Much argument, many opinions

Welcome to the new-look Red Pepper magazine and website. Let me put it in context. By Hilary Wainwright

September 21, 2007
5 min read


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


  share     tweet  

Margaret Thatcher’s most potent legacy has been an economy dependent on the City of London: a driving force of ‘disaster capitalism,’ an earner of levels of private wealth that beggar belief and a rapacious pressure on scarce resources.

Tackling this legacy is now possible. The reason why is that the formula of the New Labour project (Gordon Brown’s formula, to be precise) – free market economics as a means to create the wealth to fund social policies – has rebounded, intensifying social and environmental problems. This has highlighted the consequences of the increased dominance of the City: unacceptable levels of inequality – in education as well as in income; inflated house prices; pensions uncertainty; deepening divisions between north and south. As a result, the foundations of the new government are deeply riven.

The left in the Labour Party may be in an uncertain state (see ‘What became of the Labour left?‘) but the intellectual and political arguments coming from across the left – scrutinising privatisation, exposing inequality, proposing democratic reform – have had an effect, at least on public opinion. They make sense, connecting with people’s experience. Now the challenge for the left is to work on alternatives to the driving force behind all that it has been challenging.

Tackling the City involves at least three levels of strategy. First, there must be policies, national and international, for tax justice to halt the systematic offshore tax evasion, control other sources of the grotesque levels of private wealth, and in the process provide funds for radical social policies, including a massive programme of public housing.

Second, we need to rediscover industrial strategy, using public action at every level and building on popular desire for ethical investment and consumption to encourage and support a thriving real economy. The idea would be both to break the UK’s dependence on the City and at the same time to speed up a transition to the kind of environmentally-friendly economy we need for a good life (see ‘It’s a Pleasure’ by Kate Soper and Temperature Gauge in our Oct/Nov 2007 issue). This includes alternatives to the attempts of the rich to protect their lifestyles ecologically at the expense of the poor (see ‘Agro-fooling ourselves’ by Oscar Reyes).

Finally, we need internationally co-ordinated action to control financial flows. It was done to Al Qaeda after 9/11; it can be done to the City now.

Essential to all of these is a vision of genuine democratic control over the public institutions and resources necessary to such strategies, from local government through to the UN.

Gordon Brown just does not seem to get democracy. Take local and regional government (see Stuart Weir’s new column on democracy). On the one hand he makes regional government, where so many big economic and social decisions are taken, into an even more shadowy, unaccountable arena; and on the other hand Hazel Blears announces a toytown model of participatory budgeting (see ‘Power to Which People?’). Moreover, the government refuses even to consider reform of the way that it acts in our name in international bodies, taking decisions that frame what are now the micro decisions of the nation state without people even knowing, let alone having the chance to deliberate.

The government says its aim is to build up people’s trust in politics, and in politicians. But isn’t democracy the other way round: is it not about government trusting the people? This involves sharing power, letting go. And that means measures like more autonomy for local government and real pluralism through electoral reform, not building a big tent round the chief.

It also means democracy in people’s everyday interactions with the state. Here, government ministers talk of ‘co-production’ of services between the state and the public. But it’s an empty promise so long as state workers are treated as hired hands (see ‘Are you Listening Ed?’). High quality working conditions are a necessary condition – though not a sufficient one – a for high quality services.

Finally, genuine democratic control requires a political culture of robust debate, with no ‘no go areas’, no fear of ‘hostages to fortune’. The new-look Red Pepper and website marks a renewal of our commitment to promote such a culture. Milton’s remark on the importance of argument has always been our compass here: ‘Where there is a desire to learn, there will be much writing, much argument, many opinions; for argument is but knowledge in the making … It is this that makes for the best harmony, not the forced and outward union of cold, and neutral and inwardly divided minds.’

Please let us know if we come anywhere near these ambitious goals – and suggest how we might do so! Join the discussion on our new Red Pepper forum or write to us direct: hilary [at] redpepper.org.uk or oscar [at] redpepper.org.uk

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

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

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

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