Want to turn the world upside down in 2020? Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman has found ten books to help us on the way
1Naomi 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 and 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.
2Ann Pettifor - The Case for the Green New Deal
A small group of economists have been working on a ‘Green New Deal’ since the mid-2010s. The idea was revived and made popular first by the Democrats' Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez early championing of the idea on her election to Congress in 2018 and then once more as 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.
3Jack 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 people 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, grassroots Labour members. A book to both make sense of, and change, the world.
4Maya Goodfellow - Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats
There’s not much doubt that the 4 years of the 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 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.
5Andrew 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, doesn’t mean that’s where we’ll stay. His account starts in the early 1970s to track this fall and rise through to the eve of the election. The downs of more immediate relevance right now, the ups might have to wait.
6Daniel 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 hard-faced, well-organised, physical confrontation. Not for the politically faint-hearted, have a milk shake handy whilst reading.
7Greg 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.
8Renewal - 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. Which given the current trials and tribulations of the Labour Party, the shallowness of the debate therein, and the uncertain direction of the party thereafter makes Renewal uniquely placed to provide an indispensable read in 2020.
9Nathalie 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 along the way unafraid to pay off its intellectual debts, to Stuart Hall and Mark Fisher in particular. What’s not to like?
10Alex 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’ end of. 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 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 a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football, he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest is Corbynism from Below and is published by Lawrence & Wishart, available to order from here.