Beyond the casino state

Watch Question Time – or any TV programme where politicians are on display – and it’s clear that our cover theme, turning David Cameron’s ‘we can’t go on like this’ back on him and all the main parties, sums up a popular mood. Disillusionment with politicians has fed into a deepening anger at the way […]

March 28, 2010
5 min read


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


  share     tweet  

Watch Question Time – or any TV programme where politicians are on display – and it’s clear that our cover theme, turning David Cameron’s ‘we can’t go on like this’ back on him and all the main parties, sums up a popular mood. Disillusionment with politicians has fed into a deepening anger at the way in which the political establishment have been subservient to the filthy rich, from the unconditional and unaccountable bail-out of the bankers to Lord Ashcroft’s private tax wheeze.

Underlying this behaviour is the long-term tendency towards Britain becoming a casino state – with some of the participants betting on its collapse.

The dependence of the British economy on the prosperity of the financial sector is extreme, built up over decades. Harold Wilson’s deference to the pound in the 1960s kyboshed the opportunity to invest in a major restructuring of the economy with the revenue from North Sea oil. Thatcher’s attack on trade union power, destruction of manufacturing and, above all, her deregulation of finance, fed the international power of the City.

Finance capital grew, from being a dominant power in a bargaining process that also included manufacturing industry and the unions, to becoming the prime driver of the economy and the state. This has skewed government policy – whichever political party is in office – against taxing the rich and capital gains, towards intensifying the Atlantic alliance and favouring investments supporting the infrastructure of the financial sector. This includes, most recently, the investment in Heathrow’s expansion, and now public spending cuts, reducing public debate to a matter of ‘when’?

The cuts are not primarily about covering the cost of the bank bail-out. They are to pay for the loss of revenue from a crisis-ridden financial sector on which the government has become massively dependent. In fact, a rush to cut will simply lock the economy into this dependence and prepare the way for a further crisis and a spiral of decline.

What is needed is action to direct the formally public banks to fund investment in the real economy – generating revenue which will eventually, with redistributive taxation, not only cover the deficit but also address its cause. There’s no lack of possibilities and needs if we look beyond Canary Wharf: public investment in developing regional economies, including the growing social economy, supporting green restructuring, extending access to information technology to the whole population and more.

The jaded figures on our cover share a taboo on state action to counter the damaging dynamics of the capitalist market. Still in thrall to neoliberal nostrums, they compete to dismantle the state as a provider of services, leaving its function as primarily a prop to private capital. This denial of political agency creates the impression that the City has been hit by a tsunami – that ‘the markets’ are equivalent to ocean waves and we must all make sacrifices in the face of an unavoidable disaster.

To counter this, our aim must be to rebuild democratic – state and non-state – bargaining power in the face of entirely human-made powers. We need to call the bluff of the institutions that are hidden behind the market mystique and that are effectively betting on the futures of millions of people.

This isn’t about rebuilding the nation state as we have known it. It’s about intellectual work like that of Mary Mellor (page 40) to develop a vision of embedded public institutions drawing on recent thinking about the commons and participatory democracy. It’s about starting from and interconnecting the new or hybrid sources of non-state democratic power that so many of us are involved in. We need to link up innovative trade union and community initiatives and alliances, like the campaign for a “Robin Hood tax” on speculation now gaining a mass following (see page 30) and web communities like those that, 40 years from the founding of the women’s liberation movement, are reclaiming an activist feminism.

And we must find ways of up-scaling all this into an internationally oriented movement, directly concerned with social control over the economy.

In this context, the election campaigns of inspiring left wing candidates like Caroline Lucas and Salma Yaqoob (page 16) are as important in their capacity to develop voters’ confidence to speak out and get organised as to win votes. Vital too are campaigns (page 14) that are using the election to build clarity and support for the struggles that will be necessary from the morning after polling day, whoever wins.

‘We can’t go on like this’ is not a call to arms, as if the line of march is already mapped and the generals in place. On the contrary, it’s an insistence that we act on our contempt for the political elites by realising our own capacities, with the latest means of communication, as potential creators of new institutions and new political projects. We can recombine the useful of the old with the possibilities being opened up by the new, so that we truly no longer should carry on like this.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


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