex process of political analysis did they undergo to reach such conclusions? I reckon it can only be the product of the well known policy analysis technique known as ‘5 pints of Stella’. Yep, that’s right, the result of a drunken pub conversation and from my experience (I have tried this technique, but only for scientific reasons you understand) about 4 – 5 pints of Stella (or other beer of equivalent strength) tends to create the right conditions for truly imaginative policy analysis.

“Wurl, issafukinspiracyinnit? Sssgoabeagoddampinkoleftytakeover. Widdereclimchangewossname, annerefunnylilrectanglarnoryoorpeanglasses. Wahappentovidualfreeemhuh? Thassw’Iwannano? AnnaU.N. Theyreinonnitaswell.”

I’m guessing that somehow the Heartland Foundation people must have been just lucid enough to write it all down and stick it in a press release. Hats of to these guys, that’s quite a feat after a night on cocktails.

Trouble is, if they still believed it once they sobered-up then you can only conclude that they are very scary people living in what they see is a very scary world.

My advice to them? Move to Idaho and build a hut in the woods!

And do us all a favour and stay there.

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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