A Very British Coup, Chris Mullin, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1982

Just revisited the magnificent TV version and then thought I ought to read the book just in case there were some nuances that the TV series had left out. As it turned out the TV adaption, for my money, does a far superior job in painting the dark picture of a British/US right wing coup than the original text. But both book and TV series are compulsory tools in exploring just how the ruling establishment, on both sides of the Atlantic, seamlessly come together to rid themselves of any threatening left wing upstarts. Written in the wake of both the CIA orchestrated Chilean and Australian coups, ‘A Very British Coup’ simply imagines the same thing happening in Britain should the British electorate have the audacity to elect anything like a radical social democratic government. And the genius of Mullin’s efforts is that his imagined scenario is actually unfolding in front of our very eyes in the wake of a possible Corbyn administration. Mr Mullin, we owe you a debt of gratitude. 

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Postcapitalism, Paul Mason, Allen Lane, 2015

When Mr Mason is not busy demonstrating to his readers just how clever he is, he provides us with a highly readable, highly thought-provoking discussion on post-capitalist scenarios. In actual fact Mr Mason is a very clever chap but he could do with adding a touch of humility whilst laying out his theories. Mason just can’t wait to tell us where Marx and Engels and Lenin got it right and where they got it wrong. As an accomplished journalist well-grounded in economics, he has every right to make such criticisms, but such criticisms might profitably be couched in more temperate language. I recall Mr Mason dismissing the entire Marxist/Leninist ‘Labour Aristocracy’ theory as ‘rubbish. Hardly the sort of approach to give his later arguments the gravity they might otherwise deserve. But ’notwithstanding this little criticism, I found Mr Mason’s latest offering both inspiring and unsettling in equal measure. Not only does he paint a picture of a gathering storm; environmental, economic, political and technological, he turns this perfect storm on its head and creates a future scenario of unimaginable possibilities. In short, he grasps perfectly the dialectic between scarcity and abundance thereby reawakening the entire Marxist understanding of a humane, rational, communist future. Not a future that is set in stone but a future of infinite permutations. The end of pre-history, as Marx once mused, and the real beginning of the human story.   

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Dear Jeremy Corbyn

Dear JC,

I remember you well. During those dark, dark days when Irish Republicans stood defiant in the face of the vicious remnants of British colonialism, you offered them a sympathetic ear. In fact you did more than that – you gave them qualified support. When nearly all in the Labour Party had washed their hands of the Irish Republicans’ legitimate demands for self-determination, you took a principled stand. I suspect you understood those searing words from Marx: ‘The English working class can never be free while it colludes in the oppression of the Irish nation.’ And as far as I can recall, you took a similar principled stand on Palestinian rights, anti-apartheid and a host of other ‘untouchable’ issues. So if you were to achieve nothing else in your political career those courageous, principled stands would mark you out as a success story in terms of political leadership. And as we have witnessed over the post war decades, political leadership has been a rare commodity in the British Labour Party. So whatever comes next in the roller-coater of political life, you should be well aware that your past record is an entirely worthy one. In fact I think it fair to say, an admirable one.

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Moses Ascending, Sam Selvon, Penguin, 1975

Couldn’t be absolutely certain that I haven’t read this one a few decades back, but either way, it made for a thoroughly enjoyable read. Certainly not politically correct by today’s standards but since when has satirical humour worried about such niceties as political correctness. It was a bit like watching some old episodes of ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ or ‘Rising Damp’. Some highly dubious satire but funny and poignant in places nevertheless. There is no doubting Selvon’s astuteness when it comes not only to the racial tensions of the London of the 1970’s but of the human condition in general. So while we might conclude that his comic portrayal of those dark days is a little dated, we might equally conclude that there is a wonderful universality about this tale. Thwarted ambitions, petty prejudices and immigrant dilemmas never really go out of vogue, they simply mutate and change their form a little. Substitute, say Somalians and Romanians for West Indians and South Asians, and one quickly realises that London has not changed that much at all. All the personal and political aspirations on display in ‘Moses Ascending’ are still being played out in  millions of households across dozens of global cities. In fact, wherever migrants are seeking to better their material circumstances you will find a Moses Aloetta.

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Orange is the New Black, Netflix, Series 1-3

It was billed as the new ‘Wire’ but I think it only lived up to that exalted rating in a most patchy and superficial sort of way. The Wire was dark and cutting edge throughout. It tore contemporary America to pieces. It touched on a deep alienation within American society that hitherto had seemed beyond the possibilities of any TV script. It held its audiences spellbound for five series and launched a few acting careers in the process. It became a marker for all future and past TV and had credibility in the claim that it was the greatest TV series of all time. ‘Orange Is The New Black’, despite a number of poignant moments, is most definitely not in that rarefied atmosphere. Too light-hearted, too glib and in places just too crass.

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The British Labour Party: What is it For?

 

Of the three great issues facing people everywhere, nowhere can the British Labour Party claim in any sense to be in the lead. Nowhere can it claim to be in the vanguard against environmental destruction, against growing inequality and against corrupt centralised governance. In fact it has been failing miserably on all three fronts. Which is not to say that both in government and in opposition it has not had its moments of enlightenment. New Labour did introduce the Sure Start programme to help combat the shocking disparity between the life chances of the better-off and of those of the dispossessed and disenfranchised. It did introduce tax credits and the minimum wage to partially bridge the glaring gap between those at the top end and those desperately trying to eke out an existence at the other end. It did make some tentative moves in the direction of  political devolution of this rather dis-United Kingdom. And there were some haft-hearted concessions to the renewable energy industry.  But after thirteen years in government it was all too little and way too tame to make a noticeable difference.

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A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel, Forth Estate, 1992

There is one thing you can say with some degree of certainty about Mantel. She understands class, she understands sex and she understands human frailties. What better tools can novelist possibly need? The fact that she is a writer of stunning ability is the final ingredient for greatness. Nearly nine hundred pages of historical recreation and not for a single moment does the tension let up. Having been blown away, like so many people, by Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ and her subsequent ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ I was very reluctant to take on a novel that was written over twenty years earlier. Surely I would be disappointed. Surely it would just represent her apprenticeship for the masterpiece that was yet to come. No sir! Mantel’s, ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ is a masterpiece in its own right. Readers need not fear a sense of anti-climax having read the first two parts of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. What Mantel has done for our appreciation of Cromwell, she has equally done for our understanding of Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins. And the brilliance that she has bought to the first two parts of her Tudor trilogy is every bit in evidence in her reconstruction of the French Revolution.

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The Lebedevs: Schizophrenic Oligarchs

 

The Lebedev’s, owners of the London Evening Standard, just can’t make up their minds. One minute they’re whipping up support for the Tory Party and generally behaving as one would expect a reasonable size cog in the corporate machine to behave. Next minute they are masquerading as tribunes of London’s working class, championing everything from literacy, safe cycling, affordable housing and clean air. The only problem with playing these two roles is, for the most part, they are diametric opposites.

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Greek Negotiations: Podemos is the Elephant in the Room.

Strictly speaking, the above title is incorrect. The real elephant in the room is not so much Podemos but neoliberalism itself. Give in to the wholly reasonable demands of Syriza and every anti-austerity party across Europe and beyond will take heart. The battle lines are crystal clear. It’s the exponents of monetarism and neoliberalism versus those at the receiving end. The ruling establishment’s narrative is that there is no alternative, yet one after another leading economists; including Nobel Prize winning economists, are telling us that neoliberalism and its attendant inhuman austerity policies are a busted flush. What they are telling us and what bitter experience is teaching us is that the policies of neoliberalism as practised across  Europe are creating ever greater levels of inequality and making global recessionary pressures even worse. Just ask the Greeks. Of course you don’t need to be a Nobel Prize winning economist to tell you this. Any high school economics student will tell you: spend your way out of recession and then trim the deficits during the boom years. It’s basic Keynesianism.

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Women’s World Cup

There is still an awful lot to decry concerning the state and status of women across the globe. One half of the human population still seems to take a sadistic pleasure in degrading the other half.  Whichever way we look, east or west, north or south, the material and social outcomes for women is considerably below that of their male counterparts. Women are on the receiving end when it comes to equal pay, equality in education and employment, and perhaps most telling, their general status in society. In the east women are still battling to rid themselves of the chains of feudal bondage. Women may be formally free but the dead weight of centuries, nay millennia of slavery and feudal oppression still asserts itself. Violence against women is endemic, and the law, such as it is, seems powerless to protect. The situation in the west seems at first glance to be an improving one, but dig a little deeper and violence against women is still at epidemic proportions. And again the law seems unable or unwilling to intervene. Just look at the appallingly low rate of successful prosecutions for rape to get a sense of how entrenched western patriarchal attitudes still are. And in the west the objectification and commodification of women shows no sign of abating.  I think it was Marx that once declared that a civilisation can best be judged by how it treats its women. By nearly all criteria, civilisation, east and west, is failing miserably.

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English Table Tennis Snuggles up to Dirty Oil

 Yesterday I was innocently surfing the English Schools Table Tennis Website when I was most surprised to learn that a new sponsor by the name of Heritage Oil is now sponsoring one of ESTTA’s premier events. I assumed that In an age when many companies and public institutions are starting to disinvest from fossil fuels, an organisation like ESSTA would have nothing to do with global oil. It seems however that ESTTA is heading in entirely the opposite direction. My curiosity was further tweeked as I did a little more surfing, and low and behold it transpires that Table Tennis England, the governing body of table tennis, is also in bed with Heritage Oil. Now while I fully appreciate that relatively small organisations like Table Tennis England and The English ESTTA are desperate for corporate sponsors, I couldn’t help but wonder at the wisdom of such a move. After all, just today there was a major article in The Observer 21/6/15 which unambiguously pointed out that our planet is facing another planet wide extinction moment, only this time it is not by meteorite or volcano but by our very own human activity. And burning fossil fuels for energy is at the very heart of this extinction threat .Surely an organisation such as ESTTA, based as it is entirely in schools, would show a little more discretion as to who it accepted money from. But the story gets a whole lot more nasty once one digs a little deeper.

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Magna Carta: Please stop this nonsense.

Whatever the historical merits of the  magna carta agreements that variously date from 1215 to 1235, the sight of today’s arch reactionaries from the British monarchy and the British Tory party seeking to celebrate this ‘democratic’ document is enough to make one’s skin crawl. Sure, every nation likes to tell itself heart-warming myths, in part  as a way of bolstering its current ruling elite, and Britain is no exception. The favourite narrative of Britain’s establishment is that England is the birthplace of democracy and the English parliament is the mother of that democracy. Try telling that to the billions who suffered under the brutality and humiliation of the British Empire. Try telling that to the Irish, Malayan and Kenyan freedom fighters who languished in Britain’s post war network of concentration camps and subjected to the most horrendous forms of mental and physical tortures. And still the torture goes on. But like all nations we love to perpetuate our national myths. Britain is probably no worse than others in this respect but the hypocrisy is no less sickening .

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FIFA: Corruption is in its DNA

Some years ago, I had the unsettling experience of listening to a radical Scottish academic outline his thesis on democracy. Selection by lot rather than ‘democratic election’ was the way forward. Elections, explained the good professor, always favoured the better situated, the most articulate and of course the most wealthy. I didn’t take a position either way at the time, but there was no doubt that his subversive thesis had lodged itself somewhere in my muddled consciousness. the more I thought about it the more it rang true. Even my own experience seemed to bear out its validity. Whenever there were trade union elections I always won the day, not because my ideas were necessarily superior to my opponents, but rather that I was a little more articulate in expressing my ideas. I could play the crowd in a way that my worthy opponents could not. And in the bigger world of global politics it transpires that every US President that has ever been elected had a bigger war chest than his opponent. Money talks, it seems, every damned time. Armed with this indisputable evidence, it seems that elections, just like the good professor has argued, were not nearly as democratic as the establishment would have us believe.

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Heretic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Harper Collins, New York, 2015

These days it’s not so wise to say you have heroes, they’re sure to let you down sooner or later. Some dirty little secret is almost certain to emerge, or they turn out, after a trailblazing start, to be a thoroughly nasty piece of work.  Notwithstanding this caveat, Ayaan Ali’s journey to date can be described as nothing short of heroic. In some ways her journey reminds me of that taken by Malcolm X, a journey that was cruelly if predictably cut down by America’s forces of reaction. Ayaan Ali also faces, on a daily basis, such a fate, but she is far from cowered. We will never know just how far Malcolm X would have travelled had he been spared the assassin’s bullet, but we do know that towards the end of his short but spectacular life he was meeting with the likes of Fidel Castro and other radical nationalist world leaders. As for Ayaan Ali, her journey from impoverished village life in Somalia to that of leading spokesperson for an Islamic reformation is truly inspirational.

Her latest book outlines the specifics of that reformation and t

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Money and greed has ruined the beautiful game, Justin Cartwright, Evening Standard, 29/5/15

Confucius say,’ Big sum of money on top of table – big corruption under table.’ He didn’t say this of course, but he may well have had he been around in the early years of the 21st century. There are billions of corporate dollars sloshing around the so called ‘beautiful game’, so it should surprise nobody that FIFA, the governing body of the game is mired in systemic corruption. We see it in every facet of our globalised corporate world; banking, arms sales, corporate manoeuvrings and political lobbying. Why should we expect globalised sport to be any different? Justin Cartwright, writing in the London Evening Standard, a highly manipulative free newspaper owned by a Russian oligarchic family, makes some superficially useful points, but rather fails to nail the beast. But then, how could he when he gets paid by the very system that he seeks to expose? There is a distinct whiff of hypocrisy about much of the commentary surrounding FIFA and Cartwright I’m afraid has, inadvertently perhaps, added to it. Did I say whiff of hypocrisy? I should have said ‘stench’.

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FC United revel in their rebel blueprint, David Conn, The Guardian, 27/5/15

A few years back I blogged on the creation of FC United of Manchester, musing on the revolutionary potential of such an audacious development. A few years hence and I’m proud to announce that that potential is starting to materialise. And it is fitting that in the very week that FIFA looks set to implode under the strain of systemic graft and corruption, it is truly inspiring to see this community based venture bringing back some integrity into the sporting arena. But it is more than community integrity that is at stake. What FC United reveals, perhaps even to the surprise of their own supporters, is that there are ways of organising human affairs that don’t rely entirely on the motivation of money and the myopic greed of the so-called free market. And that human endeavour can be rewarding simply for the intrinsic pleasure of the activity itself, be it in the sporting, artistic or economic fields. If there was ever a germ of a communistic future, unsullied by stultifying state bureaucracy or the corruption of the capitalist market, then FC United is it. 

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