History will judge New Labour harshly. Unlike the 1945 government, it lacked a reforming vision – but the financial crisis provides an unprecedented chance for renewal 

We can already see New Labour in some kind of historical perspective; and the judgement of history will not be kind. At the next election the voters will consign it to opposition and probably desert it in huge numbers, possibly on the scale of the Conservative defeat of 1997. Of course, in our electoral system, even a government that lasts three terms eventually returns to the opposition benches: there is not necessarily any ignominy in that. It depends on its legacy. I vividly recall a discussion at a seminar in 1998, organised as part of the preparation for a special issue of Marxism Today on New Labour. Most of the participants were to varying degrees inimical to New Labour and sceptical about its agenda. The few who were supportive argued that the key task was to secure two or more terms.

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Afghanistan has proved the deathbed of every imperial project that has sought to tame it. Sooner or later, the British will leave in defeat

There is one certainty concerning the British and western military presence in Afghanistan: it will fail. Only when is in doubt. It may yet stumble on for a few more years, but sooner or later there will be a general recognition that the mission cannot succeed.

This is one of the stranger military escapades of the past few decades. Without the attacks of 11 September 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan would never have happened. The United States needed to find a military outlet for its anger and desire for revenge and Afghanistan was the chosen target; the objectives were to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and destroy al-Qaeda. This was the (always absurd and overblown) “war on terror”. The first objective has never been achieved, the second remains as elusive as ever, and meanwhile the Nato troops have become embroiled in a war without end against the Taliban.

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Washington must cut the umbilical cords that ties it to Tel Aviv. If it doesn’t, the conflict in the Middle East will hasten American decline

Could the Middle East prove to be the United States’ Dien Bien Phu? The latter, you may remember, was where the flower of France’s colonial troops was vanquished by the Viet Minh in 1954. That military defeat in Vietnam came to symbolise the end of France as an imperial power. I exaggerate, of course: apart from Iraq, American troops are not embroiled in the Middle East and there is no great battle vaguely on the horizon. Dien Bien Phu is no more than a metaphor for the problems that can befall an imperial power in decline. The region where a similar process of angst and exhaustion might most obviously face the US today is the Middle East. Washington has long regarded it to be the most important region as far as US interests are concerned.

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On his first visit to China as US treasury secretary, at the start of this month, Timothy Geithner attempted to reassure an audience at Peking University that there is no need to worry about the enormous holdings China has built up in US government bonds. “Chinese assets are very safe,” he declared. Geithner’s statement produced loud laughter from the largely student audience.

Unlike most western commentators, who still give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt, China’s emerging elite know there is no prospect that the United States will pay back its debts at anything like their current value. The only way the US can repay its vast borrowings is by debasing the dollar – a process in which China will inevitably be short-changed. Significantly, the students’ response was not anger, but derision – a clear sign of how the US is now perceived. Resentment at US power is being replaced by contempt, as the impotence and self-deception of the American political class in the face of the country’s problems become increasingly evident.

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In Britain, black people are excluded from decision-making in top-flight football. It will take more than one club appointment to change that

If you are white, you might think that English football is gloriously multiracial. After all, over a quarter of the players in the Premiership are black and much the same is true of the lower leagues. Alas, you would be wrong. Many players are black and, predictably, so are many who do football’s menial jobs such as catering, parking and security; but after that you enter an overwhelmingly white world. Virtually all the club chairmen and directors are white. Most outrageously of all, virtually every manager, even though they are almost always former players, is white.

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Obama has exposed the timidity of Blair and Brown – whose disastrous legacy is a Britain with no strong, credible left-of-centre voice

For those brought up on the modus operandi of the past 30 years, it is difficult to adjust to the monumental shift in US politics. The idea that General Motors – for so long the jewel in the crown of American manufacturing – will now be reshaped by the federal government is remarkable.

From finance to industry, the US government is now more involved in the economy than at any time since the 1930s. Furthermore, while the Republicans stand on the sidelines, warning of creeping socialism – itself an amazing charge – most of society seems to believe that there is little alternative other than a huge dose of state intervention to rescue the economy.

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Democratic forces in Berlusconi’s Italy are increasingly beleaguered. More than ever they need our support, not our silence and consent

Until the rise of Silvio Berlusconi in 1994, few would have thought that a major western European country could once again fall under something resembling the spell of fascism. Fifteen years later, Italy is unrecognisable, home to a process of political change that should be watched – and feared – by everyone in Europe. It is a warning of how the fabric of democracy can be progressively undermined from within, and that, far from being external and alien, the seeds of authoritarianism lie within the body politic.

The term fascism is so defined by powerful historical imagery that the phenomenon itself seems to be of historical relevance only; yet Berlusconi is an extremely modern figure, reflecting the worst and most insidious features of contemporary western and, in particular, Italian culture. Nor should our concerns be lessened or diluted by what might be described as the more superficial and comical aspects of Italian culture: non-Italians generally see both Mussolini and Berlusconi, to some degree, as figures of fun and ridicule. Every nation has its specificities.

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The UN conference on racism confronted western countries with difficult truths – but that’s no reason for anyone to walk out

I can think of only one international body that can lay claim to a semblance of democracy: the United Nations. All the other organisations that regard themselves as global – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation – are creations of the west and their power structures reflect that fact. This is the reason why the United States has always had a troubled relationship with the UN; it is the one organisation where it is not assured of getting its own way. On the contrary, it often finds itself hugely outnumbered, resolutions on the Middle East and Israel being a classic trigger. That, rather than being strapped for cash, is why the US has always been so reluctant to pay its dues. So, it was no surprise to find the US boycotting this year’s UN World Conference against Racism in Geneva, or that it walked out of the first such meeting in Durban in 2001. America is invariably on the defensive on such occasions.

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The Labour Party that capitulated so completely to neoliberalism is exhausted. If it is to be reinvigorated, it will have to embrace bold ideas

The end of the neoliberal era is surely cause for some celebration. It marked a decisive shift in the centre of gravity of power in society: from the state to the market, from society to the individual, from relatively egalitarian values to the embrace of inequality. In the past 30 years, there has been a formidable redistribution of power and wealth in favour of the rich.

It can be argued that it is premature to announce the end of neoliberalism, and of course, in a sense, this is true. An ideology that has acquired such dominance at all levels of society, from the person in the street to the man at No 10 – to the point where it has acquired the force of common sense – does not and cannot disappear overnight.

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US economic power is crumbling, but China is not yet ready to take over the reins

The G20 meeting on 2 April will deliver little but, like the first G20 meeting in Washington last November, its symbolism will be enormous. The very fact that it is taking place at all is an admission of the momentous shift in the global balance of economic power from the rich countries to the developing world.

If the western countries plus Japan could have sorted out this crisis through the G8, that would certainly have been their preferred route. The cosiness of eight nations (or preferably seven, excluding Russia) with rather similar interests would have made agreement rather easier and, more importantly, would not have implied that in future power would have to be shared with countries possessed of very different interests and histories.

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