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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.
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
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
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Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
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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
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative 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