What is radical politics today?

Report back on the launch of the “What ‘is’ radical politics today” book.

Last week Counterpoint, the revitalised think tank of the British Council, hosted the launch of a collection of essays from leading academics, politicians and journalists asking “What is Radical Politics Today?

The answer, from editor Jonathan Pugh, Newcastle University, and most of his panelists seemed to be ‘not much’. Citing the lack of reaction to the £60 billion loaned to the Royal Bank of Scotland by the Bank of England without taxpayer knowledge, Mr Pugh began with surprise at the un-radical nature of our politics.

The chair, Counterpoint director Dr Catherine Fieschi, noted that in the age of terrorism, the idea of radical politics has been given a bad name, just at the time when radicalism is most needed to help local networks regain control in the face of global challenges. Professor Doreen Massey, of the Open University, emphasised the need to see the current financial crisis as a crisis of culture and a crisis of politics, not just of economics.

Professor Massey concluded that the Left had lost control of the narrative, precisely at the time when “this should be a progressive moment”.

By contrast, Professor David Chandler, of the University of Westminster, stated that the narrative has been lost to the rhetoric of the global, which he sees as disempowering us by placing politics so far beyond society that we are absolved of the responsibility to act. The presumed inaccessibility of global politics has weakened our collective agency.

We have become so enfeebled that the idea of government has lost its transformative power, and been reduced to a series of interventions hoping for better individual choices. “Power has escaped the reaches of politics,” he concluded, and there is no one to petition, no one to blame, but ourselves.

This need to reconstruct the frameworks for radical politics, to rejuvenate social movements, was shared by all the panelists. Professor Saskia Sassen, of Columbia University, concluded that we in the Global North have become “consumers of our politics”. She called for a politics to go beyond political parties, to de-nationalise in order to meet global challenges, and to see the state in terms of capabilities.

Responding to Professor Chandler’s claim that the only obstacles to radical engagement are in our imaginations, Pugh agreed that civil society has failed to turn to itself for answers, and that radical politics has become little more than radical philosophy in academia – a critical theory that has made us too afraid of oppression to take action.

Yet, he noted with encouragement the many contributors to the volume who have gone beyond pluralism for its own sake, and talked unabashedly of universalism, and a new left. Dr Fieschi added that the shape of politics has changed, and that power is being shared in new ways that make radicalism harder and less clear.

A spirited, and at times emotional, discussion followed. Audience commentary included a warning against nostalgia for a vanished left that is not returning, and a call to build a clear ideology of radicalism that goes beyond the victimised opposition.

A podcast from Counterpoint with full recordings of the event is now available on their website

10 Responses to “What is radical politics today?”

  1. Diversity

    I have been a radical all my life, by temperment and conviction, and this looks like cloud-cuckoo land to me. But then I am a LibDem – unvictimised oppostion pushing steadily for modern, radical change.

  2. Span Ows

    Just reading on the “About” tab. I see from that page and your sidebar links what you are “Fighting for” and “Fighting against”:

    1.Sustainable economy
    2.Public services for all
    3.Safe communities
    4.A multilateral foreign policy

    We are fighting against:

    1.Public greed
    2.Administrative incompetence
    3.Media manipulation and bias to support a hidden agenda.
    4.The threat of racism and extremism.

    Excellent; all this leads me to believe you must be totally against Labour and New Labour, it’s obvious. Now, imagine my surprise – when reading you are a nonpartisan blog – to notice no stories about/against Labour?

  3. Darrell

    It is right to ignore nostalgia but the vision of an alternative society is something that radical politics desperately needs. You can talk all you like about movements and empowerment and all that good stuff but if you actually do not have an alternative vision of where your going to present to people then it’s all pretty much empty talk.

  4. bbJ

    Span Ows,

    Shamik and Will regularly spout trash on Liar(Labour)list. As for nonpartisan blog, this is classic New Labour spin’esq rubbish.

    Well done LFF by your action you show how suited to the lies of politics in New Labour World you are. So contemptible you vile people are.

  5. Kurt

    What is radical politics today? | Left Foot Forward http://bit.ly/7n4pGZ

  6. Billy Blofeld

    Radical? Well…….. you say you are evidence based on this blog. Thus- step 1 – stake a long hard and sober look at the Track record of this government over the last 12 years.

    Now the radical bit………. think differently. Ask yourselves where Labour has been going wrong all this time.

  7. Anon E Mouse

    Radical might be people challenging everything and not accepting anything that is thrown at them – particularly by those that govern us.

    Look at radicals going back in music – can you really see Bob Dylan or the Sex Pistols chanting the government mantra on anything? Just on principal they would usually disagree with anything they were told and thankfully so.

    My big gripe here is the Climate Cooling Deniers on this blog who just openly accept anything thrown at them without questioning any of it… and I don’t know why.

    Labour, (whether you support them or not is not relevant to the point here), used to be really radical, sometimes to the point of stupidity but it was *real*.

    I want to see Kinnock and Deggsy passionately shouting and going head to head in Liverpool – not some stage managed funeral of a conference where Peter Mandelson plays a pantomime horse saying: “If I can come back…you can come back” to a near empty hall of sycophants.

    That is not radical, it’s just horrible and Beven must be turning in his grave because you keep back slapping each other and do not consider what Labour should be for, which is helping people who are less able than yourselves.

    I never thought I’d say this but even Peter Hain was radical in his youth with the Apartheid stuff, so how do we go from people so active and passionate in politics to the lifeless bunch of robots who participate in this blog? (No offence guys)

    The Left needs a narrative if it wants to be relevant in the future – you can’t see it (it’s an age thing) but Europe is going to the right and your cranky narrow minded views will seem as unelectable as Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament was in the 1980’s.

    Smear me and call me an extremist if you want (as Shamik Das normally does) but the politics of the playground will only increase your time in opposition and this country needs a real opposition rather than just the press.

  8. Malthus

    I think radical politics are alive and well…. on the right. At least in the US. The internet has helped a burgeoning and radical libertarianism take hold amongst the young. It was F.A. Hayek who said what we can learn from the socialists is the “courage to be utopian”. And something like an embryonic world movement is developing. And if our opponents can not offer a competing vision then the centre will inexorably be drawn towards us.

  9. Tim Worstall

    “Citing the lack of reaction to the £60 billion loaned to the Royal Bank of Scotland by the Bank of England without taxpayer knowledge, Mr Pugh began with surprise at the un-radical nature of our politics.”

    What reaction should there be?

    “Well, central banks are there in part to make sure the banking system doesn’t fall over. Provider of liquidity in the last resort it says in my textbook here. What’s that? The Bank of England provided liquidity in the last resort to stop the banking system falling over? Well, that’s what they’re there for isn’t it?”

  10. Anon E Mouse

    Here’s a chance to do something radical immediately…

    That Climate Change Data Fiddling “Scientist” Phil Jones has just resigned over the CRU Email/Deliberately-Inaccurate-Software (in their favour of course). Good riddance.

    Bet they still don’t find the raw data they “accidentally” destroyed….

    Anyway, since Will was quick enough to clarify his position and stop the inaccurate story on Guido and the G20 – the right move imo – will he now go back and correct previous topics such as “The data is accurate don’t let the deniers blah blah”. Where’s Joss Garman today?

    The data (“hockey stick” specifically) is incorrect and by definition so were those postings.

    Now there is a chance to be radical and honest at the same time. I wait with baited breath….

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