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
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry