Seasonal reading: not much peace and plenty of ill-will

by Mark Perryman

The Best of BennMark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his top ten books to buy to make somebody’s Christmas.

Bah! Humbug? Well, not exactly but in a world of not much peace and plenty of ill-will what do you buy for those in your life clinging on to the ideal that the point is to change it? Here’s my top ten, not guaranteed to cheer them up mind.

Danny Dorling’s  Inequality and the 1% reveals in graphic prose the modern day wealth of the super-rich, the ‘1%’ who shape levels of inequality today straight out of a Dickensian novel of Christmas past.

The Best of Benn is the perfect book to end the year in which we lost one of the towering political figures of the last three decades, Tony Benn. Along with his foe, Thatcher, Benn acquired an ‘ism’  and this posthumous collection brilliantly shows just why he was of such enduring significance, held in great affection by many while being hated and pilloried by the establishment including the leadership of his own party, Labour.<

REVOLUTIONThe most inspirational popular movement of 2014? In my book (sic) Scotland’s Yes Campaign, and more particularly the  Radical Independence Campaign. The politics of hope and vision versus Project Fear and Unionist Labour defending the status quo. Alasdair Gray’s poetic Independence is a splendid short book to set out the case for an argument that doesn’t show one bit of going away. The SNP’s membership quadrupled since the Referendum, The Radical Independence Campaign born again with 3,000 in attendance at their recent conference, and this is what being on the losing side is supposed to look like?

The worst-written reviews I’ve read all year have been those the ‘quality press’ commissioned of Russell Brand’s mostly excellent Revolution. Almost without exception the reviewers were long-standing and middle-aged members of the commentariat, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Craig Brown  and the rest. All proved themselves entirely incapable of recognising that the world of politics they feast on, the Westminster bubble, has become entirely disconnected from ,and unrepresentative of, the generation Russell addresses and engages with. No he doesn’t get everything right but he writes and acts in a way these commentators and their cosy world of self-satisfaction could do with learning a lesson or two from. Except, as their reviews proved, they can’t see through their own fog of smug.

Stealing_all_transmissions copyRussell is a kind of punk politician, for those of us of a certain age the antecedents are there to be seen and celebrated. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions in that regard couldn’t be more timely. Instead of yet another biography of The Clash, Randal gets to grips with their cultural and political legacy via a decent dose of Gramsci. This is a cultural politics of dissent for the 21st century, mixing interpretation and insurrection . More of that please in 2015.

Regular readers of my reviews round-ups won’t be surprised that I’ve included a sports, cookery and children’s’ title in my seasonal top ten. Because all three are vital to any remaking of the narrow, inward-looking space the ‘political’ too often threatens to become. How To Think About Exercise by Damon Young sets out a philosophy of sport which is centred on active participation and physical pleasure rather than the passive-consumerism of fandom. Crucially Damon links the rewards provided to the mental not just the physical, a fresh and vibrant way of rethinking the meaning of sport. Food as an activity, eating and cooking, if the Christmastime best-seller lists are anything to go by, provides more pleasure today than just about any other aspect of popular culture.

David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s Green Kitchen Travels is a book rich in deliciousness before you even get round to trying out the recipes. It is wrapped in an internationalism and environmentalism that hardly needs to speak its name because both are such a natural part of David and Luise’s project.  Pushkin Press publish wonderful children’s books, great pan-European writing and beautifully packaged. Their ‘Save the Story’ series gets contemporary writers to reinterpret classic tales. My favourite from their latest batch of titles in this series is Umberto Eco’s version of The Betrothed, an ancient Italian story for children retold by one of the most imaginative of Italy’s modern writers.

For  a decent novel for the grown-ups I recommend James Ellroy’s latest. His chronicles of JFK-era America are an absolute pleasure to read. Hugely informative yet compulsively thrilling. This is a politicised fiction at its best and of a sort, with the exception of the equally splendid Christopher Brookmyre, GB is largely yet to produce. Perfida  is Ellroy’s 2014 blockbuster, taking in 1941, the USA on the brink of entering World War Two, race hate aimed at Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbour and as always with Ellroy, deep-seated political intrigue and insight.

101 DamnationsAnd my personal choice of a number one Christmas read? Ned Boulting is a rare kind of sports commentator, his reports from Le Tour  are funny and self-knowing yet provide context too, historical and cultural, to the greatest race on Earth. And what makes Ned even more unusual is he writes every bit as well as he presents in front of a camera. His book on the 2014 Tour de France 101 Damnations of course begins in Yorkshire and those two unforgettable days when a world class sporting event travelled from Leeds via Harrogate and York to Sheffield  via every village and town along the way. Local yet global, free to watch, no expensive infrastructure built unlikely to be ever used afterwards, a street festival with bikes, hundreds of thousands cycling to their vantage point. Ned catches all of this superbly and thats just the first couple of days. A joy to read both for the memories and a vision of what sport could be minus the commercial overdrive and corrupt governance. Happy reading!

No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from the tax-dodgers please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka  Philosophy Football

Is Thatcherite ideology working?

by Jon Lansman

thatcher-flagIn a general election a great number of things will be said, but only a few or even one really matters and that will determine who wins. This 2015 election is in effect a referendum on Thatcherite ideology. Here is what Labour should be saying, but isn’t.

Point 1: For 35 years since 1980 the Thatcherites, which includes for this purpose Brown and Blair, have been pursuing major cuts in corporation tax on the grounds that that would stimulate the economy, produce a surge of investment, unleash higher wage jobs, and thus increase government tax revenues to pay down the deficit. The opposite has happened: corporation tax has been cut from 52% in 1980 to 21% today, and the proportion of government revenues generated by corporation tax has almost halved to just over 5%. But none of the benefits promised have materialised, so why do we not reverse this failed policy? Continue reading →

Selective education is rising up the agenda: it’s no time for fudging

by David Pavett

SevenoaksAnnexAccording to the Kent on Sunday newspaper (page 11) Nicky Morgan is expected to approve the renewed application for a Sevenoaks “annex” to the Weald of Kent Grammar School.

The Conservatives have blown hot and cold on selective schooling. Some recognise that selection at eleven doesn’t have sufficient political legs to run very far but others just dream of a return to the way things were. Continue reading →

Scottish Labour’s Clause 4 moment – socialism and patriotism

by Dave Watson

MurphyWell that’s the Scottish leadership election over. There was at least a real debate about ideas and strategy and Neil Findlay’s campaign ensured that we didn’t get the coronation the system usually delivers. Neil also delivered ideas of substance and generated energy amongst party members that I haven’t seen for a long time.

From Jim Murphy’s initial announcements it would appear that we are about to get some internal constitutional change.

Jim wants a ‘Clause 4’ moment, although it’s actually Clause 2 in the Scottish Labour Party rules. Yes, I know I’m a pedant. Not in this case for some New Labour policy purpose, but to bring Scottish Labour ‘closer to the centre of Scottish life’. The strategy appears to be aimed at dispelling the myths about ‘London Labour’, stoked by the actions of the UK party during Johann Lamont’s leadership.

Many in the party will welcome this strategy as long overdue. Even in government there was an unwillingness to shout about the different approaches we took in Scotland in areas like the NHS and education policy. If a Scottish solution to Scottish issues is to mean anything, then differentiation is fine.

He set out five principles for this new aims and values statement. Continue reading →

Deficit nonsense: right, left and centre

by Michael Meacher

15446089_sIt is extraordinary that both the main parties have now put forward their plans for meeting the deficit, which is going to prove the centrepiece of the election, yet neither plan carries credibility. Osborne has once again committed the Tories to £30bn of further spending cuts on a rolling 3-year programme, i.e. currently targeted at 2017-8. Even if that were politically practicable, which is far from certain, the idea that this will eliminate the structural deficit within that timescale is laughable. The deficit this year is likely to end up at around £100bn, and because of the fall in the government’s tax take (caused by the continuing squeeze on incomes, very low wages and zero hours contracts), the deficit is already growing, not falling, and for the reasons just given will continue to rise further in future. Osborne grandiosely claimed yesterday that

it commits us to finishing the job – and getting our national debt falling… Once we have got rid of the deficit and have debt falling, we should be running an overall budget surplus”.

This is total arrant nonsense. Continue reading →

How the government’s super-platinum credit card works

by Guest

photo_10465_20091207This brilliant, witty explanatory piece by Neil Wilson first appeared at 3Spoken three years ago but is never more applicable

Modern Monetary Economics shows us that monetarily sovereign governments (like the US, UK and Japan) are able to spend money before they receive any tax. That’s what puts the ‘fiat’ [Latin for “let it be done” – Ed] in fiat currency [which is a currency which derives its value from government regulation or law rather than a commodity such as gold or silver], but it appears at first glance to be counter intuitive. How can that be?

If you think about it most of us come into contact with this concept every day – its called a credit card. So if you imagine that a government does all its spending on its credit card, then you’ll have the structure about right.

There are differences though. A monetarily sovereign government is able to get the best credit card deal in the world. It is a super-platinum credit card with the following benefits:

It has no spending limit

Continue reading →

Tories buy election

by Michael Meacher

10 Downing StreetDemocracy is a great system, except that those in power do their uttermost to subvert it, circumvent it, and twist it to their own ends, and quite often succeed. Take the current state of play between the parties in Britain. In March this year the Electoral Commission recommended there should be no increase in spending limits for candidates between now and the general election on 7 May. It also proposed that there should be only an increase in spending of £2.9m for the ‘short’ 3-week campaign leading up to the election. So what did the Tories do? Ignoring the official recommendations of the Electoral Commission, they pushed through increases in permitted spending twice those proposed by the Commission. This works hugely well for them because they have amassed an electoral war chest vastly greater than Labour’s, and will now be able to turn most of it to their own unilateral advantage. Continue reading →

Jim Murphy and saving Scottish Labour

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

Murphy campaignThe victories of Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale in the Scottish Labour leadership elections have invited much comment. Some of it warm and friendly, but a great deal not. Indeed, soon after Saturday’s results were announced obituaries (like this) have been pouring in from the left. True, many who are so minded wish Scottish Labour little other than ill and can’t wait for the party north of the border to shuffle off this mortal coil, but wanting something and having it happen are not the same. As readers know, Jim wasn’t my choice, but that doesn’t mean I think Scottish Labour is doomed, doomed, doomed. Continue reading →

Government duplicity on torture from Blair to Cameron: eleven evasions

by Michael Meacher

waterboarding__spanThe whole narrative of the UK government’s response to the brutal revelations of US rendition and torture at Guantanamo and ‘black sites’ spread across E. Europe, the Middle East and Asia has been one of subterfuge, deception and downright lying, in sharp contrast to the determination of the political class in the US to get (most of) the ugly truths out in the open. It casts a profoundly dishonourable shame on this country both for its smothering blanket of secrecy and almost total lack of accountability for the grave misdeeds of Britain’s deep shadow State. The duplicity of all UK governments over this issue in the last decade has been shocking. Continue reading →

Man Haron Monis: it’s not about Islam

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

Screen shot 2014-12-15 at 14.13.34.pngWhat a sad end to the Sydney cafe siege. The gunman, one Man Haron Monis lies dead, but not before he murdered two others. Thankfully, incidents like this are quite rare in Western societies and when hostage taking does happen, it tends to either be a spur of the moment thing in the commission of a crime or an awful episode in a pattern of dysfunctional family relationships. When people are held to highlight a cause or make political points then it tends to get written off – as this is already being – as the work of a lone oddball. To explain the motives of someone like Monis, one need not be concerned beyond the peculiarities of his own personality. He’s one in a million, a fluke, a statistical anomaly. Folks need not lose any sleep.

Really? Human beings are social creatures. More than that, from even before our births and regardless of culture, we are constituted by and through social relations. We might make our history, albeit not under circumstances of our choosing, but more deeply what we build of ourselves is a process of working on social stuff assembled by countless interactions. We are legion, for we are many. For that reason, given the irreducibly social (and sociable) character of our being, I am unwilling to accept that people just “flip out” and commit extreme crimes for no reason. People choose to do these things, and choice never occurs in a vacuum. Continue reading →

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