Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
In the year since it was effectively taken into public ownership, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has used public money in ways that often look little different to its use of private money previously. On the environmental front, this has included extending at least $2.7 billion in loans to companies that own or are building infrastructure to extract tar sands oil in Canada – an endeavour that has been slammed for its devastating impact on climate change, local ecosystems and indigenous peoples. This is just one example of RBS’s post-recapitalisation finance of fossil fuels.
During the same period, the British Wind Energy Association publicly called for some form of targeted government intervention for the UK to achieve its renewable targets. I approached a number of green energy associations looking to speak to someone who had attempted to obtain finance from RBS for their projects, but I was told that no one would waste their time in such fruitless efforts.
The report that Platform and others commissioned at the end of last year, Towards a Royal Bank of Sustainability, is about attempting to democratise financial institutions. We as taxpayers have paid for it, so we should have some say in how the RBS is run. Financial institutions should exist to finance the needs of society rather than as a means of making large amounts of money for small numbers of people. The political opportunity to assert the public ownership of RBS comes at a time when there is an stark contrast between the social need for low-carbon and the ‘business as usual’ approach of fossil-fuel finance.
The ‘hands off’ approach of the Treasury is looking increasingly untenable. It’s not just left-wing economists and environmentalists that are challenging this position. Jeremy Scott, the global financial services chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, has said that ‘Governments need to accept, given the limited likelihood of a quick extraction from the sector, that their main focus needs to be on the positive role they can play given they are “inside the tent”.’
If we put aside for a moment the obsession with short-termist profit maximisation that characterises our economy, there is a clear business case for banks to divert the flow of capital away from new fossil fuels and into clean energy. The government-commissioned Stern Review on climate change clearly laid out that the longer we delay the changes we need to make to our societies and our economies, the higher the annual percentage of GDP we will end up paying to adapt to the consequences of the destabilised climate.
A number of groups are calling for some sort of state-managed green investment bank that would finance the multiple projects necessary for the transition to a low-carbon economy. Some argue that the change in institutional culture might be too great for a bank like RBS to be used to perform this function, and that new financial architecture will be necessary. Regardless of this, the fact remains that any new green infrastructure will need to be accompanied by the withdrawal of banks such as RBS from the fossil-fuel sector. An infinite number of windmills won’t help if they continue to extract and consume coal, oil and gas at the same rate.
The spectacular losses caused by reckless financial practices have been socialised. But the banks continue to insist that the profits remain privatised – and, importantly, the decisions as to how go about creating those profits remains firmly in the hands of the banking executives.
Yet the fact that RBS is majority owned by the public provides an enormous opportunity to demand a much-needed dose of public involvement in financial institutions that up until now have been entirely unaccountable and opaque to the wider public.
The UK taxpayer has paid and will keep paying an enormous price to have kept the banking sector afloat. Possibly the only silver lining to be found in this situation is the political potential to put the sustainability and human rights agenda at the heart of one of the biggest financial structures in the country.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
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
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
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
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
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