Turn on the news in the past few weeks and it’s like reading Trotsky: capitalism in profound crisis; Labour leaders and their ‘epigones’ (a favourite Trotsky word) locked in internal battle. But where are we, the left? In its party forms the English left is divided both inside parliament (with some, disastrously, voting through 42-day detention) and outside (the Respect debacle). In its movement form, it is fragmented and, apart from the occasional creative initiative such as the climate camp, barely visible.
We have, no doubt, contributed to the loss of legitimacy neoliberalism has suffered over the past decade or so. But as Walden Bello, a radical intellectual from the Philippines, has put it: ‘Neoliberalism is like the train conductor who gets shot in an old western and dies with his hand on the accelerator. He’s dead but speeding the passengers inexorably towards total disaster.’
It’s as if we know the alternative direction in which the train should go, but are powerless to take action. Powerless because the millions of people who feel estranged from ‘mainstream’ politics do not consider the left to be any different.
Where the left is having an impact is where it is part of – and has helped to create – initiatives that reach beyond itself, to challenge the political class with a vision of a radical and egalitarian democracy. This is invariably a vision that is not explicitly socialist. Look at the Convention for Scottish Independence, Plaid Cymru’s coalition-building work in Wales or the broad-based coalition to save democracy in the NUS. Look too at the movements in support of Barack Obama in the US.
In the UK, Europe’s most centralised and executive-dominated of political systems, the loyalties and sense of rights associated with place are an important base of this democratic challenge. This is obvious in the nations of the UK but it applies also to English cities. Here are two modest examples.
The first is an eight-year-long experience in Newcastle of a successful trade union-led struggle against privatisation leading to a collaboration between unions and public managers completely to transform the management of the council’s IT-related services – back office and frontline. It might sound mundane and a speck in the ocean of privatisation, but what these public service workers, unions and managers have done is to give a practical and convincing answer to the pervasive notion that only the competitive pressures of the market can produce innovation and change. Here in Newcastle is a demonstration of the innovative dynamics of the public sector itself. Crucial to its success has been the activation of a powerful ethic of public service rooted in a strong city identity, an ethic that had been dormant, stifled by the old hierarchies of local government and the constant attacks from Whitehall.
Another example of a completely different kind, too new to be sure of its success, is an experiment in the left pooling its resources to create the Convention of the Left, a locally-rooted challenge to New Labour’s annual rally in Manchester. At the time of writing it has certainly achieved a creative cross-party, cross-movements collaboration impossible at a national level.
The pull of these national and local identities away from Westminster is a vital clue to understanding and preparing for the unravelling of New Labour. Although the Labour Party can trace an important component of its origins back to a convergence of local labour alliances, the party’s structural alliance between the trade unions and the parliamentary leadership tied it to the British state before anything else. New Labour has taken this to extremes and ended up as a caricature of a party: no roots, no means of feedback, no loyalty, no trust. When this implodes there will be few local parties left with any life, but what there are will be an important part of any attempt to recreate a left that is based on a recognition of national and regional autonomy and creativity.
As national political structures crack and lose their authority, initiatives from Scotland, Wales and the English cities and regions will have the chance to break through, setting a new kind of example, stimulating a new direction for debate and developing their own international links.
The importance of place is not as a romantic retreat for the left. On the contrary, it offers a base for creating a left that is sufficiently rooted to be effective and a source of autonomy from the Westminster/Whitehall rootless elite. More immediately it provides the basis for the cross-party kind of left politics that must surely be the way to avoid the Tory dystopia that hovers ominously on the horizon (see Patrick Dunleavy and Alex Nunns in the October/November issue of Red Pepper).
The Public Sector But Not As You Know It, about the Newcastle alternative to privatisation, will be published by Compass and Unison in October 2008
See Red Pepper’s blog from the Convention of the Left
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
Greece’s heavy load
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
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
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