Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
When Jeremy Corbyn stumbled into the spotlight as the new opposition leader, he appeared hesitant, blinking like a startled librarian mole emerging from musty underground archives. His tweed jacket prompted as much public scrutiny as his political beliefs, and commentators assumed ‘the left’ – in a new position of mainstream relevance – would offer no more than dusty placards and dated slogans. But this narrative has unravelled of late.
To indulge the analogy, if Jeremy Corbyn was a subterranean librarian mole, he’d be able to keep the roof from caving in while administrative staff moles fling soil at him and invite hostile badgers to carry out a series of ambushes. He would issue more than 300,000 new library cards, despite journalist weasels churning a hateful daily newsletter out of the photocopying machine and vandalising the public notice board with juvenile slurs against him.
In reality, Corbyn’s appearance has benefited to some extent from being accidentally on-trend. David Cameron jeered that he should ‘put on a proper suit’, but suits have been in decline as fast as the popularity of beards has risen. Even companies like J P Morgan have instigated casual dress for their staff in an effort to keep up with the times and attract the best candidates.
As for the many thousands who have joined the Labour Party in support of Corbyn, we don’t really know whether they like their suits to be polyester, herringbone or non-existent, although we caught a glimpse of them at The World Transformed gathering in Liverpool this autumn. The festival, organised by Momentum members, ran alongside the Labour conference and it didn’t fit the bill of a stereotypical lefty event; it felt vibrant and up-lifting.
I attended a session titled ‘Making the left sexy’. As the programme explained: ‘The left is stigmatised in mainstream culture, reduced to something unattractive. This mistrust has impacted public consciousness, leading to major image issues. In order to create a social movement that is capable of transformative change, we need to communicate in ways that entice and appeal to people.’
In the room it became clear that we didn’t all share the same experience of the movement. Twenty-year-olds said they struggle to feel at home in meetings or events where they find themselves the youngest person by decades, while older folk said it’s just as tough walking into a room full of student activists.
Nor did we have the same ideas for creating appealing spaces. Suggestions ranged from starting a red rose gardening club in Newham to disagreements about class as a social signifier. Talking about ‘security’ instead of ‘class’ might be something everyone can relate to without feeling awkward, but either way the ensuing debate demonstrated that cultural divisions don’t map tidily onto economic ones.
Accepting that there’s a lot of room for improvement, we shared a keenness to create open and welcoming spaces for discussing politics without being pushy or creating cliques and sub-cultures. In a move away from default activities, such as standing on street corners handing out leaflets to harassed shoppers – who, in that moment probably don’t need the latest runthrough on the military-industrial complex – we explored more meaningful engagement, like ‘deep canvassing’ or setting up tea stalls to give passers-by a more comfortable chance to stop and chat. Deep canvassing, in contrast to the rapid, systematic style of modern canvassing, involves taking time to talk to people on a more personal level, with questions that lead the audience to realise for themselves the point that you’re trying to get across.
Overall, it was reassuring to find that we weren’t a homogenous group in terms of our experience of the left. The trope of aggressive ‘political correctness’ was virtually absent here and instead there was a desire to show empathy and compassion for people we don’t agree with, particularly in the wake of Brexit.
The caricature left-wing activist may be real enough, but only makes up a fraction of a much broader radical ferment that really doesn’t fit the stereotype. Our celebration of difference is the ideological cornerstone of a diverse movement that could yet ‘make the left sexy’.
A growing sense of confidence was summed up by Liz Ashley from Cheltenham, who said: ‘We’ve been on the losing side for a long time, and in the past I’ve been apologetic about being a socialist. But now that Corbyn’s won a second time, I bet my friends in the pub are going to start saying they supported him all along. When I go out walking my dog I’ll stop and chat to people, and let them see that I’ve moved my Labour badge up from below my lapel.’
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
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes 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
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe