I don’t think I can remember a time when this country faced the likelihood of a change of government and there was so little excitement about it. True, media coverage will break all records, and people will watch the first head-to-head leadership debates, but people will watch pretty much anything on television. No one in the country has heard of Nick Clegg, but no one has heard of anyone who competes on Celebrity Come Dine With Me and they still watch it.
The fact of there being an election will make a bit of a splash. But there doesn’t seem to be a high level of emotion about the result. Even though the Tories, if they win or can form a government, will make things worse, Labour has made that fact hard to imagine, and has so completely demoralised all decent people that many can’t even summon the energy to be afraid. And if Labour somehow wins, what is there to look forward to anyway?
In 1997, the month of May began bathed in brilliant sunshine. Church bells rang and Tory voters were dragged from their basement hiding places and paraded through the streets wearing signs reading ‘Collaborateur’. The last remaining Conservatives in Wales were prodded over the border at the point of a bayonet, and their cottages burnt. Undoubtedly, atrocities took place, such as the visceral humiliation of Portillo, but in the circumstances it was not surprising.
People were exhausted, elated and overwhelmingly relieved. We had got those bastards off our backs. At lunchtime on Friday 2 May, I recorded an edition of the News Quiz for Radio 4. The questions were a formality; it was a party for audience and panelists alike. Only one sour note was struck. Roy Hattersley was in a rather bleak mood. It would be easy to imagine that he was just feeling left out of Labour’s success, but that would be unjust. Many of us on the left didn’t see the creation of New Labour as a major change to the party’s direction of travel. But I think Roy was genuinely mortified by it, and very pessimistic about the future.
Mark Steel, Francis Wheen and I went straight to the nearest pub and became joyously drunk. None of us was even remotely enthusiastic about Tony Blair, but we weren’t thinking about the future at all. We all felt secure in the fact that we had voted Labour with no illusions. But as Linda Smith was to observe a couple of years later, ‘I had no expectations of Tony Blair at all, and even I’m disappointed.’
Solidly at war
Let’s not pretend that Blair was solely culpable, or that the only glitch was Iraq. Iraq wasn’t even the only war. This country has been solidly at war since 1999. No wonder the Tories were so disoriented in opposition. Labour took everything from them: the Private Finance Initiative, the fetishising of the City, hostility to civil liberties and refugees, and even a passion for war, the Tories’ most favourite thing ever. Labour has been responsible for more deaths in the past 13 years than the Tories could hope to achieve even if their plans for the health service are put into operation.
And the problem wasn’t just a small clique. Yes, there was an unsavoury cabal that foisted Blair onto the party, and Gordon Brown was a part of it. The fact that Brown appears to have believed there is honour among thieves, and was disappointed, only confirms that he is a nitwit. But I’m frankly not that excited by the characterisation of Blair as a slick showman, a trickster or a liar. The fact that he is a right-wing, warmongering lunatic is the greater worry. And he’s not even shy about it. Bless Clare Short, but when she says, ‘We were misled by Tony Blair’, I want to shake her and say, ‘You might have been, but no one else fell for it.’
But that wouldn’t be true. A huge part of the Labour Party fell for it. And many of those who didn’t fell for the Kosovo jaunt, not realising it was the opening salvo in Blair’s mission to bomb his way to sainthood. It’s high time responsibility for the Iraq war was shared out. Blair is a maniac and Campbell was a maniac’s publicist. What could have been going on in the mind of a person who trusted either of them?
When the Labour faithful mumble ‘If I’d known then what I know now’, it’s tempting to wonder how it would be possible to know less than they know now. What if Saddam had possessed weapons of mass destruction? How would that have made the war a good idea? And how can human rights have been an issue when the government was turning down asylum applications by Iraqi refugees? And didn’t its craven subjugation to a hard-right Republican administration ring any alarm bells?
Yes, many of us were drunk on 2 May 1997 but the months and years that followed were pretty sobering, in terms of both foreign and domestic policy. Yet still people kept hoping that the secret radicalism of the more appealing members of the government might emerge. It did in some cases, once Blair had finished with them and they became voices in the wilderness. But a shocking amount of optimism was invested in John Prescott, even though he was clearly the man tasked with shafting the workers in their own accent; and in Gordon Brown, even though his only real unease for the first ten years of the government was about the fact that someone else was prime minister.
The bitter irony in all this is that Labour was under no pressure to reign in progressive instincts, except from the top downwards. Every time the government did anything good, the public was supportive and wanted it to go further. Even now, the government could nationalise the banks and get away with it. Big government has only become unpopular because Labour has given it a bad name. The Tories are not popular. There is not a Thatcherite mood in the country. Even the paranoia about immigration would melt away if a Labour government would stop stoking jingoism and attend to the needs of the people.
But for many of us, hoping the fascists don’t make a breakthrough this May is all the optimism we can muster. I’d like to think the Greens will become a significant force, but I’m not holding my breath. I suppose there will be some entertainment value in seeing what a bunch of tarts the Liberals turn into if there’s a hung parliament. And if Labour does somehow manage to get re-elected, the look on Cameron’s face will beat Portillo’s in 1997. I’m just holding onto that thought.
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
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
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