Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
This is one reason why the Iraq war – officially finished 15 months ago – still dominates British politics and why Tony Blair’s repeated hopes of “moving on” and getting back to the “domestic agenda” are repeatedly disappointed. Plans for greater “choice in education and health are just the latest attempts to divert attention from the disgrace of Iraq. But, still, they do outline the planned future of our social services and must be taken seriously.
We are offered more choice. As Veronica Beechey writes (see “Spoiling for choice“), who could possibly be against that? Only bossy know-all authoritarians, surely? No wonder both Blair and Michael Howard are making choice their election slogan for the future of health and education. It sounds so good. Ironically, though, since they are both offering us the same thing, or variants of the same idea, they are not giving us much of a choice.
Many people, not only on the left, are suspicious of this glib, plausible rhetoric – and rightly so. It conceals some very damaging plans from both leaders for the public sector.
The talk about “choice” in health provision is largely a distraction. It is designed to conceal the fact that what is planned is even greater reliance on private health provision. The Tories are pretty open about this. Labour is, as usual, more evasive.
Nor is there any evidence that people are particularly concerned about choice in health provision. What most people want is very clear and simple. They want their local surgeries and hospitals to be good and efficient.
To be offered the option of admission to a good hospital 40 miles away because the one down the road is second-rate is not a real choice. It is a feeble attempt to compensate for the failure to achieve improvement across the whole public system.
When it comes to education, especially schools, the talk of choice is worse than a distraction. It is a fraud. We get to choose between a struggling secondary school and one with a high reputation, or even, in the Tory plans, a private fee-paying school. Of course, the better schools will not be able to take in all those who want to attend them. So, they will operate a system of selection. In effect, we will be back with the 11-plus. Comprehensive schools will cease to exist. The secondary modern will be re-born. That is what “choice” means for the secondary school system. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Of course, there does need to be choice within schools and colleges. As Beechey and Marian Barnes point out, much more could be done to involve both patients and health workers in improving public services. The health service, for example, could be more flexible and responsive to patient needs, wishes and anxieties than it often is.
Different educational paths should be open to children and students with different talents and aspirations. But the only paths this government has opened up are those that suit employers. They have pushed the national curriculum so hard that many options have either been marginalised or have disappeared altogether. Look at the decline of music in schools, despite its official place within the curriculum. This impoverishment of young people’s lives and horizons has become a national scandal.
Behind the smooth talk of choice, what is being proposed is more privatisation and more commercialisation. Notice that in Wales and Scotland Labour is not moving down this slippery slope. There, the policy is to improve and expand public and free provision, not to introduce more fees and charges. The radical challenge of Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialists pulls Labour back towards its old principles. It is the lack of such a magnetic force in England that gives Blair his chance to press ahead with the erosion of the welfare state.
But for many of us the Iraq war and the lies used to justify it will be the deciding factor at the forthcoming general election, and we will be supporting candidates that have honourable, anti-war records – whatever their party.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
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
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
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
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
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