Marketisation without limits.
That, effectively, is the message of health secretary Patricia Hewitt (see Alex Nunns). Here speaks a government that is absolutely convinced that there is no alternative to the market model of delivering public services. A model in which the state becomes the contractor and, more or less half-heartedly, the regulator. What underlies this zeal?
I once heard Jack Straw answer a warm up question on Any Questions: ‘What was your vision of the good society in 1968?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, he answered:’The command economy plus parliamentary democracy.’ Now, presumably, the answer would be: ‘The global market plus parliamentary democracy’ – said with equal certainty.
It is as much a fantasy formula as Straw’s student vision. And the reality of private corporations beyond the reach of elected politicians is as much on a slow fuse to disaster as the impermeably authoritarian states of the Soviet bloc.
The corporate juggernauts are being met with resistance as they drive through our public services. In August, a local campaign in Langwith, Derbyshire, won its appeal against the US United Health corporation taking over the local GP practice. But such opposition is dispersed and without a coherent alternative.
‘There’s no doubt we need to develop our own design for the NHS without the market,’ says Langwith GP, Dr Elizabeth Barrett, ‘but I’m only just beginning to think about it.’ The problem is less one of organisational unity on the left than of the need for a powerful, shared sense of direction that can resonate with the disaffection that is far more widespread than the committed left alone.To generate a sufficiently ambitious vision we need at the same time to be more realistic and more imaginative, simultaneously more attentive to the creativity implicit in local struggles and more willing to learn from international experiences.
We have to face the fact that an immensely powerful process of destruction and reconfiguration of economic, state and cultural institutions is going on; and unless we are able to assert an alternative dynamic, its outcome will be determined by the United Healths of this world.We also have to recognise that under existing forms of democracy – Jack Straw’s parliamentary democracy – our political institutions are too conservative to offer a sufficiently innovative means of developing an alternative.
Social democratic state institutions have long been difficult to get to move.
The rare exceptions, like Ken Livingstone’s GLC in the 1980s, prove the rule.The inbuilt cautiousness is only overcome through stimulating the pressure from social movements and radical civil society – funding the third sector not just to implement policies but also to bite the hand that feeds it and keep the politicians to their initial radical electoral mandate (an interesting contrast with the shackles that government now puts on its funding of this sector – see Martin McIvor,).
The new fluidity of state institutions – initially a destructive process – is producing, mainly in the course of resistance, ad hoc attempts to design a deeper democracy. Dr Barratt points to the ways she is working with patients and staff in opposition to the government’s market model to open up the management of the local primary care service. On North Tyneside, trade unionists are resisting the wholesale privatisation of services, all the time pushing for openness and trade union and user involvement in the procurement and bidding processes to secure a public sector option. In effect, they are trying to subvert marketisation by way of a wedge of democratic control over public delivery.
Jack Straw’s youthful scenario exposes the problem with the past methodology of a large part of the communist and Labour left. This is the focus on structures – property, state institutions and so on – ignoring other levels of social reality, including interactions between people, the complexity of the individual as a social being – emotions, personality, psychology – and relations with nature.
Jonathan Rutherford\’s article considers the work of the think-tank Compass on approaches that take these other levels of social reality seriously. But as he points out, any ‘new’ politics of the left must avoid the opposite mistake to that made in the past by not focusing on issues of individual personality, interactions between people and relations with nature without at the same time challenging the structural conditions – such as material inequality, unaccountable centres of economic and military power and the rampant, unregulated market – that block the possibilities of emancipatory social relations, environmental justice and individual fulfillment.
The challenge here is to develop institutional structures that are open to fluidity and innovation. Command bureaucracies don’t do this. But rather than seeking the solution through markets or private monopolies, the need is to find ways for the state and its services to reinvent themselves in response to multiple social needs, social and economic struggles and the emergence of new kinds of social relationship.
There is no simple formula for this. We need to build time into our political activity for investigation and reflection, including using the web to generate new tools for creative collaboration. Maybe we should develop ‘OurSpace’ to brainstorm, exchange ideas and learn from the countless thousands of practical experiments that are redesigning social relations and making demands for new structures to sustain them.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
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
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
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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
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The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
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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
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill