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8 December 2016

The year of living dangerously

Trump, Brexit, the populist surge – our New Times contributors reflect on a period of turbulent political change.

By New Statesman

A special feature on the new times and momentous changes in 2016, with Philip Collins, John Gray, John Harris, Adrian Pabst, Nick Pearce, David Runciman and Ngaire Woods.

Europe’s states of disorder by John Gray

Those optimistically talking about a “soft Brexit” are missing the bigger picture. Europe has entered one of its periodic states of protracted disorder.

The nature of the political upheaval in Europe continues to be misunderstood. An intrepid follower of fashion, the writer and gadfly Bernard-Henri Lévy has joined many others in opining that voters are no longer interested in facts or arguments. But “post-truth politics”, like “populism”, is a term mostly used by liberals who cannot face up to the self-defeating effects of their inordinate ideology. They might benefit from revisiting an idea that captivated an earlier generation of progressive thinkers, and considering the possibility that history obeys a law of dialectical contradiction. By pursuing the ultra-liberal project of a borderless continent in which national identities count for little, Europe’s ruling elites are bringing the opposite into being.

We have been thinking about Brexit back to front by David Runciman

The EU referendum fallout has only served to remind us of the status quo. “Taking back control” is meaningless unless we also reshape our democracy.

The gaping hole in the case for taking back control was always the absence of an argument for how political control would be ­redistributed within the UK. To put it in Ukip terms: what we’ve got is a Farage Brexit rather than a Carswell Brexit.​

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What do the new, right-wing populists mean for our future? by John Harris

It is this year’s cruellest political irony that the people who most support the populists are the least “future fit”.

“Are you future fit?” asked the posters. Ten days before the EU referendum, I was at a graduate recruitment fair in Manchester, where the ratio of Remain to Leave voters seemed to stand at roughly 15:1, and just about everyone I spoke to had an essentially optimistic view of the future. When I asked one twentysomething for his advice to people worried about immigration and set on voting to exit Europe, he replied without missing a beat: “In general, I’d say: ‘You know what? We live in the 21st century. Get with it.’”

Things can only get worse for Labour by Philip Collins

While the government wrestles with intractable problems, Labour seems irrelevant. Is there any hope for the party?

Successful political leaders do not begin with specifics. They rarely come with a “vision”. Rather, they embody a virtue that the people can see clearly. Obama’s flavour was hope and change. Theresa May’s flavour is stolidity and stability at a worrying time. Donald Trump’s flavour is that he talks straight and doesn’t let politics get in the way. A leader offers the sensation that he or she has the answer to your problems. It is no more specific than that. It is therefore true that the Labour Party may be one fine leader away from victory; but it is also true that there will be no victory without that leader.

How the left should respond to the steady march of nationalism by Nick Pearce

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage.

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. It is unlikely to usher in a post-liberal order, let alone foreshadow the end of capitalism, though one cannot discount increased violence and repression of minority communities. The space for a broad alliance of liberal, centrist, social-democratic and green politics remains wide – but it will need to find a way of articulating working-class interests, economic as well as cultural, and to find a more expressive, emotional and compelling register for its politics.

We don’t live in a world in which post-truth politics is inevitable by Ngaire Woods

Democracy requires a citizenship that meets, deliberates and interacts without fear and hatred. Only in this way can we work together as a diverse community.

When politicians stoke fear and resentment between groups in their society, the result can be a vicious circle of conflict and violence. People become more scared to go to the same school or to live in the same area as those deemed the other. Yet it is precisely this mixing that reduces fear and makes social cohesion possible. When the lives of different groups are separate, their fears grow. In societies as diverse as Britain, the US and France, this is dangerous stuff.

In the post-liberal battleground, the politics of belonging must not be ceded to the right by Adrian Pabst

If the left is to avoid permanent irrelevance, it must consider a politics committed to family, decent work, contribution, the love of one’s country and an internationalist outlook.

Brexit and Trump are just the latest examples of revulsion against dogmatic liberalism and its apologists – the progressive modernisers on the left and the right who brought us job-exporting trade deals, free movement and the deregulation of finance. These liberals patronised or ignored those for whom free trade, open borders and multicultural societies have resulted in economic hardship and unnerving cultural compromises.