Yvette Cooper got it wrong – a people’s QE will work

Noah Tucker

The Morning Star

People’s quantitative easing would see created wealth poured into social housing and infrastructure rather than the coffers of the super-rich, writes NOAH TUCKER

In the closing moments of Thursday’s Sky News debate, the “impassioned” attack by Yvette Cooper on Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for people’s quantitative easing (PQE) pleased the pundits. But it was Corbyn’s calm rebuttal, in which he called for investment instead of austerity, that won enthusiastic applause and overwhelming positive instant poll ratings.

The audience was right to trust Corbyn rather than Cooper. Her tirade against PQE was replete with fallacies.

Her fundamental assertion against PQE was that the money raised would need to be paid back — and many times over — as implied by her soundbite that PQE is “PFI on steroids.”

But as Richard Murphy, the architect of the policy, points out: “That contradicts the facts. Not a penny of QE money the whole world over, including the £375 billion created by the Bank of England since 2009, has been repaid — nor is there any prospect that it will be.”

I asked Murphy to clarify and he explained: “All money in an economy, as is now accepted, is created by lending. Therefore, when loans are repaid the result is that money is cancelled. Banks in the UK economy traditionally made most money by ever-expanding their loan books. The result was the 2008 crash. QE has, in effect, created the new money which the economy has needed since 2008, as bank lending declined.

“There is nothing magical about QE. The Bank of England lends money to one of its own subsidiaries to create new money, which is used to buy back the government’s own bonds (known as gilts). That has effectively cancelled much of the national debt, and means that all the tales of uncontrollable deficits have been complete nonsense.”

Notably, these gilts bought by the Bank of England are not purchased directly from the Treasury. They are bought second or third-hand in the financial markets, from private-sector institutions which have already purchased the bonds, thus — due to supply and demand — increasing the overall prices of financial assets. The result is obvious: QE has made very rich people, who are the ultimate owners of most financial assets, very much richer.

PQE, in contrast, would not involve purchases in the financial markets but instead would fund construction of social housing, infrastructure and other useful investments.

Nevertheless, the principle by which the money is created would be identical. There are transfers between parts of the state, but there is no outside source from which the money has been borrowed: the state does not owe it to anybody and there is nobody to pay it back to because the state’s own bank (the Bank of England) has made the money for the government’s own use and to its instruction.

Had Cooper not been declaiming in soundbites, she might have said that QE money could eventually be “uncreated” — leaving the state £375bn worse off in current terms. Thus the Bank of England would sell its gilts, and then delete, from its balance sheets, the many billions thus received.

But a decision to do this would be entirely voluntary on the part of the government. And it could only really happen if the state was running a surplus, or something near it, or the right conditions for the sale would not exist. Given that no useful purpose (for any section of society) would be served by such a sale, and the negative consequences that would ensue, the likelihood of this ever happening, as emphasised by Murphy, “is remote in the extreme. No government of any persuasion is ever going to pursue such a policy.”

Berating Corbyn for offering “false promises,” Cooper claimed in Thursday’s debate that “quantitative easing has stopped because the economy is now growing. If you simply keep printing money when an economy is growing it simply increases inflation.”

But QE has not stopped. Since 2012, Britain’s QE programme has been maintained at £375bn, but it remains an active programme. The Bank of England makes a profit from the interest paid on the gilts and so far has earned £50bn, which is remitted back to the government. And each year a proportion of the bonds held by the Bank of England come to maturity, resulting in payouts of around £26bn annually (on average) being received by the bank. Currently, this sum is then injected straight into the financial markets to buy more gilts, keeping the total held by the bank at the overall level of £375bn.

The significance of this for PQE is that expansion of QE above its current level, (although that might be considered desirable) would not be necessary for a considerable sum to be released for public investment. Without any money having to be printed, initial funds of up to £26bn (on average) could be diverted each year from gilt purchases and instead be made available to the National Investment Bank. To put that figure into perspective, to build 100,000 new council homes per year would cost an estimated £14bn annually (without taking into account the reduced housing benefit expenditure).

But could the current QE programme be modestly expanded, thus producing further cash for public investment without causing run away inflation? The $6.5 trillion worth of QE money produced globally has mainly been created alongside economic growth (or per-capita growth in the case of Japan), and without resulting in excessive inflation. Current growth predictions worldwide are having to be reduced following the slowdown in China.

In Britain, the government’s target rate of inflation is 2 per cent on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Yet despite our trumpeted GDP growth — encompassing asset bubbles, rising consumer debt and falling manufacturing output — CPI inflation is currently at 0.1 per cent per annum. There is plenty of scope for a moderate rise in the level of QE without causing raging inflation.

Coincidentally, on the same day as the Sky News debate, Mario Draghi of the European Central Bank announced that the it will consider a further enlargement of its QE programme. This is above its present expansion which is at the rate of €60bn per month, and is increasing the limit on QE bond purchases from 25 per cent to 33 per cent of the national debt for countries in the eurozone.

This will of course not apply to Britain, because our government decides how much QE takes place here. But for comparison, if Britain were to observe an upper limit for QE of 33 per cent of the national debt, that would allow the “printing” of up to £140bn — vastly more than proponents of PQE are suggesting.

Responding to Cooper, Corbyn asked what her proposal was how to fund the public investments which are so needed. Is it PFI? That was of course the previous New Labour solution which has left public authorities with debts of £220bn and rising. For those who accept the narrative of austerity there is no answer to that question — certainly the private sector and the “free” market offer no solutions.

As Murphy points out, the starting point is to look at what is needed to build the country in a way that benefits the people, addresses social problems and supports growth — building social housing, infrastructure and technical innovation. This will have to be driven by the public sector. The money for it can be derived, depending on the economic situation at the time, from a mix including fairer taxation, issuing bonds and PQE.

The importance of Corbyn is not just that he is discussing what means may be used to achieve it, but that he is pointing to what it is that we must achieve.

Dreamers, survivors, builders

Mark Perryman argues the need to revisit and reclaim Labour ’45

Bevan 1945 quoteThere is an astonishing moment during Ken Loach’s warmly-received documentary The Spirit of ’45. Winston Churchill is addressing a public rally during the 1945 General Election campaign and he is drowned out by the near universal booing. Not far left adventurists, these were ordinary working class men and women who in Winston saw a great wartime premier trying to turn the socio-economic clock back to the way things were the instant the peace treaties were signed.

There is not much mistaking 1939-45 as an era when anti-fascism fused with a popular internationalism. Mosley and his British Union of Fascists in the 1930s let us never forget enjoyed the “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” support of Viscount Rothermere’s Daily Mail and widespread other establishment endorsements too, including many suspect the newly crowned King Edward VIII. To suggest Mosley was on the verge of state power is of course bordering on the fantastical but fellow-travelling with the Nazis and appeasement certainly were widespread on the Tory Right and beyond. At the same time an undiluted anti-semitism was used to stoke up working class support in areas such as London’s East End by exploiting genuine grievances with false and hateful solutions.

This was an era that Eric Hobsbawm famously described as The Age of Extremes. Fascism was confronted by a mass communist party with a genuine working-class base combined with significant intellectual and cultural influence. But on their own, as they would painfully learn during the doomed class-against-class period, even the most militant and heroic of Communists would have been no match for Mosley. Rather they sought the broadest possible opposition both against the Blackshirts and for Republican Spain. A popular anti-fascism which while not enough to decisively shape World War Two for either the combatants and the home front was nevertheless a vital feature throughout. Most important of all was the increasingly evident role of the Red Army on the Eastern Front, the legend that Stalingrad, Kursk and other battles would become, the Atlantic Convoys criss-crossing the North Seas loaded with vital supplies. Campaigning for the second front to be opened to relieve the pressure on the Soviet Union and destroy Hitler via a pincer movement placed the Communists at the core of a sentiment that was a near-universal solidarity. Nowadays we are almost immune to the casual dismissal of the Red Army’s role in the defeat of Nazism, few in ’45 would make that mistake including George VI who replaced as King his younger brother following abdication. On his orders a sword, The Sword of Stalingrad, was presented to Stalin engraved “To the steel hearted citizens of Stalingrad, a gift from King George VI as a token of the homage of the British people.” Was our Royal Family a secret enclave of reds under the regal beds? Hardly, yet the act was indicative of a huge shift in British public opinion that Labour in ’45 was best-placed to take advantage of following VE day in May and the July General Election.

But Labour was bold too, not content to simply campaign on the basis of its outstanding role in the wartime coalition government, nor a sour-faced ‘we told you so’ against the 1930s appearers and apologists still represented in the Tories’ ranks. Win the Peace was the connect to a visionary future Labour made. Rehousing, nationalising the railways, mines and public utilities, comprehensive education, establishing a National Health Service, creating a post-war Welfare State. Today those policies are largely outside of the political mainstream, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn who in Labour’s Leadership Campaign would we identify with this kind of legacy? Yet the two principle architects of Labour’s ’45 plan were Liberals, Keynes and Beveridge, not socialists. The genius of Attlee, Bevan and others was to be part of a process that shaped a majoritarian consensus around a politics which changed the face of Britain for the benefit of the many, not the few and decisively affected the balance of class privilege. The tragedy was that this became a conservative defence of the consensus which mistook the virtues of defending what we had for the necessities to deepen and extend that shift as a permanent evolution. It was the emerging inadequacies that Thatcher by the mid 1970s was able to exploit and in the end with new Labour’s muted assistance break up almost all that remained of the post-war consensus by the end of the twentieth century with nothing close to becoming any better put in its place.

Bevan 1945 t-shirtLook back in hope? Bevan’s three-line philosophy for Labour in ’45, “We have been the dreamers. We have been the sufferers. And now we are the builders” helped to inspire and create most of what was good about post-war Britain, an achievement that should give us every cause both to celebrate and to oppose the enduring ideological assault under the guise of the necessities of austerity. There is no alternative? More than any other single individual in British politics Bevan in ’45 helped proved absolutely the case, there was and is.

The Bevan ’45 We Have Been the Dreamers T-shirt is available from Philosophy Football

Here comes the summer of sport

Mark Perryman reviews the best of this summer’s sports books

Circus Maximus - coverEnglish football’s Premiership (sic), the best league in the world? The same 4 clubs, well give or take one perhaps, could be jotted down on a scrap of paper every August with a cast-iron guarantee they will fill the Champions League places, year in, year out. Tedium, its the brand value the Premiership has become past masters at providing, yet barely a word of dissent ever breaks through the breathless excitement football’s boosterists provide across the print, TV and radio media.

Meantime despite the sportification of society levels of participation in scarcely any form of physical activity continue to rocket downwards. Football, the richest and most high profile of all sports has amongst the sharpest rates of decline in numbers taking part, unless of course we count watching it from the comfort of our own sofa.

Cutting through sport-hype takes a combination of a love for and understanding of sport with a critique of all that it threatens to become. Jules Boykoff is a renowned expert at precisely this kind of combination, his latest book Activism and the Olympics provides a chronicle of activist opposition to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and London 2012. Andrew Zimbalist does something similar over a longer timeframe, and taking in both the Olympics and Football World Cups. His conclusions in his book Circus Maximus are devastating, the socio-economic benefits of hosting are next to negligible and more often than not actually negative. Yet despite almost every pledge made by London 2012 remaining unfulfilled as Rio 2016 approaches the self-satisfied bandwagon that the Olympics has turned into will steamroll almost all critical voices into the margins. Perhaps what is needed to resist is the kind of ideological rigour that features amongst those profiled in the pioneering collection Sport and Revolutionaries edited by John Nauright and David Wiggins. Lenin and Che Guevara, who would have imagined the centrality they both gave sport and physical culture in the cause of human liberation? Or likewise social movements spanning Irish Republicanism, the overthrow of colonial regimes, anti-racism and civil rights. Each in their own ways , as essays in this excellent book recount, saw the importance of sport towards their ends. Two pleas though to an otherwise excellent publisher, Routledge. Why only the high-priced hardback edition limiting the sale to libraries? And why the standard, one-design-fits-all cover ? Both factors will seriously reduce the potential popular impact of what is an important book.

From the back page to the front room - coverGetting to grips with the enduring absence of a social, economic, political and cultural dimension of too much mainstream sportswriting is vital to any kind of appreciation of how sport is consumed. If is only via this kind of project that recreation and leisure will become framed by the contribution it makes towards human liberation rather than simply consumed as a big screen extravaganza. Roger Domenghetti’s superlative From the Back Page to the Front Room provides an unrivalled account of the evolution of football’s monopoly of the sports media, with interviews and insights that are both informative and compelling. Jamie Cleland provides something similar, if more wide-ranging, in A Sociology of Football in a Global Context. This is a textbook study of the new football, ranging over almost every subject the serious student of the game might want to consider. Same publishers as Sport and Revolutionaries so same two pleas apply! Hugo Borst’s O, Louis is a supreme example of how sportswriting can capture the cultural and the social at its best without any negative impact on its ability to reach and engage with a mass audience. Van Gaal, despite his modest first season at Man Utd, remains set to be one of the great characters of English football for some time to come. His foreignness, his Dutchness, every bit as intriguing as Wenger and Mourinho’s otherness, if not yet framed by the same degree of success.

A Matter of Life and Death by Jim White is an alternative history of football told via 100 quotations’ from ‘There is Great Noise in the City’ describing 1314 street football to World Cup 2014. Jim White is a great sportswriter, he has chosen his quotes carefully while providing his own informative yet idiosyncratic narrative. Brilliant! But words alone, however well-written, can never entirely capture the appeal of football. Edited by Reuel Golden Age of Innocence is a combination of the very best world photography of football in the 1970s with a skilfully written set of introductory commentaries about the decade. Age of Innocence? This is domestic football both before the Premiership but also prior to the Bradford Fire, Heysel and Hillsborough too. Three very different events but each in their own way defining football in the 1980s. A book of global reach too, the world of football depicted as much less of a corporate enterprise than it is now.

But how to push at the boundaries of the limited meaning that modern corporatised football has become? Firstly breakdown its gendering. A process that has accelerated in the twenty-first century, from lets say the near non-existent to the painfully slow. Events recorded very well in the new book by Carrie Dunn and Joanna Welford, Football and the FA Women’s Super League (sadly though another academic publisher with a standard boring cover and high priced library edition hardback only, why?) Second, confront and expose the corruption in the administration of the global game. Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert’s The Ugly Game investigates in breathtaking detail the sheer magnitude of the corruption at the highest levels of FIFA. Third, provide practical examples of what an alternative might look like. Rather confusingly also titled The Ugly Game Martin Calladine’s book is a very welcome pioneering effort to do just that. Fourth, dump the ridiculous rhetoric embraced by fans as well as the corporate brand managers, that the Premiership is ‘the best league in the world’. It’s the richest yes, but in almost every other regard it is inferior to several others, most notably the German Bundesliga. Read Ronald Reng’s very good Matchdays to find out how German football gets by without foreign owners, clubs 51% owned by their fans, mainly German players on the pitch, drinking and standing on the terraces. Didn’t that use to be ‘the English way’ when Liverpool, Notts Forest and Villa won European Cups and an England side could make to it to a World Cup semi-final. All pre-Premiership no thankyou very much.

Football Italia - coverFew football books manage to provide the breadth and dept of insight with the very obvious passion for the game that Mark Doidge combines in writing Football Italia. From the country of Gramsci, Mussolini,post-war Eurocommunism, Berlusconi and more it is no surprise that Italian football also is a game of extremes. What Mark Doidge manages, definitively, to explain is how a nation’s football can never be divorced from how a national culture has been shaped too, all with a neat line in understanding why sometimes despite that process Italian football retains a fateful appeal for fans the world over.

It is only in English football’s ever-shortening summertime off-season that much of any other sport gets any kind of look in. And even that is reduced in a year of a World Cup or a Euro. For a fortnight or so the media will go overboard for the tennis at Wimbledon. Such coverage aided when the rivalry that singles tennis generates reaches out beyond the strawberries and Pimms brigade. Peter Bodo’s account, Ashe vs Connors records just such a moment from the faraway summer of 1975. This is sports writing as social history against the backdrop of towering personalities and supreme talent, all the makings of a really good sports book.

An Ashes Summer used to more or less guarantee a mass audience for cricket. But since the appallingly short-sighted decision of cricket’s governing body to dump free-to-air live TV coverage interest has plummeted and is unlikely ever to recover, despite what looks like a fast-improving England team. In his newly published autobiography Curtly Ambrose provides a compelling picture of the heights of popularity Test cricket once enjoyed. A thrilling West Indies team becoming a symbol of resistance, diaspora and nationhood. This was international sport at its very best, fiercely competitive, individuals combining for the common purpose of the team, imagined communities acquiring some semblance of the real. Will we see the like of it on a cricket pitch again? Possibly not. Rob Smyth like Jim White uses 100 quotations to track a sport’s history. This time, The Ashes in Gentlemen and Sledgers . Rob depicts the changes from the pre TV era, the broadening popularity of cricket via television and radio coverage, England’s return to glory in recent years and then the catastrophic decline on the pitch accompanied by the loss of terrestrial TV coverage. Despite all this the 5-day 5-test Ashes series remained throughout one of the most epic contests in the world of sport and Rob’s book helps us to appreciate the reasons why.

It is only in recent years that Le Tour has featured very much at all as part of the Great British sporting summer. In the era that William Fotheringham described in his classic biography of Italian cycling great Fausto Coppi Fallen Angel the 1940s and 1950s cycling up mountains was something best left to continental types. And the domestic popularity of cycling hadn’t changed so very much by the time of his latest biography, the greatest French cyclist Bernard Hinault in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But it is by reading William’s books the latter-day domestic popularity of this most extraordinary drama of human endurance can begin to be accounted for. Alpe D’Huez by Peter Cossins accounts for the kind of physical achievement Grand Tour cycling represents via the challenge of just one epic mountain these cyclists are expected to climb on their two wheels. The greatest climb? Quite possibly, though the greatness perhaps lies in the realisation that for these cyclists once they have done one day’s climbing another follows, and another, with next to no respite. It is a sport that borders on the inhuman, the biggest single reason for the scourge of performance enhancing drugs that for a while threatened to engulf cycling. Yet with dedication these climbs, or something like them, can be done. This is the dream of the sporting everyman, or increasingly everywoman too. Ian McGregor’s To Hell on a Bike rather brilliantly tells just such a tale, an ordinary cyclist who trains himself to tackle Paris-Roubaix, widely regarded as the toughest of all the one-day classic cycle races.

deTour de Yorkshire - coverTwo Days in Yorkshire by Peter Cossins and Andrew Enton superbly captures with stunning photography and great prose the sheer magnitude of what Le Tour starting in Yorkshire in 2014 came to represent. An unforgettable experience and one that deserves to be remembered as far more important than London 2012 in terms of its possibilities for reshaping English sporting culture. Rick Robson’s beautiful book, De Tour De Yorkshire again combines photos and prose, this time to point towards the kind of legacy Le Tour might yet leave behind. Showcasing Yorkshire as England’s capital destination for cyclists, to race or for pleasure and all points in-between.

Natural born heroes - coverThe thrill of physical activity, recreational or competitive, for many is not only to maintain a decent level of fitness but to test what our bodies might be capable of. Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall gives the active reader something to aim towards, an approach to ultra-fitness that is almost philosophical in its gritty determination to inspire ever greater achievements of endurance. This is thriller-writing for fitness junkies. Adharanand Finn achieves something similar in his new book The Way of the Runner a gripping account of the place of marathon running in Japanese sporting culture. If all these sounds a bit macho read Lucy Fry’s Run, Ride, Sink or Swim, more than enough to reassure that both sexes are almost equally susceptible to the kind of physical obsession that can drive some in search of the very limits of our body’s potential.

Playing as if the world mattered - coverOur sports book of the quarter? Opportunities to play sport, any sport at any level are inevitably socially constructed. The failure to understand this both narrows the scope of most mainstream sportswriting and at the same time ensures most writers on politics to wilfully ignore sport. Gabriel Kuhn is an author who would never make either of these cardinal errors. His Playing As If The World Mattered is an illustrated history of sport as activism. Refusing to treat one as the opposite of the other Gabriel weaves together stories and episodes, some familiar, many not, to portray sport as a vital space for and method of human liberation. The writing is effortlessly informative and inspiring while the full colour illustrations do a similar job visually. Together this is a truly great book to savour for a better future as well as to read now to help improve the present, on or off the pitch, track , inside and outside the ring or pool,wherever your sporting fancy takes you.

Note: No links in this review are to Amazon. If you can avoid the offshore tax-dodgers, please do so.

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

Not a lot of peace. Too much ill-will. A good seasonal read needed.

Mark 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.

Inequality and the 1 percentDanny 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.

The 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?

REVOLUTIONThe 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.

Russell 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.

How to Think about ExerciseRegular 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

Beyond the froth

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football picks out the best of the autumn sports books

I’m sorry but you won’t find here the just-in-time-for-Christmas sports autobiography blockbusters. With just enough manufactured controversy to ensure blanket coverage when they are launched. Even a skim read will reveal that, on the contrary, they tell the reader very little they didn’t either know or suspect already.

Instead I would recommend a weighty volume of this sort. A Companion to Sport edited by David Andrews and Ben Carrington. The range of coverage from Monty Panesar to football’s 2010 World Cup is matched by the variety of insights, sport as a contested space being the overarching theme. As an academic book scandalously expensive, but any well-stocked library should have a copy.

Played in London

As a writer Rob Steen straddles that frustrating divide between the academic and the journalistic. His new book Floodlights and Touchlines reveals the richness of writing this mix can sometimes produce. A living history of the relationship between the spectator and his, or increasingly as Rob chronicles, her sport. This is social history of the very highest standard. Simon Inglis is rightly renowned for his writing on the cultural significance of stadia and other sporting buildings. Simon’s Played in Britain project has helped transform our understanding of what these structures mean to their localities, and his latest account of this relationship, Played in London not only continues the richness of Simon’s explanation but is unarguably his finest book in this extraordinary Played in… series yet.

Click to continue reading

Excerpt from ‘Against the Grain: The British Far Left From 1956’

Against The Grain - The British Far Left From 1956Against the Grain: The British Far Left From 1956 is a new edited volume, put together by Evan Smith and Matthew Worley, which will be published this month by Manchester University Press. While not attempting to be a comprehensive overview of the far left in Britain over the last 60 years, the book looks to highlight new areas of historical research into these left-wing groups and movements that have often been overlooked by other scholars. The book includes contributions from activists, established academics and up-and-coming scholars, presenting chapters on a wide range of political organisations and the movements that they were involved with.

Although it has a hefty price tag for the hardback edition, the editors are hoping that a paperback edition will be published in 2015-16. A slightly cheaper hardback edition can be bought from here (if you are willing to buy from large corporations).

Below is an edited excerpt from the book’s introduction, giving an overview of the history of the British far left from 1956. The editors hope that it piques the interest of Socialist Unity readers and leads to a fruitful debate about how we look at the history of the far left in Britain. As Mark Perryman wrote about the book for Philosophy Football: “this is one for the activists, the old hands for the nostalgia trip of reading of old battles, the new wave to read of past mistakes and dream of not repeating them.”

The editors are also keen to hear of anyone doing research into the British far left, particularly on areas that have been overlooked in this volume. Please send them an email here.

In 1972, Tariq Ali, editor of the radical newspaper Black Dwarf and leading figure in the International Marxist Group (IMG), wrote in the introduction to his book, The Coming British Revolution:

The only real alternative to capitalist policies is provided by the revolutionary left groups as a whole. Despite their smallness and despite their many failings, they represent the only way forward1.

At the time, the British left appeared in the ascendancy. And yet, within a short while, the fortunes of the British left began to fall as sharply as they had risen. Certainly, by the end of the 1970s, the far left’s forward march, which had been gathering pace since the political eruptions of 1956 seemed – in the words of Eric Hobsbawm – to have ‘halted’2. Thereafter, the British far left continued to debate how best to react to the changes in the political, economic and social landscape that occurred under Margaret Thatcher and New Labour. In so doing, it realigned itself, fractured and evolved as new struggles emerged to test preconceptions and continually thwart the expected ‘breakthrough’. Whatever way you shape it, the revolution did not come around. Nevertheless, the far left played its part in shaping what remains an on-going historical epoch, challenging social mores and providing a dissenting voice within the British body politic.

Outlining the history of the British far left

The year 1956 may be seen as representing ‘year zero’ for the British left.  Prior to this, the CPGB had dominated the political field to the left of the Labour Party. The party had grown out of the unification of several socialist groups in 1920 and gradually built itself as the radical alternative to Labour during the inter-war period. By the end of the Second World War, its membership was over 40,000 and the leftwards shift by the electorate in the 1945 general election gave the Party hope that the transformation of British society towards socialism was imminent. The 1945 election saw the CPGB win two parliamentary seats and was soon followed by 215 communist councillors elected at a municipal level3. Simultaneously, the party began to suffer in the face of the anti-communist hysteria that came with the onset of Cold War. Even then, its promotion of a parliamentary road to socialism and a future Communist-Labour alliance ensured that it maintained a foothold in the British labour movement.

Trotskyism and left-communism developed as two oppositional currents in the Communist Party during the 1920s and 1930s, but it was not until the post-war period that British Trotskyism really emerged as an alternative left-wing movement to the CPGB. The genesis of post-war British Trotskyism can be traced back to the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which contained all of the subsequent leading figures of the Trotskyist movement and held the position of the official British representative of the Fourth International between 1944 and 1949. The RCP made some headway in the rank and file of the trade unions, particularly by supporting strikes when the CPGB was still promoting co-operation with the government, as well as in the anti-fascist activism against Mosley’s newly-formed Union Movement. However, the RCP soon split over questions concerning entrism within the Labour Party and how the Fourth International should view the ‘People’s Democracies’ of Eastern Europe. By 1956, Gerry Healy’s The Club (soon after the SLL) was the main Trotskyist group in Britain, with the others being relegated to discussion groups or journals in this period.

Such alignments across the British left would change in 1956. Khrushchev’s denunciation of the ‘cult of personality’ that arose around Stalin and admission that crimes had been committed during Stalin’s reign had a major impact on the CPGB. While many party members wanted a discussion over the CPGB’s uncritical support for the Soviet Union, the leadership sought to quash any frank and open debate, particularly amongst the rank and file at branch or district level. Soviet intervention in Hungary later the same year only exacerbated matters, leading to some 8,000 people leaving the CPGB between February 1956 and February 1958.

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A breath of fresh air

Mark Perryman reviews an exceptionally strong list of autumn political reading

This autumn has been dominated already by two lots of morbid symptoms. The unseemly sight of Labour Unionism cosying up to theTories, Lib­Dems, the financial and media establishment in defence of the ancien regime. Accompanied by Ukip’s spectacularand seemingly irresistible rise, now fracturing the Tory Right’s vote more effectively than ever, the protest vote that just won’t go away.

What possible cause for any optimism then? Because outside of the parliamentary parties’ mainstream there is a revived freshness ofideas. Two writers in particular serve to symbolise such brightness of purpose. Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is the latest collection of her writing. The spiky subversiveness of Laurie’s journalism best summed up by her book’s sub­title ‘sex, lies and revolution’. This is feminism with no apologies given, no compromises surrendered and a sharp­edged radicalism all the better for both. The Establishment by Owen Jones is every bit as much a reason for igniting readers’ optimism but also the cause of a quandary. Owen is an unrepentant Bennite, a body of ideas and activists with next to no influence in Miliband Labour. The organised Left outside of Labour in England at any rate, borders on the non-existent. Owen is described on the book’s cover by Russell Brand no less as ‘Our generation’s Orwell’ a bold yet fitting accolade. Yet Owen’s writing aims, like Laurie’s, at something beyond being simply a critical media voice. Quite how, is the quandary for both.
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Is Great Britain now an anti-imperialist country?

Nu’man Abd al-Wahid

By all honest accounts the British establishment has visited war, carnage, slavery, genocide, terrorism, imperialism, colonialism, impoverishment, starvation and concentration camps on mankind over the last four hundred years. In most cases, especially in the earlier period, such grisly adventurism was executed under the pretext of civilising the native, that is, the aboriginal peoples of the earth. This unsolicited global carnage made England and Great Britain a rich country. The wondrous booty of the establishment’s maritime entrepreneurialism trickled down to the cheering populace and they tugged their forelocks in appreciation and in reciprocation the multitude conferred legitimacy on their wise leaders. The populace migrated to the establishment’s new foreign possessions which in itself eased economic tensions on the home front – by many migrating abroad, there were less challenges to the order of things on the home front.

It is difficult to imagine Albion would have reached such stupendous levels of effortless affluence without resort to such single-minded blood-lust inflicted on the aboriginal peoples of the earth, which herein was the very foundation of its Empire. As Winston Churchill argued in a cabinet meeting in January 1914:

“we are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance. We have engrossed to ourselves, in time when other powerful nations were paralysed by barbarism or internal war, an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.”[i]

The Empire’s track record for four hundred years is impossibly gruesome and one wonders which stars conspired to allow it to pervert the course of justice. From the moment Queen Elizabeth I’s first pirate set out in the 1560’s to capture and kidnap black Africans to sell in South America to the 1960’s (and beyond) when the UK revived the notion of mercenaries (after it being absent for centuries) as a strategy to be employed in fighting anti-imperialist and nationalist forces in North Yemen, Great Britain has concealed its basest intentions by invoking noble ideals to justify self-serving, military interventionist policies.

The notion that England has a civilising mission and a responsibility towards the people it considers its inferiors is now well past its sell by date as a justification for military intervention and occupation. Ideals rooted in liberation from capitalism and imperialism, are more and more frequently invoked to justify the continuation of the UK’s military aggression and colonialism in the Global South.

One could argue the Empire’s appropriation of liberal ideals for its sordid ends began with Britain’s Zionist mission in Palestine. This imperialist project which set off now almost hundred years of conflict was justified by members of the Labour Party as a socialist project. Ramsey MacDonald, the Labour Party’s first ever Prime Minister and justified this enterprise in the 1920’s in socialistic terms. In his book “A Socialist in Palestine” he claimed that Zionism was a threat to the then Palestinian elite which ran and owned the country because the Zionist presence was encouraging the Arab worker to unionise and seek “relief from corrupt and exploiting landowners”.

Macdonald claimed that Palestinian elite “rally the Arabs in their own sectional self-defence rather than in that of the Arab people…The winds of Europe are blowing in upon them and they cannot stand the cutting blast. They see the coming shadow of a cultivator protected in his labour and property, they see the end of unjust exactions, they see their power vanishing…”

As can be seen, the coloniser is referred to as a “cultivator”, while the imperialist gangster which is protecting the coloniser’s “labour and property” is referred to as the “winds of Europe”.[ii] The new Zionist settler according to the British left leadership was unshackling the ordinary Palestinian Arab from the feudal reactionary and fascistic leadership and certainly not laying the foundations for the theft of his land.[iii]

Recently, Professor Richard Toye in his biography of Winston Churchill argues that Britain’s greatest hero helped to pave the way for African and Asian liberation movements by virtue that he drafted and signed up to the Atlantic Charter. The charter, issued by the USA and UK during World War 2, had advocated the right of all people to national sovereignty and self-government once the war was over. Churchill therefore had inadvertently helped to “unlock the forces anti-colonialism” by signing up to this charter.[iv] This is obviously palpable nonsense. Although Churchill did sign up to the charter, he is on record saying that the charter would not apply to people under the British Empire specifically mentioning Nigeria, East Africa and Palestine.[v] Furthermore, Churchill was central to the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran in 1953. Indeed, during Churchill’s final general election campaign he bemoaned that Labour had ‘scuttled’ away from its responsibility in Iran after Mosaddegh had nationalised the oil industry.[vi]

With a good dose of chutzpah, the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, has accused Argentina of possessing a colonialist attitude towards the Falkland Islands. He argues that because the British settlers on the Islands want to remain British and as Argentina wants them to be something else i.e. the return of the Islands, this was ipso facto colonialism on Argentina’s behalf. However, Cameron reassured that “all defences were in order in the British-held South Atlantic archipelago.” He may have been referring to the nuclear armed armada, that Argentina has accused the UK to the area.

Argentina is not the only country with colonialist or imperialist ambitions that need to confronted by Her Majesty’s Government. Russia is in the crosshairs as well. And we have no lesser authority on this than someone who supported the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and the British led intervention in Libya. The Financial Times contributing editor and former New Statesman writer John Lloyd claims that the situation in Ukraine is a struggle between Russian imperialism and globalisation. In a sentence which bears all the hallmarks of blinkered imperialist he claimed that the west have been reminded that “imperialism is alive and well, even rampant, and threatens the vision for a more global world economy.” Note that Russia is portrayed as imperialist for its supposed role in Ukraine, while this person will never portray the British invasions of Iraq, Libya and the urge to intervene in Syria as imperialist.

A former Member of Parliament and author calls attention to the inevitable fate facing Chinese imperialism in Africa.

Obviously, the foundations of this new packaging of British imperialism as anti-imperialism will partly be laid by the leg soldiers, domestic neo-colonial officers or “activists” who live and work amongst the populace. The most ridiculous manifestation of the idea that Britain is an anti-imperialist country occurred in late 2011. An activist and graduate of Aberystwyth University, Daniel Renwick, argued that the UK is already a culturally anti-imperialist country:

“the great thing about British culture is that it is anti-imperialist, really. It’s not British anymore or English anything from food to football. It sounds atrocious to me, I don’t know about you…what good English meal is there? Fish and Chips?.. Yorkshire pudding?…I mean Kenny Dalglish has tried to build the whitest football team in the Premier league in ten years but I don’t know if that’s the best, its definitely not, Manchester City are and they’re globalising….There is a point here that I’m making right. Culturally, we are anti-imperialists already.”[vii]

This grotesque nonsense was spewed on an anti-imperialist platform of all places! The idea that a nation’s food consumption shall inevitably define its geo-political orientation is flawed in the extreme. If this was the case, the United States is on the verge of being the most anti-imperialist in the world. The notion that the sportsman in one of the main football teams in the UK is a rejection of a parochial and imperial British identity and an embrace of some kind of ‘globalisation’ is easily undermined by pointing again to the United States. In other words, no one would argue that American society exemplifies racial and social equality by virtue that its American football, basketball and other sports teams have a racially diverse makeup.  Furthermore, Manchester City football club has been available to purchase expensive players from around the world due to the fact that its owners are also the rulers of a British neo-colonial entity, United Arab Emirates. It is because of British imperialism, which literally drew the lines in the sand for the entity known collectively as UAE, that Manchester City football club is “global”. Renwick gleefully turns this particular situation on its head in order to depict Great Britain as anti-imperialist.

Renwick’s deviousness and trickery is, as we have seen, nothing new to British politics. It is inevitable that a dubious character will drape British culture in an anti-imperialism cloak. Unfortunately for charlatans, there are those who have, in the words of Jay Z, “been inoculated from the snakes and the fakes, the corny handshakes.”

In conclusion, the appropriation of anti-imperialist terminology and discourse by the agents and minions of British imperialism on the one hand will continue unabated but on the other nothing will be said in areas of the world where British imperialism has a strong presence such as the Persian Gulf. Would British Aerospace be the successful company it is, if it were not for the purchases of arms from Britain’s despots in the region? The Empire drew lines in the sand and named these lines, “Qatar”, “Kuwait”, “Dubai”, “Abu Dubai”, etc. and as such has been rewarded handsomely for such artistry. One day, who knows, there may be a threat to the “stability” of these imperial concoctions from Iranian “imperialism.”

Furthermore, it is important to not mistake a Britisher’s sometimes well warranted criticisms of American, French or any other western government’s foreign policy as anti-imperialist. Far from it. Great Britain, like any other country, will always be looking to defend and further its imperial interests. If those interests can be deceptively defended by tarnishing its adversaries with anti-imperialist sounding rhetoric, so be it; if not, other arguments will be utilised.

[i] Clive Ponting, “Churchill”, Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1995, pg. 132.

[ii] Ramsay MacDonald, “A Socialist in Palestine”, Jewish Socialist Labour Confederation – Poale Zion, 1922, pg.19-20

[iii] Joseph Gorney, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, Frank Cass and Company Limited, London, 1983, chapter 7 and pg. 151.

[iv] Richard Toye,”Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made”, Pan Books, London 2011, pg 316

[v] Ponting, op, cit., pg. 535 and John Callaghan, “The Labour Party and Foreign Policy: A History”, Routledge, London, 2007 pg, 144

[vi] Toye, op. cit., pg.281-282

[vii] Daniel Renwick, “What is anti-imperialism”, London, 28.11.2011. (http://vimeo.com/35192059) accessed 16th August 2014. Kenny Dalglish was the former manager of Liverpool City Football Club. Renwick is referring to his second spell as manager between 2011-12.

Public services under attack – international austerity and the fight-back

Speaking to the Global Labour Institute’s 2014 International Summer School Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International, gave an account of the struggles public service workers are facing. This article draws on her speech to delegates in Tuesday’s opening plenary.

Public service jobs used to be considered the gold standard in much of the world. Well paid, good pension, decent holidays and solid trade union rights. In an era of neoliberalism however, these previously ‘most formal of formal workers’ are facing the kinds of attacks previously only associated with the most ruthless companies.

International Struggles

There’s an ideological background to this. Labour market and union ‘reform’ has been factor in almost all post-crash countries. In South Korea, the government has recently initiated the most violent attack on public services – derecognising unions in each sector. Privatisation of the rail industry and the mass firing of union activists have turned the country into what one delegate called ‘a war zone’ for workers.

Public Services International, the Global Union Federation for public service workers, is used to privatisation battles – organising in industries which are often publicly funded and subsidised, but increasingly privately owned.

In the US, the Supreme Court last week ruled that there’s no obligation for care workers to pay union dues to unions collectively bargaining for them. These workers often work alone. They are now even more isolated – especially if their unions become toothless in the face of the court decision.

And internationally, at the last ILO conference, for first time delegates couldn’t reach a conclusion on the centrality of the right to strike – despite convention 87 of the ILO convention deeming it fundamental – because employers were so strongly against. It’s a frightening turn for workers of all sectors, as that is one of the only legal bases unions have on the global scale.

But there is some good news. The UN Women’s organisation recently recognised the role of unions as key to addressing the problems of women.

Moreover, until recently trade unions were previously not allowed to participate in UN discussions on migration. Now, after years of struggling from PSI and others, they can. With migration becoming a vehicle for new kinds of slavery, it’s an important milestone.

For public service workers, the water campaigns in the UN are equally important. In 2010, water was deemed a human right, providing the legal background for the massive 2013 struggles in Europe for water to be publicly owned – many of which won, in Paris and elsewhere.

And in the IMF, Christine Lagarde has recently said austerity is creating more injustice and poses a threat to democracy.

A turning point?

The ruling class, then, is getting scared. We are at critical point of class conflict. In response to a global ruling class, unions must likewise organise internationally, not just in one workplace. The welfare state wasn’t won in one shop floor but by the entire working class.

Multinational capital has a strategy. Unions can’t afford to navel-gaze. Whether in care homes, railway stations or outsourced water plants, public service workers in today’s climate of privatisation, cuts and union-busting know this better than ever.

Josiah Mortimer is reporting on the Global Labour Institute’s third International Summer School for trade unionists at Northern College this week. You can follow all of the conference online on the GLI site, through Union Solidarity International, and on Twitter, using the hashtag #ISS14. This article draws on the plenary ‘The Fall & Rise of Labour?’