Just being in the midst of the diverse crowds at the Convention on Modern Liberty in February was a thrilling experience in its own right, quite apart from the diversity and quality of debates. We had high seriousness with Keith Ewing and Lord Bingham, eloquence with Shami Chakrabarti, poetry with Philip Pullman and love and liberty as a sideshow. If we can seize the moment, we are possibly on the brink of a breakthrough.
We? Who are ‘we’? Well, though it was civil liberties or (as I would prefer it) human rights that brought everyone together, and not just in London, we were a diverse crowd in composition and experience. We were lovers of rock, football and the countryside, we were Tories, lefties, liberals, anarchists. Above all, many of us were young; and we were all fed up with the cumulative loss of liberties and the intrusions on our privacy, identities and lives by an overbearing state. This was far from the usual ‘we’ of political and pressure group life.
We plainly did not all agree, and we have different priorities. But the great majority of us were united around the urgent need to gain and regain liberties, to re-take our identities and to work for a constitutional settlement that can protect them. One of the main purposes of the convention was to bring together the organisations that argue and campaign for liberties, human rights and democracy and to strengthen them: first, creating an atmosphere of change within which they could work more confidently; and second, enabling them to recruit new people.
The huge surge of energy the convention inspired cannot be switched off. That would be a betrayal of all those who came and said, ‘What next?’ There must be a ‘next’, a wider and widening popular movement, or ambience, or current – call it what you will – in actions, argument, local and national events, the media, the blogosphere, wherever, that can continue to unite as many people as possible. If you like, we should seek to create a new zeitgeist – or even hopefully, to take advantage of a zeitgeist that is already emerging.
Existing organisations would benefit, but we ought not to conceive of it in terms of simply channelling all the energy into their campaigning activities. Not all of us are joiners. Not all of us share their particular priorities. Many of us want something new, or to make a new way forward. Alliances are already being made, as Red Pepper knows well, for it is at the centre of a new initiative on the police.*
The organisers of the convention, most notably Anthony Barnett, Henry Porter and Phil Booth, the organisations that participated and the bodies that provided funds, must come together to create collaborative working arrangements that will build on what has been achieved. I don’t know quite how this movement, for want of a better word, could be organised, or even what its activities might be. But clearly there are immediate tasks through which they can begin devising a long-term process. It could, for example work immediately to stop clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill that will enable ministers and state officials to evade all limits on their use of private information within the database state.
Possibly the greatest obstacle to making common cause with existing human rights organisations lies in differing attitudes to the Human Rights Act. Plainly, the act has failed to restrain this authoritarian government’s assault on human rights, except at the margins, largely for systemic reasons (as I argued in my last column). But it is doing much to protect the rights and dignity of many of vulnerable groups, as the British Institute of Human Rights continually reminds us.
It is, if you like, a ‘battered shield’. But it would be foolish to cast it aside at this juncture, when civil liberties and human rights, need all the protection they can get. Those who blame the act for the losses we have sustained since it was introduced need to identify the real villains and structural weaknesses – most notably the over-mighty state and its dominance over parliament – rather than seek an easy scapegoat in ways that may strengthen the enemies of the principle of universal human rights in both main political parties. This is a principle that we all need to hang on to for dear life.
It is a principle that the act embodies. There is already vigorous debate about its future and dubious proposals for a ‘British’ bill of rights that will not be embedded and may not be universal. But we cannot argue for it, as we should, in a spirit of denial. We should argue back vigorously and freely, but taking care to respect what the act stands for and its potential.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences