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The bouncy conversation is aimed mainly at the disaffected Labour supporter. The BNP’s would-be constituency is being catered for, however; enter stage right home secretary David Blunkett. Indeed, the government’s asylum policies, and the xenophobic press, are increasing public susceptibility to the far right.
Polls show that more than 30 per cent of the electorate see asylum seekers as its number-one issue. It is an alarming statistic, which bears out novelist Hari Kunzru’s comment when he refused the Daily Mail-sponsored John Llewellyn Rhys literary prize that ‘one of the ugliest developments of British political life has been the emergence of the asylum seeker as the bogeyman’.
It is government policy that has created this situation. The Home Office has set off a grotesque vicious spiral in which it introduces ever more repressive legislation in a bid to satisfy an insatiable appetite to punish the scapegoat. At this year’s Labour Party conference the prime minister effectively blamed asylum seekers for the racism that pursues them; his solution to this racism is cutting asylum seeker numbers and limiting their recourse to legal protection.
Like a school head who rather than openly standing up to the bully subtly gives in to his pressure, Blair has helped to create a political culture in which asylum seekers are seen as a problem, as guilty until proven innocent, as a threat – not a promise of new possibilities. Even where numbers of asylum seekers are minuscule, the BNP has exploited this culture.
Most politicians are frightened to turn the tables and start welcoming asylum seekers, to insist they may work and have decent living conditions and the opportunity to integrate themselves into British society right from the moment they arrive in this country.
Their refusal to challenge the media’s attacks on asylum seekers meshes with and misdirects the alienation and insecurity that lies behind the support for the far right. The failure to debunk the asylum myths is related to a failure to address head-on real issues about council and public services, and to political representatives’ absenting themselves from local duties and simply advancing their careers in the town hall or Westminster.
The focus on the ‘asylum-seeker problem’ diverts attention from material issues of democracy and political equality and accountability. The popular demonisation of asylum seekers is a result of people’s sense of powerlessness; it is a desperate lashing out at something that can be blamed in the absence of any lever over the real causes of deprivation.
The very idea of the ‘big con’, as it is increasingly becoming known, is symptomatic of the extent to which decades of centralising government, erosion of Labour Party democracy and cutting of public services have destroyed whatever channels of communication used to connect government with the people. Even the regional organisers of the big con know that the notes being dutifully taken at its events will go nowhere beyond the Labour Party website.
Genuine democracy is about power working its way up through institutions in which people have a real say at every level, and in which many little conversations cumulatively build control over local decisions. It involves a sharing of power, direct democracy and a proportional electoral system – both locally and nationally. Debates and differences ought to translate into power, not evaporate in endless consultations.
Like balloons the morning after the party, the air in the inflatable conversation will slowly fizzle away, leaving something mis-shapen and forgotten. Elsewhere, people really are talking, in ways linked directly to organising. Trade unions are initiating educational sessions on the asylum issue in workplaces. Anti-racist activists are building local coalitions to show that there are positive alternatives that can be supported electorally and campaigned for in the community. Others are organising nationally, giving a high profile to the growing movement against racism.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
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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
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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
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
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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
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