Politics outside the box

Red Pepper's first issue came out 13 years ago this month, shortly before Tony Blair became Labour leader. As we celebrate outlasting him, and prepare for a new phase in our development (more of which later), Hilary Wainwright sets the wider scene for the independent left.

May 1, 2007
5 min read


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

Increasingly across the world you find people on the left coming together independently of party allegiances to try to set electoral agendas that break the boundaries of mainstream politics. Sometimes they’ve had a dramatic impact – like the trade unionists in Trondheim, Norway, whose defence of public services was decisive in the election of a left coalition that has halted the privatisations of previous regimes. At other times they’ve set off a new electoral dynamic, as across America citizens alliances outside of party politics have worked to elect progressive democrats and make them accountable.

Their impact depends partly on the electoral system – Norway’s must be one of the most proportional in the world. It also has repercussions at the other end of the democratic scale, like the US, when people take responsibility for putting the democracy back into an electoral politics that (often wealthy and dynastic) politicians have effectively made their private obsession.

Talk of private obsessions leads on to Westminster, where we are currently confronted with the farce of MPs of varying brands of New Labour striding forward to declare the importance of ‘debate’, while in the background their supporters act out scenes from a parliamentary soap opera devoid of genuine politics.

On the left there are constrained and divided efforts to focus on the issues of inequality, war and peace, climate change and all the other issues about which there is genuine concern. In the Labour Party, left leadership contender John McDonnell is slogging his guts out trying to take a real debate to a steadily diminishing party membership. And Michael Meacher is contributing serious policy proposals on pensions, taxes and the environment. Let’s hope the chance of a serious left leadership challenge, leaving behind all the debilitating divisions between so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ left, will induce them to do a deal.

But the future of left politics depends on efforts way beyond the Labour leadership election. Over the next months, Red Pepper wants to initiate a debate about the kind of independent, non-sectarian political initiatives that could bring down the pillars of the temple of Westminster, because – let’s face it – this is at the root of our problems, including our relations with the rest of the world.

We have a political system that is uniquely suited to a secretive military alliance with the US, and ideally favourable to the governmental arrangements that enable the EU to pursue neoliberal policies no better than those of the US. Its closed, unaccountable and elitist character gives the financial interests of the City unique access to the centres of political power and provides a nesting place from which corporate lobbies can shape policies and ensure a favourable environment for themselves.

Any independent platform must tackle this systemic problem on both a political and an economic level. We would need to start with apparently modest measures, such as opening up freedom of information, abolishing the royal prerogative, giving MPs power to recall parliament and introducing a proportional electoral system. (It is time that what’s left of the left in the Labour Party recognised that their continued adherence to ‘first past the post’ means that a huge opportunity is being missed to turn the present depth of popular disillusion into a concerted force for change.)

These constitutional reforms need to be combined with an opening up of state institutions to more direct forms of democracy. This would be far from the consultative processes favoured by New Labour, often as legitimation for various forms of privatisation. I’m thinking here of a real sharing of power between representative politics and autonomous institutions of direct participation that have real decision- making power over budgets and public administration.

This leads on to the economic strategies necessary to realise such an egalitarian vision of democracy. Participation in public life requires time and a reorganisation of work, the provision of a basic income and a reordering of economic priorities to favour the needs of a democracy. This in turn implies a direct challenge to the authoritarianism that is integral to the nature of wealth production in a capitalist economy. This tension between democracy and the realities of corporate and financial power has never been so glaring as now, with financial greed having been allowed to let rip and reveal its true grossness.

Information technology has opened up opportunities for a new leap forward in the development of a social economy – in which, at its most basic, many people already participate individually through peer to peer sharing of music, films and other ‘cultural goods’. It also offers exciting possibilities for making public services more responsive to individual needs, in a way that the market cannot. In itself, of course, a new technology doesn’t guarantee social and democratic progress. If we don’t take control of it, the same technology could just as easily provide the tools for an ever wider commercialisation of daily life and an ever deeper depoliticisation of power.

We are at a political and moral turning point in our social and economic development. But you would never know it from observing life in the political box.

Tell us what you think on our special Politics outside the box blog


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


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

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

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

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace