Last summer, a coalition of trade unions published Rebuilding Rail, a meticulously researched report calling for Britain’s railways to be brought back into public ownership. Labour responded positively, with transport spokeswoman Maria Eagle saying the report put forward a ‘coherent case for reform’. The Tories countered that Labour wanted to ‘take us back to the 1970s’, and Labour’s enthusiasm appeared to cool.
Few things seem guaranteed to get under Labour’s skin more than the accusation that the party will ‘take us back to the 1970s’. This is in part due to the prevalence of a neoliberal view that has demonised much of post-war Life Before Thatcher.
But it is also a reminder to anti‑privatisation campaigners that they must make the case for something better than has gone before, not a return to the past. As Andrew Cumbers points out, the post-1945 model of nationalisation was indeed bureaucratic and over-centralised, and it wasn’t just the followers of Friedrich Hayek who said this but those on the new left too.
His first chapter provides an excellent overview of that post-1945 period. ‘Morrisonian’ nationalisation was vital to post-war reconstruction, but ‘the lack of creativity or imagination surrounding the government’s plans and its willingness to defer to established interests became particularly striking characteristics’.
As well as adopting the new-left themes of economic democracy and public participation, Cumbers takes seriously Hayek’s critique of centralised planning as a hindrance to innovation and knowledge sharing. He acknowledges that this is a particular problem in relation to ‘tacit’ knowledge, which is ‘bound up in social practices and routines within different parts of the economy’.
But Hayek’s market-based formula is no solution. Ask an employee whose work has been outsourced to Capita or G4S how much of their tacit knowledge has been retained. Instead Cumbers sets out a vision of public ownership that rejects a one-size-fits-all model and promotes a diversity of approaches, with power dispersed from the centre.
Far from going back to the 1970s, the problem we face in Britain is that we remain weighed down by the baggage of the 1980s. Cumbers’ 21st-century vision of public ownership offers a way forward.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
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Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
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The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
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Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
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West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
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The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
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Event: Take Back Control Croydon
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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
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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'
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
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The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
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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
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility