Want to turn the world upside down in 2020? Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman has found ten books to help us on the way.
1. Naomi Klein On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
The issue that should have dominated the 2019 general election but didn’t: the climate emergency. Despite this it’s not going to go away, the Australian bush fires are simply the preview of long hot summers to come Europe’s way, in addition to ever increasing risks of floods too. Naomi Klein wears 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 a breakdown with a plan to do something about it.
2. Ann Pettifor The Case for the Green New Deal
A small group of economists have been working on a ‘Green New Deal’ since the mid 2000s. The idea was revived and made popular first by the US Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who championed the idea in her election to Congress in 2018 and was also the highlight of Labour’s 2019 general election manifesto. A read of Ann Pettifor’s The Case for the Green New Deal – Ann was one of that original small group – serves to inform and inspire a politics of alternatives to the otherwise forthcoming destruction of our planet.
3. Jack Shenker Now We Have Your Attention
While it is absolutely right to seek to establish a common-sense understanding that the climate emergency changes everything, this won’t happen by ignoring the fact that for most, life goes on, not regardless but because there is no other choice. Now We Have Your Attention by Jack Shenker is a guidebook to this stark reality: the precariat, hollowed out communities, a debt-ridden generation, but also day-to-day resistance by casual workers, renters’ unions and grassroots Labour members. A book to both, make sense of and change the world.
4. Maya Goodfellow Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats
There’s not much doubt that the 4 years of Brexit Impasse has ramped up a resurgent, populist racism. That’s not to say Brexit is a racist project – it isn’t – but too much of the discourse around it plainly is. And that, in turn, is built on the legitimising of racism via government policy to create, remarkably in its own official words, a ‘hostile environment’. Maya Goodfellow’s Hostile Environment expertly unpicks the background of how 2020’s racism has been framed by this process and the widespread failure to challenge the basis of it.
5. Andrew Murray The Fall and Rise of the British Left
It might be thought in some quarters that publishing a book on the eve of the 2019 general election entitled The Fall and Rise of the British Left would mean only one thing in 2020 – the remainder bins. But Andrew Murray, quite rightly, is of the school of thought that takes the long view. We are where we are, that doesn’t mean that’s where we’ll stay. His account starts in the early 1970s and tracks this fall and rise through to the eve of the election. The downs have more immediate relevance right now, the ups might have to wait.
6. Daniel Sonabend We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain
For an inspiring take on the art of the possible, Daniel Sonabend’s We Fight Fascists cannot be bettered. 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 by being hard faced, well-organised and physically confrontational. Not for the politically faint-hearted, have a milkshake handy whilst reading.
7. Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman, David Miller Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, The Party and Public Belief
What would the 43 Group make of the Labour Party being portrayed as an antisemitic party? The rigour of the approach by the media studies academic authors of Bad News for Labour cannot be faulted, there is so much detail here that much is obvious. But what is lacking is a broader political perspective, there should be no ifs, no buts, no need to qualify or contextualise our opposition to all forms of racism, and that includes antisemitism. 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.
8. Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy
OK strictly speaking not a book, but a journal published quarterly. However 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. Given the current trials and tribulations of the Labour Party, the shallowness of the debate therein, and the uncertain direction of the party thereafter, Renewal is uniquely placed to provide an indispensable read in 2020.
9. Nathalie Olah Steal as Much as You Can: How To Win the Culture Wars in an Age of Austerity
Steal as Much as You Can has to be the runaway winner of the best book title for essential 2020 reads. Nathalie Olah has written an effortless traversal of the terrains of politics and culture, unpicking their mutual reconstitution in the grip of austerity and neoliberalism. A book that never surrenders to Left miserabilism, instead offering the kind of manifesto of generational hope that 2020 demands. And is, along the way, unafraid to pay off its intellectual debts, to Stuart Hall and Mark Fisher in particular. What’s not to like?
10. Alex Niven New Model, Island: How To Build a Radical Culture Beyond the Idea of England
As soon as Rebecca Long-Bailey inserted the words ‘progressive patriotism’ into her pitch for the Labour leadership all ideological hell was let loose from that part of the Left that holds dear to the idea that ‘there’s nothing progressive about patriotism’. Alex Niven is deeply suspicious of the idea of inserting ‘Englishness’ into all of this, yet ironically in New Model Island he reveals a keener sense of England than most. What he favours is a resurgent regionalism. Let a thousand ‘Englands’ flower, to create what the book proclaims would be 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.