The deal

In the context of current global politics, what has been achieved here is probably as good as could

So there was me thinking I might get some time to rest in Bali before flying home but it’s been another full day at the Convention Centre.

Negotiations continued through the night on the key remaining sticking points: how to reference the science and targets and whether/how to differentiate between developed and developing countries. This morning a new draft proposal was tabled but on the latter issue, India asked for more time to negotiate. Several hours later, and after a certain amount of semi-organised chaos, a new compromise was reached.

It’s not easy to explain the full story, and also convey the tense and emotional atmosphere in the huge plenary hall, but basically the group of developing countries (G77) proposed an amendment, which was supported by the EU (to much applause). The US then objected to the amendment. What followed was a series of statements from countries across the world with varying degrees of condemnation of the US position. And with the World’s media watching, the United States dropped its objection.

So high drama on the last day (+1). The final outcome is what is being called the ‘Bali Road-Map’; an agenda for the next two years of negotiations. As I have said before, this seems dull and unimportant but believe me it is a critical staging post in the international process and every single word has been pored over and many have been fought over.

I won’t go into great detail on the text but I think there are two ways of looking at the final deal. First, in the context of what is actually needed to address the problem of climate change, the negotiations here have been some way off the mark, largely due to the intransigence at various times and on various issues of the US, Canada, Japan and Russia.

Second, in the context of current global politics, what has been achieved here is probably as good as could be expected in light of the Bush Administration’s history of outright hostility to climate science and to binding international action, particularly in the UN. Despite this hostility, the UN process is still alive and kicking and in my opinion it is the only way we can get governments from across the world to take cooperative action on such a complex interaction of issues.

So, the door is still open for a progressive outcome by the time the talks are supposed to conclude in 2009. But the door has certainly not been closed to a minimalist fudge. The critical question over the coming months and years is about the extent to which politics changes in key countries like the USA and also the extent to which governments like our own put in place the policies necessary to cut the carbon out of our economy.

WDM said at the very outset that the subtext of this negotiation was all about trade and competitiveness given the massive trade deficit the US has with China. And I think this has proved to be the case. The US in particular has been petrified of agreeing to anything that is seen back in the States as being a commitment to action by the US that is much greater than the Chinese. If you are interested, take a look at WDM’s report: Blame it on China? Which explores the international politics of climate change.

On a final note, all I can say is that I feel utterly drained. Sometimes I have wondered what the hell I’m achieving by being here. On a few occasions I’ve felt like I have made a small contribution. On the plus side, I leave here with a strong sense that there is a growing movement of people from all parts of the world seeking real and lasting solutions. Being concerned about climate change is not just the preserve of middle class westerners. The strongest advocates for action are those in developing countries living at the sharp end of its impacts, and the impacts of the ‘quack remedies’ like massive palm oil plantations for bio-diesel. The voices of these people need to be heard.

Please check out WDM’s web site over the coming weeks and months as we upload some of the interviews with developing country activists that I have been able to do here.

Anyway, I hope that you (all three of you) have found the past two weeks of blogging informative, and perhaps at times thought provoking and every now and then entertaining. Maybe you’ll hear from me, or perhaps someone else at WDM, next time governments from across the globe gather together for a big showdown.

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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