Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
When Ed Miliband announced a two-year energy price freeze at last year’s Labour conference, the Daily Mail accused him of putting forward ‘a 1970s-style plan’ that would see the lights go out across Britain. David Cameron regularly speaks of Labour as ‘in the pocket’ of union barons, and depicts Unite general secretary Len McCluskey as a latter-day Jack Jones or Hugh Scanlon, the powerful 1970s union leaders. Ed Balls has insisted that when it comes to the railways, ‘I don’t want to go back to the nationalisation of the 70s.’
Why does the spectre of the 1970s continue to haunt the imagination of the political classes today? Looking back, the world we live in was shaped decisively by the outcome of struggles four decades ago. A huge job of ideological work was invested in demonstrating that the previous social settlement was irredeemably broken, and to discredit in advance the viability of alternative political projects.
It’s true that the broad Keynesian consensus had come adrift by the middle of the decade. But the idea that it was necessary to attack organised working people as part of a huge transfer of wealth from public to private hands – a foundational Thatcherite myth, widely accepted across the political ‘mainstream’ – is utterly false, as John Medhurst points out in our Mythbuster.
Fortunately, recent years have also seen the emergence of revisionist accounts of the 1970s, which focus on the roads not taken and the suppressed alternatives grounded in the vitality of social movements, shopfloor union activism and democratic challenges to the power of the corporate state.
No one is suggesting simply lifting policy prescriptions from the manifestos of the past. But the ambition and imagination that fuelled 1970s radicalism needs to be reclaimed and renewed. Taking back rail into public ownership, for example, would be hugely popular. A publicly-owned rail network could avoid the inefficiencies of the franchising model, while involving workers and passengers in new democratic planning structures to run the service in the public interest. Similarly, a programme to create climate jobs could learn from the Lucas Aerospace example of workers developing ways to transition from production for profit to production for social need.
Ed Miliband’s Labour ‘opposition’ is busy trying to ‘shrink the offer’, lower public expectations and commit to a programme of further austerity. Is it any wonder the polls suggest Labour is well behind where it ought to be if it is to defeat the Tories in 2015? By contrast, in 1974 the programme that brought Labour back to power offered ‘a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people’. A party with the vision to make such a promise, and the capacity to deliver on it, would not be a vestige of a world gone by. It would be the harbinger of a better future.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘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