As we put the pieces together, these truth seekers are being vindicated, and have grown in influence as a result. The queues and overflows for Noam Chomsky’s Olof Palme lecture in May (see “Don\’t mention (the reasons) for war“), the popularity of Michael Moore’s new film Fahrenheit 9/11 and the packed houses for the Tricycle Theatre’s dramatic re-enactment Guantanamo are all signs of a critical culture seeping through the Iraq-induced cracks in mainstream politics.
Initiatives coming directly from the movement are showing a new ability to break through. Thus, this month Red Pepper profiles War Times (“The voice of alternative America“), the impressive US anti-war tabloid. And we give a platform to the Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and the Media Project (“Truth can find asylum”, page 31 in our print magazine), which counters tabloid vitriol against immigrants, and brings refugee journalists together to strengthen an alternative view.
The mainstream media, meanwhile, is up to its old tricks: hyping up the UN’s imprimatur for the Bush-Blair Iraq escape plan, and ignoring the Iraqis” dissatisfaction with the proposals (see “Avoiding Vietnam in Iraq“). On the Red Pepper website, critical media analyst Rik Hine presents a collection of essays monitoring the media’s cosy, uncritical relation with government.
But it’s not enough to win the argument. Our next problem, starkly facing us after the results of last month’s elections, is how to turn critical consciousness into relentless political challenge.
The most effective left intervention in the elections was the stopping of the British National Party (BNP). We must not underestimate the strength of racism and little Englandism. The rise of the racist UK Independence Party, with Kilroy setting himself up as the British Pym Fortun, presents our most urgent challenge over the coming months. But in the local elections, the left’s ability to build broad coalitions, to work together consistently, avoiding public rows, was decisive in thwarting the BNP. We combined nationally researched information with knowledge of local issues to ensure that our message hit home. We reached out to people completely neglected by the Labour Party, and directly challenged the racism against which few politicians are prepared openly to stand. We reached people put off by boring meetings and hectoring leaflets, and drew young people to the anti-racist banner with style. Can’t we learn from this as we prepare for the next electoral challenge: the building of an effective green-left alternative to New Labour?
Planning for the general election starts now; not in a sudden turn to parliamentary politics, but in building the foundations for a common electoral strategy rooted in extra-parliamentary campaigns. We cannot afford to repeat the division of the left vote that occurred in the June elections between the Greens and Respect. Under some proportional electoral systems different parties can stand separately and then share second-choice votes, or work together after the vote, as with the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party. But if the radical left is ever to be a political force in England, we first have to make the initial breakthrough. Changes in the electoral system could follow.
To make that breakthrough, just as to halt the BNP, we have to build a coalition appropriate to the purpose with a manifesto of policies summing up opposition to New Labour, but which also imagines alternatives: we need to address the domestic and international questions on which we already regularly work together in many towns and cities. Come election time, we could use such coalitions to create a “mosaic” of electoral allegiance based on who supports this manifesto and who has the best chance of winning. The mosaic would include Labour MPs who have campaigned against the war and occupation, and who resist privatisation, student top-up fees, the government’s asylum policies, and so on. It would involve deals between Greens and whatever emerges from Respect or other independent left or trade-union electoral initiatives. October’s European Social Forum would be a good moment to consolidate this idea.