Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The short answer to the question ‘What became of the Labour Left?’ is that Blair crushed the democratic structures of the party and therefore most of the membership that was unhappy with New Labour left the party.
It is notable that the constituency vote in the deputy leadership contest was only 96,756. The fall off in membership has been massive and this has changed the nature of the party. The voting between the different candidates tells the story.
In the constituency section, Harriet Harman got the highest vote with 23,344. Hilary Benn was next with 20,921, Jon Cruddas got 16,469 and Alan Johnson 16,052. This left 11,247 for Peter Hain and 8,723 for Hazel Blears. In the trade union section, Jon Cruddas got 58,800 votes, Peter Hain 42,934, Hilary Benn 31,890, Alan Johnson 29,445, Harriet Harman 28,131 and Hazel Blears 24,417.
There was little significant political difference between the candidates. They were all loyal to the Blair legacy, with the exception of a gentle critique from Cruddas, who was brave enough to say out loud that Iraq had been wrong, that the grassroots of the party were withering and that there was a need for more generosity to failed asylum seekers. The fact that he got the support of one in six of the constituency members tells us a lot about the political outlook of those who have retained their party membership.
Massive historical change
There are, however, some bigger questions underpinning this sorry picture. Across Europe, membership of social democrat parties is ageing and declining. Turnout in elections is also in decline and differences between right and left parties of little significance. And yet, across the world there is a mood of concern about growing inequality, atomisation and loss of belonging. And everywhere there is a sense of gloom about the Middle East, the threat of global warming, the more general strain on environmental resources and the terrible levels of poverty in developing countries.
Massive historical change is taking place and the future of human civilisation is under threat from the consequence of climate change. But the political elite of the world have swapped the discourse of politics for the techniques of advertising agencies. Thus the focus groups throw up the sound bites that are fed back to the people by telling them what they want to hear.
But British foreign policy is subcontracted to a USA that is so infected by hubris that it believes it can secure its future oil supplies by imposing its will on a Middle East that is exploding with justified anger. International law and the moral authority of the UN are being broken at a time when we need unprecedented international co-operation to deal with global warming. And Britain feels rich only because house prices have tripled in 10 years and consumer debt is at an all time high.
It is true that Gordon Brown has reduced inequality by replacing the Tories’ family income supplement for low paid workers with more generous tax credits for workers and pensioners. And there has been increased spending on public services. But this has been done in a destructive ethos building on Thatcher’s reforms of endless reorganisation and centralised targets that have demoralised the workforce and crushed creativity.
Left in dismay
The left has crumbled and looks on in dismay. But the truth is that there was never one coherent left. It was united in a broad ethos of passionate feelings and suspicion of leadership, but this was an umbrella under which rested very different traditions.
There were the vanguardist Trotskyists who entered the party in the 1970s and 1980s. There was also a strand of residual communist sympathisers who saw a strong centralised state and extensive public ownership as the model for the future. Then there were the social democrats who found the Scandinavian model of society attractive; and then assorted pacifists, sincere Christian socialists and local activists.
In the face of a ruthless New Labour machine, with a lust for power at any price, and the massive patronage power that lies in the hands of the controllers of the British state, this disorganised old left had little to say that was coherent and no organisational base.
Powerful historical forces are at work in the Middle East, the global economy and the climate that will unpick the status quo. The danger is that this will drive politics far to the right. The left will have to reinvent itself. It is not clear whether the Labour Party will by then have anything to contribute.
Clare Short was secretary of state for international development from 1997 to May 2003, when she resigned over the Iraq war. She later left the Labour Party and now sits as an independent MP for Birmingham Ladywood
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
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
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain.’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition.
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
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