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Commentary on the local and national elections on May 5, and on the English electorate’s rejection of a new, more proportional, voting system, has focused on the terrible performance of the Liberal Democrats – in England, above all, but in Scotland and Wales too. Quite rightly. They are the one party whose continued existence as a serious and substantial political force is now under threat.
Most Lib Dems cannot bring themselves to admit it, but it is clear that the decision of Nick Clegg and his allies to identify themselves wholeheartedly with a dominantly Conservative government has turned out to be disastrous. Many voters no longer see them as a ‘moderate’ alternative to the Conservatives, let alone a radical alternative to Labour. And indeed the latter option was explicitly disowned by Clegg soon after the 2010 election.
Now they are making frantic efforts to try and re-establish their separate party identity, having suddenly discovered their misgivings about the Tories’ plans for the NHS – soon to be re-named the National Health Market (NHM). It is probably too late. They could have retained their independence by offering the Tories’ conditional support after last year’s election. They chose not to do so. They are now paying the electoral price.
One beneficiary from this disenchantment is likely to be the Greens. And there are some signs (in Brighton?) that this is already starting to happen. But Ed Miliband is quite right to see that there is an opportunity here to draw disillusioned Lib Dem voters and activists back to the Labour Party. But that won’t happen on a large scale unless and until Labour rediscovers its radical and social democratic values. And there is not much sign of that at present. Consider the feebleness of its opposition to Lansley’s plans to commercialize the Health Service. Both the public and the medical professionals have been more vocally critical than the Labour front bench. This is, of course, a reflection of Labour’s own sell-out to market ‘principles’ – if you can call them that.
What this shows is that there is more public support for social democratic policies than most politicians and commentators suggest or assume. This is most clearly so in Scotland and Wales. In both countries the devolved governments have preserved many of the free public services which have been so easily abandoned by both Labour and the Tories in England, and even plan to abolish long-established charges like those for prescriptions. The success of the SNP – at the expense of all three UK-wide parties – is due as much to their adoption of popular social democratic policies as to nationalism, let alone any great enthusiasm for complete independence.
No doubt social democratic values are more deeply embedded in Scotland and Wales than they are in southern England outside London, where Daily Mail culture so widely prevails. Nevertheless there is more support across the country for public services and welfare than is reflected in mainstream party politics. If Labour cannot articulate and embody that support, and the opposition to library closures, education cuts, and the whole ideological assault on public services, then we are doomed to a long period of neo-Thatcherite Tory rule.
PS For all their proclaimed opposition to the Alternative Vote, it is worth noting that the Tories in both Wales and Scotland benefit hugely from the proportional allocation of seats. In Scotland only 3 out of their 15 seats in the Holyrood parliament were won on a constituency basis. In Wales, if constituencies only counted, they would be down from 14 seats in the assembly to 6.
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Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
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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
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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
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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