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Faced with the effects of the financial crisis and with an ecological crisis looming ever closer, the need for a responsive and accountable political system is now posed with renewed urgency. Yet if events have shaken the ideological confidence of Britain’s ruling class, the lack of any viable left alternative at the electoral level means that the neoliberal project, while far from secure, has remained for the moment more or less intact.
Just as the bankers faced a period of public excoriation before gradually returning to their old ways, so too MPs are hopeful that the political storm over expenses will essentially give way to business as usual. Sure, they think that the rotten old constitutional settlement needs a new lick of paint. But they think they can get away without really meaningful changes.
However, the public’s contempt for politicians won’t be remedied by belatedly reforming a system by which they allowed themselves to become engorged at the taxpayers’ expense (quite literally in the case of chief whip Nick Brown, who charged £18,800 for food – not counting restaurant meals for which he submitted separate claims). The real lifeblood of democratic debate is draining away and leaving behind it a body politic that is giving off the unmistakeable stench of decay.
MPs are now widely regarded as a breed apart. Like the bankers, they are seen as a materially privileged class that is totally insulated from the realities of life as the majority experience it. With breathtaking gall, some even suggested that the solution to the expenses issue is a substantial increase in their basic salary! It will take more than a new monitoring body to dissuade disgusted voters from the belief that all MPs have their snouts in the trough.
To achieve this we need representatives who don’t inhabit another economic world from our own. Accepting the ‘worker’s wage’ would be a much clearer way of demonstrating that MPs need not be a parasitical caste lording it over the rest of us.
But even MPs committed to really fighting for the interests of constituents need effective mechanisms in place to allow them to do so. Their job as parliamentarians should be to hold the executive to account.
Without a link between MPs’ power to challenge the government and their ability to take up the cases of individual constituents, backbenchers are just idiosyncratic social workers. The call for a citizen-led campaign to democratise our entire political infrastructure is critical.
We must continue to emphasise that there must be no going back to ‘business as usual’ at Westminster. Their crisis can be turned into our opportunity.
Today’s mainstream political debate only addresses the concerns of a tiny fraction of the electorate, and most people know that their votes essentially count for nothing. Whatever our chosen vehicle for intervening at election time, we face an enormous obstacle to immediate progress in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.
Some defenders of the status quo argue that proportional representational favours the BNP. The truth is that Labour’s monopoly of representation in many areas has encouraged it to take for granted working-class support and produced a stagnant political culture in which alternative progressive policies have no voice – just the conditions in which the far right will thrive. Campaigning for systemic political change must be part of our challenge to their appeal. The present lack of a credible left alternative means we need a serious debate over the most effective way of cutting across support for the far right.
Could the foundations for a united, pluralistic left emerge from the struggle to break open the UK electoral space? The campaign for a referendum on electoral reform offers one such opportunity. The value of such campaigning is not entirely dependent on winning a total victory – no one underestimates the difficulties facing a campaign that requires MPs to endanger a system through which many get jobs for life. Yet the very experience of progressives coming together across the boundaries of party allegiance to fight for commonly-agreed aims itself prefigures the type of politics we are trying to create. As Neal Lawson suggests , democracy is not just a convenient means to realise our ends, but incorporates values that are an intrinsic part of the good society itself.
There are precedents for such a dynamic, close at hand. The Scottish Constitutional Convention helped to forge a new political dispensation north of the border. Without idealising the devolution settlement, it has encouraged a positive political realignment involving a greater role for alliances and cross-party co-operation. But the travails of the Scottish Socialist Party also provide a salutary reminder that electoral and constitutional reform is not in itself sufficient to see the radical left make a decisive breakthrough. The need for greater democracy and accountability is just as relevant to our own structures.
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
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
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
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
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
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook