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“Here” was an impromptu press conference with education secretary Charles Clarke in Dollis Hill, north London, just before September’s Brent East by-election. During a quick vox pop Red Pepper had just done round the local tube station, at least 50 per cent of the people we spoke to referred to Iraq and the PM’s credibility.
Clarke’s emphasis on the “real” issues reminded me of an encounter I”d had in 2001. Then Labour Party general secretary Tom Sawyer (a friend of mine from his leftie days on Tyneside) introduced me to Peter Mandelson. “Unlike you,” Mandy said with what was intended as a withering look, “Tom has joined the real world.”
Right from the start, New Labour had an approach to truth all of its own. People who disagreed with it were mad. In the early days of the project, I overheard a rising young New Labour star – now a minister – remark that pensioners” campaigner Jack Jones had “lost his marbles”. Jones had just made a speech advocating earnings-related pensions. As far as the Blairites were concerned there was only one definition of reality, and they decided what it was. New Labour was the Ministry of Truth.
But definitions are never final: you can always be caught out, and the world is constantly changing. A political project that depends on a single definition of reality has to resort to authoritarian methods to ensure orthodoxy. Control of information, knowledge and interpretation becomes paramount.
Of all the issues on which there is opposition to New Labour, it is with Iraq that questions of fact and descriptions of reality matter most. With the health service, for example, the facts about the need for investment are not in dispute; the argument is about the desirability of private-sector funding.
With Iraq the arguments largely depend on whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in the winter of 2002/2003. This question was vital not only as to whether he was a danger to the world, but also as to whether regime change could or could not be achieved without military action. Imposing the government’s definition of reality became essential to maintaining its power. So, the Ministry of Truth set up the factory of lies to aid its war effort. (See Lord Hutton and all that and the section “Politics of deceit” in the print magazine.)
But the strength of the movement against the war meant that an alternative definition of reality could not be marginalised through the methods New Labour has used to crush dissent within its own ranks. Right now an urgent debate and much testing out of possibilities are underway about how to take forward the movement for a just peace – how to make it an effective force against the imperial occupation of Iraq and the continuing “war against terrorism” and for the right of the Palestinians to statehood.
Efforts are also being taken to make a lasting challenge to the politics of lying and the political conditions that make such lies possible. (See the section “What is to be done?” in the print magazine.) Here, the imperative is to overturn the culture of conformity that New Labour has imposed on Westminster politics and its all-too extensive hinterland. (Luckily, dissent and debate is still valued across the English borders.)
Currently, the new left majority in the trade unions is developing an alternative programme on public services, employment rights, pensions and other social issues. This programme is framed by an expansionary economic strategy.
To it must be added an agenda for pluralism that would include constitutional reform, the introduction of a proportional electoral system and – not least importantly – radical reform of the media.
The break-up of media monopolies, both in media production and distribution, is long overdue. Only then would governments have to accept that there are always competing views of reality, and that the only way to reach the truth is through debate and disputation.
As Milton put it: “Where there is much desire for truth, there, of necessity, will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions. For opinion is but knowledge in the making… It is this that makes up the best harmony, not the forced and outward union of cold, and neutral and inwardly divided minds.”
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook