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A tussle is taking place in Westminster politics over the word ‘progressive’. Conservatives are divided over whether to claim the word from the left as part of the detoxification of the Tory brand or denounce it as an anodyne cover for dubiously pinko sentiments. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg casts around for coalition policies to promote as progressive to try to deflect the flak from the decidedly anti-progressive spending cuts.
Internships, Clegg thus weakly proposes, should be subject to open interviews, not awarded to family friends. The grammar school boy should have the opportunity to enhance his CV too. The issue of payment is not broached. Yet this intervention is part of a wider agenda to recast ‘meritocracy’ as the acme of progressive ambition. No need for the redistribution of wealth here. In fact, no problem that the cuts are redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich, so long as a few of the poor themselves can be redistributed that way too.
The Labour Party is not immune to pouring meritocratic wine into ‘progressive’ bottles. The contradiction inherent in Labour’s need to re-engage its working class support, while still appealing to ‘the squeezed middle’ (best expressed in Andy Burnham’s leadership campaign oxymoron ‘aspirational socialism’), dovetails with the dominant culture of commodification. Even those genuinely seeking redistribution express little vision beyond enabling more people to privately buy their way out of material deprivation.
In choosing to focus on radical visions for our cities in this issue of Red Pepper, we are hoping to show that something more attractive, and more challenging to capitalism, is possible. In his important 2008 essay for New Left Review, ‘The Right to the City’, David Harvey wrote: ‘The right to the city is … a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation.’
This sense of collectivity in the way we live in the city is something we need desperately to reassert. Yet this is not just an ideological problem. The physical city has often been constructed in a way that reinforces an outlook framed by atomistic individualism. We peer out of our windows at the noise, pollution and physical danger of traffic. Our fear of crime has soared in a cityscape that is increasingly privatised and subject to surveillance (see Anna Minton, page 26). Individual home ownership guts our common interest in solving the housing crisis as homeowners hope for ever‑increasing property prices.
Yet alternatives exist. As Chiara Tornaghi shows (page 22), various embryonic urban agriculture projects can be starting points for reclaiming the commons while cutting down the environmental impact of our food and multiplying the public green space in our cities. The post-war period of building new social housing may not have been universally successful, but as Owen Hatherley points out (page 28) the architects and planners in those years often had a vision of building design as serving a higher social purpose. Not everyone will agree with the modernist result, but it’s clear that community, democracy and solidarity can all be built into the city, and with them quality of life.
Given where we start from however, building a new radical urbanism will not be easy. We are helped in some ways by the aftermath of the financial crisis. The neoliberal juggernaut has been slowed and with it the building frenzy throwing up private apartments, shopping complexes and the infrastructure of boutique lifestyles for the wealthy.
At the same time, the perennial crisis in housing has been exacerbated, leading to rising repossessions and homelessness. Any movement to claim the right to the city needs to tackle the housing question centrally. As Stuart Hodkinson argues (page 20), such a movement must start with the immediate issues around providing affordable housing but seek always to decommodify housing and move towards collective ownership and control. In doing so, it will inevitably encounter a whole range of other issues, from the redistribution of wealth to the power of multinationals to the problem of gentrification.
Recent events in Bristol, with the so-called ‘anti-Tesco riot’ in the Stokes Croft area, are illustrative of this wider battle over the character of city life. The issue is not limited to a single, if symbolic, supermarket branch, but encompasses a struggle over gentrification and the entry of major retailers into an area currently characterised by local shops – many catering to ethnic minority communities – squatted buildings and some inspiring non‑profit community and arts spaces (see RP Aug/Sep 2008).
This concentration of radical urbanism is relatively unusual, but it need not be so. Combined with a movement to fight urban inequality, and a strategy of reclaiming the commons in housing, public space and elsewhere, such spaces can provide both a better way to live and a thorough-going challenge to the priorities of the capitalist city.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum