Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Practising what we preach

Salma Yaqoob says that how we build a political alternative is as important as what we build

February 10, 2008
4 min read

It was five years ago that my frustrations with mainstream parties prompted me to get involved in party politics. At the time I felt that the political process simply did not reflect the broad values of most people I knew – and especially those engaged in the anti-war movement.

These values were reflected in an opposition to imperialism and neo-liberalism, although most people I came into contact with very rarely, if ever, used these words to express their concerns.

Instead they asked why our foreign policy could not be based more on cooperation instead of conflict. They wanted a better quality of life for them, their friends and families, and felt people in other parts of the world were entitled to the same as well. Instead what people see today is war and instability abroad, and increasing discontent at home despite an apparently wealthy society. People are worried about the future of their children. They are concerned at widening inequality, the increase of stress and depression, the record levels of binge drinking, drug abuse, violence and vandalism. How could it be that after a decade of uninterrupted economic growth our society could feel more fractured, unequal and unhappy? Why are our kids reported to be the unhappiest in Europe?

The answers to these concerns lie in a critique of the way the way free market fundamentalism has increasingly invaded and distorted our lives, and the need for society to be protected from its all consuming appetites.

The challenge for those of us who aspire to live in a more humane and just society is to be able to explain the source of people’s everyday concerns in a language they immediately understand, and point to solutions that are immediately realisable.

There is a lot of talk in government circles about the need for a ‘national conversation’ about what ‘Britishness’ means in the 21st century. If we are to have such a conversation, it would be well served by looking back to the future.

The ideas of universal healthcare; a living wage; participatory democracy; public services that are accountable to the people who use them; food, medicine and shelter as a human right; these are not particularly radical ideas. They are common sense ideas enshrined in the UN Charter.

Add to that list a foreign policy that places a premium on diplomacy, and international cooperation, plus more decisive action on climate change, and there is the basis of a manifesto a sizeable slice of the British public would sign up to.

Why are these ideas so radical today? At one stage most would have been regarded as the bread and butter of social democracy. They appear radical now only because of the way neo-liberalism has shifted political discourse to the right over the last 20 years. All the while the gap between what the politicians do, and what people want, has widened.

The challenge of building political organisations that can bridge that gap is best realised and tested through day-to-day engagement in the practical struggles and frustrations of people’s everyday lives. Electoral politics, despite its pitfalls, forces such an engagement. Effective campaigning does likewise. Engagement with politics of a mass character is essential. It forces you to absorb the experience of the people you aim to represent, and it puts your views to the test.

It is also essential that we practise what we preach. How we build is as important as what we build. Our political organisations must embody the values that we wish to see reasserted in broader society. Our culture should be one in which disagreement is not seen as disloyalty and where inclusivity is not confined to those who sympathise completely with your own views. Whatever our forms of political organisation they must be places where we bring the best out of people, where the instincts that brought them into politics are raised to a higher political and moral plane.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes