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It is undoubtedly true that Tony Blair’s leadership took Labour well to the right. Some of what happened was an essential re-shaping of the democratic left agenda for the 21st century: a move away from statism to a new understanding of the relationship between individualism and collectivism; an embracing of entrepreneurialism alongside social justice; and a vision of society rather more in tune with the times, and with the needs of ordinary people.
But some of what happened went much further: the dogmatic belief that the private sector’s engagement will always improve public services, for example; or the adoption (alongside Bush and the neo-cons) of a democratic-imperialist approach to foreign policy and intervention.
Let’s look for a moment at the record. Some of it is good.
Some of the big things that have been done (especially in the early years) have been wholly welcome: the introduction of the minimum wage, the legislation for devolution, the sustained improvements in child support, especially through child benefit, the major increases in public investment in health and education, the commitment to overseas aid and development, the peace process in Northern Ireland. And some of the smaller things, too, have represented the radicalism many of us had hoped for: civil partnerships, free museums, a right to roam, or the Scottish Land Fund, helping crofters to buy out their landlords.
Not everything on the balance sheet is as good. Set alongside the items on the progressive side of the equation are the following: the unquestioning adoption of PFI, the growing gap between rich and poor, the replacement of Trident, and above all the tragic, ghastly blunder of the war in Iraq. There’s been real achievement but there have been mistakes and disappointments aplenty.
Meanwhile, the party at large yearns not for a return to statism but for a greater degree of radicalism in the approach to many of these issues. And where have been the voices making this case, where have been the noises of dissent? They’ve been there, from time to time, not so much arguing for turning the clock back, but for a different kind of turning-forward.
Let’s not forget, either, that 130 Labour MPs went into the division lobby against their own government to vote against the war in Iraq, the biggest rebellion in the Commons within a government’s own ranks for more than a century; and if it hadn’t been for Tory support we wouldn’t have gone to war. There has certainly been dissent, on some issues and at some times, but for most of the time it has tended to be moderated (rightly) by a sense of loyalty.
With Gordon Brown’s election as leader we have a chance to shape a new agenda. Gordon is of course much more deeply rooted in the party and its values than Tony was. He feels more passionately about poverty and individual attainment with collective support. The mood music is good. My guess is that there’ll be less need for dissent, and less cause for frustration, in the next few years. But we’ll need to continue to press for that radical edge that has lately been too much missed.
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The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
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
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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
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The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
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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