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Books 2020 vision

MARK PERRYMAN picks 10 groundbreaking books which could have a significant political impact in the coming months

IN The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, Naomi Klein wears Donald Trump’s “prophet of doom” badge with honour and in her new book On Fire is unafraid to map out a planet on the verge of an environmental breakdown with a plan to do something about it.

A small group of economists have been working on that deal since the mid-2010s. The idea was revived first by the Democrat’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez championing of it on her election to Congress in 2018 and then once more  as the highlight of Labour’s 2019 election manifesto.  

A read of The Case for the Green New Deal by Ann Pettifor — one of that original small group — serves to inform and inspire a politics of alternatives to the otherwise forthcoming destruction of our planet.  

Now We Have Your Attention by Jack Shenker is a guidebook to the stark realities of the precariat, hollowed-out communities and the debt-ridden generation.

But it also touches on day-to-day resistance by casual workers, renters’ unions and grassroots Labour members. A book to both make sense of, and change, the world.

Maya Goodfellow’s Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats expertly unpicks the legitimising  of racism via government policy to create, remarkably in its own official words, a “hostile environment.”

She demonstrates how 2020’s racism has been framed by this process and the widespread failure to challenge the basis of it.    

In The Fall and Rise of the British Left Andrew Murray, quite rightly, is of the school of thought that takes the long view — where we are doesn’t mean that’s where we’ll say.

His account starts in the early 1970s to track this fall and rise through to the eve of the election. The downs are of more immediate relevance right now, the ups might have to wait.

Daniel Sonabend We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain uncovers the largely hidden history of the Jewish ex-servicemen who on their return to Britain from the war witnessed Oswald Mosley’s attempted comeback and set out to stop it, by any means necessary but mainly via hard-faced, well-organised physical confrontation.

Not for the politically faint-hearted, have a milk-shake handy while reading.

Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, The Party and Public Belief by Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller evidences a rigorous approach which cannot be faulted.

But what is lacking is a broader political perspective. There should be no ifs, no buts, no need to qualify or contextualise opposition to all forms of racism and that includes anti-semitism, even, and arguably especially, when those victims aren’t allies of the left on the question of Palestine. The really bad news for Labour is that too often, too many have appeared to fail that simple test.  

Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy is not strictly speaking a book but a journal. But add four issues of Renewal together in the course of a year to receive the best, and most up-to-date, debate and analysis of  Labour politics from a left social-democratic standpoint.

An effortless traversal of the terrains of politics and culture, unpicking their mutual reconstitution in the grip of austerity and neoliberalism, can be found in Nathalie Olah’s Steal as Much as You Can: How To Win the Culture Wars in an Age of Austerity.

It’s a book that never surrenders to left miserablism, instead offering the kind of manifesto of generational hope that 2020 demands.

Alex Niven’s New Model, Island: How To Build a Radical Culture Beyond the Idea of England reveals a keener sense of the country than most.  

What he favours is a resurgent regionalism — let a thousand “Englands” flower -— to create what the book proclaims as “a dream archipelago.”

As Britain stands, post-Brexit, on the verge of a constitutional breakdown, New Model Island is the essential guide to the troubled year ahead.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled “sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction,” aka Philosophy Football.



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