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The events of early autumn demonstrate why New Labour has never been and will never be a party of the left. Allowing speculation about an early election to run unchecked, and then visiting Iraq in an abortive attempt to draw attention away from the Tory conference, showed that Gordon Brown had inherited all the worst features of opportunism and spin that characterised the Blair era. Then stealing the Tories’ clothes over taxation only confirmed that we have two virtually indistinguishable right-of-centre main parties, appealing to a narrow segment of ‘swing’ voters in marginal constituencies.
These events also reminded us of the serious flaws at the heart of British democracy. The first-past-the-post electoral system deprives the voters of effective choice and discourages them from turning out to vote. Enforced internal party uniformity discourages active membership and diminishes political diversity in parliament. Single party rule in a highly centralised system of government gives the premier unique personal control over executive, cabinet, parliament and country. And the anachronistic power to call an election at will fuels indefinite election speculation as well as giving the governing party a wholly arbitrary advantage over its opponents.
Is there any realistic prospect that any of this will change? Among the first acts of the Brown administration was the publication of a green paper, The Governance of Britain, which acknowledged the serious decline of public confidence in our democratic institutions, and set out proposals to ‘forge a new relationship between government and citizen’.
Unfortunately, the green paper’s diagnosis of the malaise in British democracy is limited, and its proposals for change correspondingly feeble. Certainly, removing some of the executive’s prerogative powers (to deploy troops abroad, to ratify international treaties, to recall and dissolve parliament and so on) and handing them over to parliament is a step in the right direction. But while the governing party leader enjoys such power of patronage and sanction over MPs, the distinction between executive and parliament is more formal than substantial. Moreover, the section on local communities envisages no serious rebalancing of power between central and local government.
It is when it comes to the role of the citizen – supposedly at the heart of the democratic deficit – that the weakness of the green paper is most apparent. What is offered, on the one hand, is more focus groups, consultations, citizen juries and so on, whose agendas will be carefully controlled from above. On the other hand, we are promised a great national debate on Britishness and British values, involving ‘local regional and national level events and opportunities for deliberation and debate’.
But what actually is Britain? It was constructed by the Act of Union at the start of the 18th century as an essentially imperial project, which is sustained today in surrogate form through subservience to the USA. And any ‘British values’ worth celebrating are mostly ones we share with the rest of Europe, though their European character cannot be openly acknowledged. Flying the Union Jack on all public buildings hardly makes up for this hole at the heart of the concept of ‘Britishness’.
Most problematic of all is the green paper’s analysis of the huge drop in voting by young people (18-24) over the past two general elections. The cause is identified as their ‘lack of appreciation of the importance of the democratic process and of the need for active citizenship’. And the solution? A new Youth Citizenship Commission ‘which will examine ways to invigorate young people’s understanding of the historical narrative of our country and of what it means to be a British citizen, and to increase their participation in the political sphere.’
No mention here of the mass participation of young people, including large numbers of Muslims, in the demonstrations and school walkouts against the Iraq war, or the failure of the government to listen to them. No mention either of the fact that this generation is the one that had already been exposed in school to Blunkett’s civics curriculum.
This curriculum may have introduced them to the importance of the United Nations, to the need to resolve disputes by peaceful means and to the values of representative democracy. What they learnt in practice from their political participation, however, was that parliament and government can defy the UN and invade another country when they choose, and that they give more weight to the views of a foreign president than they do to the voices of their own people.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
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
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
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