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If you decided to draw a family tree of the British left, you’d have a bit of a job on your hands. There have been so many splits and splinters that we’ve all ended up as ideological half-sisters or second cousins, surrounded by immediate family who warn us off having anything to do with our scatterbrained relatives.
You could see the Convention of the Left, then, as a sort of family get-together – one thrown by a well-meaning aunt to encourage us all to ‘get along better’. It has the potential to be the most important event for socialists for many years, which is why I’m going to be blogging from it for Red Pepper over the next five days. But can it really work?
Its organisers have certainly picked a good time and place. Setting it up as a counter-conference to the Labour Party’s debate-free rally is a great way to pull in some of ‘Old Labour’, and having the opening session right after Saturday’s Stop the War protest will draw in some activists who might not otherwise have made the journey.
And the convention is not a rushed response to the wipeout the left faced in the May elections, or even to the escalating economic crisis. It was announced more than six months ago: before London elected a Thatcherite buffoon for mayor and a full-fledged fascist to its assembly, and the rest of the country appeared to take a shine to David Cameron; before the consternation about whether British politics was ‘moving to the right’; and before certain over-eager lefties started declaring that the collapse of a few banks means ‘the end of capitalism’ (again).
The immediate issue it plans to tackle is not the rise of the right or the twilight days of that system we all love to hate – it is the collapse of the left, in the broadest sense. Labour’s support is a fraction of what it was even in Blair’s day, with the ‘core’ voters and the diehard members finally pushed over the edge by Brown’s head-in-the-sand tricks, and yet the left-of-Labour parties have somehow spectacularly failed to grow. Without going into the controversial details (we all know them anyway), it seems clear at least that we never managed to harness the energy of the anti-war protests five years ago into anything long-term.
Today, the left has another chance. It is only the Westminster system that makes it look as if the public somehow desire woolly centrism tied to fetishes for privatisation and war – in poll after poll, voters support the parties on the basis of ‘lesser of two (or three) evils’ politics while roundly rejecting their actual policies. The economic crisis has exposed the absurdity of having three neoliberal parties and no alternative: no-one can seriously maintain that the City is an ‘engine of growth’ when people are losing their homes because some speculators decided they’d make good casino chips in their game of roulette.
You don’t have to think very hard about bankers getting multi-million pound rewards for failure while food prices and energy bills go through the roof to come to some notion of nationalisation or ‘production for need’ (even if you don’t necessarily call it that). In an age when an economic crisis can get halfway around the world before the central bankers have even got their boots on, anyone can see that the problem is the system – the economic Wizards of Oz have suddenly found their curtains drawn back, exposed as the selfish frauds they always have been. The free market has stopped being simply unpleasant and started actually not working on its own terms. New Labour, the New Tories and the Cameron-lite New Lib Dems have no answer to that.
I’m not saying that ‘the revolution is upon us, comrade’, but it certainly seems that people are casting around for an alternative. The point of the convention is to organise a forum where we can see what unites us and how we can make tentative steps towards unity that will really work – the broad support the convention already has is an encouraging sign. I just hope the left will use its convention as a chance to bury the hatchet, not as a venue for that most destructive of socialist sports: sectarian point-scoring.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
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What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
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New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
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A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun