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David Miliband’s article in this week’s New Statesman tries to define itself against the arguments of those typified by Roy Hattersley, for whom New Labour was a botched job at fixing what wasn’t essentially broken. From this perspective, Labour doesn’t need to engage in much navel gazing about its direction, it needs to get back to basics – to further the goal of equality through the good old fashioned levers of central government like universal entitlements, redistribution, and collective provision of services.
It’s a vision that Labour’s core vote and activist base finds comforting, earning from Miliband the soubriquet ‘Reassurance Labour’, in the sense that it takes for granted that the relevance, values, and mission of the party is clear and it just needs to be re-asserted with more purpose. It’s a view that makes us feel good. But what are the chances of making good on this vision, either in terms of winning elections or making its proposals stick in government?
There’s much in Miliband’s alternative with which I – and I imagine a majority of Red Pepper readers – would disagree. But he’s right to suggest that simply rehashing old top-down social democratic recipes don’t amount to a credible position in the 21st century.
Labour spent the majority of the last century out of government, and even when it won elections it seldom proved possible to deliver on the expectations of the electorate. And especially today, when politicians of all stripes are increasingly held in contempt by voters, is it we really likely that we stand on the cusp of a massive popular extension of central government power? Doesn’t the rise of parties of the right across Europe suggest popular support is swelling behind the neoliberal divestment power from bureaucratic interference and political control?
So Miliband is right that this is no time for social democrats to feel complacent about the task ahead of them, and that some serious intellectual heavy-lifting is in order if our values are to be translated into an effective alternative institutional framework for society. But different kinds of ‘re-thinking’ are possible.
Miliband’s own warmed-up revisionism narrows the horizon of options to the predictable mush of neoliberal consensus – and its superficially appealing vocabulary (‘reform’, ‘localism’, ‘decentralisation’, ‘growth’) is essentially a series of Trojan horses for the further incursion of private profit and continued erosion of democratic accountability.
Labour – Old or New – has no ready answers for the left to take down from the shelf. Nor will the debate take place exclusively or primarily in the diminished ranks of its membership. The Green party and climate activists, nationalists, unaffiliated trade unionists, Occupy supporters, UK Uncut, women’s groups, anti-war activists and thousands more will also play a key part in this debate.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
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