The beginning of the end game

Peter Hardstaff on how things are getting intense over in Bali at the climate conference

You might not have guessed from the picture that has been selected to appear at the top of this blog page, but I’m actually a serious and intense sort of person. Which is starting to come in handy because things are getting increasingly serious and intense.

Now I have no doubt that for many outside observers a lot of this stuff will appear dreadfully dull. Let’s face it, governments have come all this way to hold talks about having further talks. We all want outcomes and we want them now.

The media will be desperately trying to find a clear cut win/lose story at the end but in all probability there wont be one – unless the whole thing collapses (very bad news) or governments create a framework here in Bali that essentially ‘locks-in’ an ambitious and equitable agreement in a couple of years time (good result).

However, in all likelihood, we’ll get some sort of score-draw with some positives and negatives, or perhaps a no-score-draw, where no agreement is reached but everyone is still rhetorically committed to the process. This latter scenario could be pretty desperate given the urgent need to get some agreed and binding action out of rich countries so that the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol can continue smoothly after 2012.

So, the word in the corridors on what is going on is as follows …

Everyone is rhetorically committed to doing a deal but major differences remain.

Some larger developing countries are prepared to talk about what kind of contribution they can make in reducing emissions but in return they want meaningful talks on transferring technology from rich countries to poor countries (opposed by the US, EU and others).

The US is playing a blocking game here and is trying to create its own process outside the UN for talks on voluntary action with what it calls ‘the big emitters’.

Australia isn’t sure what it wants because the new administration hasn’t had time to communicate to its negotiators what the new strategy is. So Australian officials are in what they call a ‘holding pattern’, which seems to translate into being either silent or moderately obstructive.

The Saudis are still trying to insert language in the text that opens the door for ‘compensation’ for lost oil revenue (they just won’t let it go).

The EU is playing a relatively more progressive role here (emphasis on the word ‘relatively’) and is pushing for specific language on targets (opposed by the US, Japan, Canada and Russia) but my fear is that the EU will get outplayed by the US in the final hours of the talks (seen it happen before).

The small island states are still demanding, cajoling and pleading for more radical and urgent action but it’s falling largely on deaf ears.

Word is that Number 10 is worried about how the outcome (i.e. just an agreement on a future agenda for talks) will play with the UK media and public given high expectations of some action. I think the main action we need to see from Number 10 is scrapping plans for airport expansion, coal fired power stations, nuclear plants and ever more roads.

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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