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
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.
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
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
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
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
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
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
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
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
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform