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.

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A vote for Jim Murphy in the Scottish Labour leadership election is a vote for a Tory government in 2015

Jim MurphyWhen it comes to the three candidates fighting it out for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party – Jim Murphy, Sarah Boyack, and Neil Findlay – if the Tories in Scotland and the SNP could cast a vote between November 17, when the ballot commences, and Dec 13, when the new leader is announced, you can be sure it would be for Jim Murphy. Why? Because with Murphy as leader the likelihood of a Tory government at Westminster in 2015 increases to the point of being almost guaranteed, and likewise the continued dominance of the SNP in Scotland, bringing with it renewed danger of the break-up of the United Kingdom.

This is the reason it is no exaggeration to state that the upcoming election of the next leader of Scottish Labour is the most important internal election in the party’s history, not only in Scotland but UK-wide. For on the result hinges not just the future of Scottish Labour but also the outcome of the 2015 general election and, even more importantly, the very future of the United Kingdom.
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Debunking the myth of the Special Relationship

By Numan Abd al-Wahid

Whether one is critical of the alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States or in favour of the so-called “Special Relationship” it is perceived to be an amicable, natural and trans-historical partnership between two nations who share the same language and whose global interests are more or less the same. Over the last fifteen years these two nations assumed the lead in their continuing support of the colonialist state of Israel and waging war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and calling for more military intervention in Syria and Iran. So it is no surprise that many find it hard to accept that this alliance is a recent advent rooted in geo-political exigencies of the historical moment at hand. British imperialism was animus, if not outright antithetical, in the first 150 years of the Republic.

Writing, if not gloating, in the midst of the American civil war in the nineteenth century, the future British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (a.k.a. Robert Cecil) heralded not only the end of the United States of America but democracy itself or as he referred to it the “evil of universal suffrage.”[i] American democracy and the vaunted republic he gleefully boasted were not only a failed experiment and a busted flush but the “most ignominious failure the world had ever seen.” It had become, in our esteemed Lord’s eyes, what today would be referred to derogatively and pejoratively, as a ‘failed state’.

The main reason for this inevitable failure according to Cecil was that the United States had rejected and overthrown its natural leaders, i.e. the British establishment. As such they are now richly “reaping a harvest that was sown as far back as the time of Jefferson.” The Americans had substituted genuine leadership for a dreamer’s theory (the works of Thomas Jefferson) and more so, in the present climate, Abraham Lincoln was an “ass”, an incompetent and “the most conspicuous cause of the present calamities.”[ii]

Another British Minister, William Gladstone too had little time for Lincoln and came out in support of the Southern Confederacy. The Gladstone family had become wealthy largely owing to the family’s slave camps in Jamaica and William’s maiden speech in parliament was a defence of the family business which arose from the slave trading port of Liverpool. Although William Gladstone represented constituents in the family’s native parliamentary seat of Midlothian, Scotland, his father had represented Liverpool in Parliament.[iii]

At the time of the civil war Liverpool’s economy as well as that of the wider North-west region of England was mostly reliant on cotton imported from the American south and then distributed to the cotton mills of Lancashire and Cheshire. Lincoln’s Union army’s blockade of Southern ports caused a massive disruption to this trade.

The blockade also affected the South’s ship manufacturing facilities. As such they turned to Great Britain for ship and gunboat manufacturing. Two ships stand out. The first was the ‘Alabama’ which once operational sunk 65 union ships. The other Confederate ship was a trade ship re-fitted as a gunboat, ‘Shenandoah’ which once sent out to battle “captured nearly 40 prizes” i.e. that is hijacked and looted 40 union and other ships. Needless to say the crew on both ships were mostly manned by British personnel.[iv]Claims were made that these ships were “decoying their victims with the British flag.”[v]

In parliament 74 members were in favour of the confederacy, while only 17 were pro North, pro Lincoln.[vi]The British political establishment were clearly waiting for the right time to intervene on behalf of the south yet at the same time they were loathe to spread the Empire’s resources “too thinly across the globe.” [vii] Click to continue reading

25 years on: East Germany in context

By Hans Modrow

Morning Star

Before I deal with the demise of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) it makes sense to remind ourselves of the circumstances of its birth.

The conclusion of the second world war was sealed at Potsdam between the Soviet Union, the US and Britain.

France was later included and from then on the future development of Germany was dependent on the four allied powers that had defeated fascism.

A new order was created in Europe which led first to the division of Germany and then, with the onset of the cold war in 1946, the division of Europe.
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Political Assassination In Venezuela: Serra’s Death Blamed On Right Wing Paramilitaries

By Paul Dobson

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign

“Some of the media tycoons and imperial elites don’t want to understand that if they come to destabilize Venezuela, then the entire continent will move itself like an earthquake. The best guarantee of tranquility and social stability in Latin America and the Caribbean is a stable, democratic, peaceful Venezuela” – Venezuela’s elected President Nicolas Maduro.

One of the youngest and brightest Venezuelan revolutionaries was assassinated by right wing paramilitaries in October, sending shock waves through the country, writes Paul Dobson in Venezuela.

“It’s painful and regrettable to inform that in the Pastora, Libertador Municipality of Caracas, the bodies were found of the Deputy Robert Serra- a young Venezuelan leader of the PSUV (the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela)- and his companion” announced the Interior Minister, Rodriguez Torres on the 1st October. “They were vilely assassinated in their homes”.
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GMB slams M&S for Scrooge like behaviour

From Swindon Advertiser, by Elizabeth Mackley

WORKERS have accused Marks and Spencer of turning a blind eye to unfair pay at a distribution centre in South Marston.

Now, GMB trade unionists, representing the workers at the distribution centre, are calling on the leading retailer to address the pay inequalities between workers carrying out the same work on their behalf.

The Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Stirling Road is run by Wincanton, but most of the staff are employed by recruitment agency, 24.7 Recruitment.

They are then formally employed through a further company, called Tempay Ltd.

They are also asked to work six days every week until January, with only one day off in every fortnight.

GMB branch secretary for Swindon, Andy Newman, said: “It almost makes you think that M&S stands for Marley and Scrooge, the mean spirited way these workers are being treated over the Christmas period.

“Our members are going to say “Bah Humbug!” to M&S, and we have asked M&S to sort this out, or GMB will organise a series of protests outside M&S stores during Christmas shopping.”

The loophole in the law which allows companies to pay staff doing the same job a different wage is under Section 10 of the Agency Workers Regulations – otherwise known as the Swedish derogation.

But while the practice is legal, union members say it is unethical and runs against the Marks and Spencer ethos.

Andy said: “Despite the relationship that Marks and Spencer chooses to have with these workers, this is an M&S warehouse, where M&S products are stored and dispatched to M&S stores, to be sold to M&S customers to make profits for M&S shareholders.

“The difference between how the Wincanton and Tempay workers are being treated is a miserly attempt to push down wage costs over the Christmas period, that Scrooge would have been proud of.

“Marks and Spencer claim to have an ethical supply chain when it comes to their overseas manufacturing suppliers, we are calling for them to take the same interest in ethical business much closer to home, here in Swindon.”

GMB says that so far, more than 150 formal grievances have been submitted to Tempay Ltd about the Christmas work rotas, from among their 500 staff on the site.

One of the workers affected is John Fernandes, who said that the way they were being treated by companies was both confusing and unfair.

“Of course we’re very, very angry,” said John, who works as a loader in the distribution centre.

“We are doing the same job and we should be paid the same wage.

“We are only allowed one day off in 14 days and we are paid less than the people who are employed by Wincanton.

“We also get confused as to who actually employs us, since it’s Tempay that does the payroll but we are employed through 24.7.”

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Article from Recruiter magazine – unionising agency workers in M&S supply chain

From the Recruiter, by Colin Cottell

The GMB trade union has successfully cleared the first hurdle in a legal process that could see the union gain the right to represent around 500 workers provided by a temporary labour supplier to Marks & Spencer’s distribution depot in Swindon.

The union says this is part of a long-term campaign to level the playing field for agency workers and staff directly employed by the client.

In this case, the hourly-paid workers are employed on permanent contracts of at least seven hours a week by staffing agency Tempay. Based in Wrexham, Tempay is contracted to supply labour to the depot that is operated by logistics firm Wincanton on behalf of its client Marks & Spencer.
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Anti politics, Russell Brand, George Galloway, and the need to resurrect the Left Book Club

Left Book ClubThe new political phenomenon of our time is anti-politics, a deep seated revulsion of the existing political class and political process. It is the fruits of a political and economic system that is wedded to big business, the banks, and free market nostrums. That in 2014 the wealthiest five families in the UK own as much wealth as 12.5 million people, the poorest in the country, tells us everything we need to know about the chasm that now exists between the political and economic elite and the mass of the people.

In Scotland the recent referendum on independence allowed this phenomenon of anti politics, which by no means is the same as ‘no’ politics, to be given political expression in a Yes campaign and Yes vote which succeeded in rocking the economic and political establishment. 1.6 million people out of a population of 5.3 million cast a vote to end a 300 year old political union based on a political programme which rather than a departure from the status quo, had status quo stamped all over it. Yet nonetheless the hope placed in a Yes vote as a way of breaking with the ironclad consensus of the mainstream Westminster parties over issues such as war, Trident, the austerity, welfare, and wealth redistribution, has seen the SNP propelled to a position of dominance in Scotland that shows no evidence of ending anytime soon.

The first post referendum opinion poll in Scotland is devastating for Labour. The Ipsos-MORI poll places the SNP 30 points ahead of Labour, up from under 20 percent of the vote at the 2010 general election to 52 percent if the result of this poll were to translate into votes at the next general election in May 2015. It would see the number of SNP seats at Westminster rise from its current 6 to over 50, while Labour would suffer a wipeout, losing all but four of its 41 Scottish seats.

Thus the current Labour leadership contest in Scotland could not be more significant. Of the three candidates standing – Jim Murphy, Neil Findlay, and Sarah Boyack – only Neil Findlay is standing on a platform of wealth redistribution, support for the trade union movement, and investment in public services. In other words a prospectus and vision that conforms to the founding principles of the Labour Party.

Sadly, however, Murphy is most likely to win. He is a polished and experienced politician with a high profile, which will play favourably within the PLP and among many Labour members. With Anas Sarwar announcing his intention to resign as deputy leader, we are looking at the prospect of a Murphy/Boyack leadership team at Holyrood. If so, Labour in Scotland will move from its death bed into its political grave.

South of the border the rise of UKIP has been fuelled by a similar anti politics which has benefited the SNP in Scotland. Immigration and the EU are issues that have played prominently, but underlying both is a hatred of the political class and establishment. Ed Miliband is perceived as a continuation of the status quo rather than a radical alternative. He suffers from a lack of fire or passion, and does not come across as ideologically driven, responsible for him failing to connect with working class voters. Focus groups and political advisers have proved an impediment to Labour’s ability to shake off the baggage of New Labour, and for many working class voters UKIP offers a refreshing change and opportunity to vent their anger with the mainstream. This was evidenced in the recent Heywood and Middleton by-election result, which saw Labour’s majority reduced from 6000 votes in 2010 to just 600 votes, separated from UKIP in second place by just 2 points. Yes, Labour’s total vote increased by 1 percent, but this seat has turned from a safe seat for Labour into an ultra marginal as a consequence of UKIP’s spectacular showing.

Yet when a clear and impassioned left wing alternative to the status quo is presented to the electorate we know there is an appetite for it. George Galloway’s stunning victory in the Bradford West by election in 2012 leaves no doubt of this. Galloway is someone who is routinely pilloried in the press, yet his following on social media is extraordinary for a political figure, especially an MP. On Twitter he is followed by 226k people and on Facebook over 400k.

The emergence of Owen Jones as a recognised mainstream figure is further evidence of the potential traction of left wing politics. Jones’ first book Chavs became a bestseller and his second book, The Establishment, looks set to replicate its success. Now a ubiquitous presence in the media, the writer and commentator has a Twitter following of 225k.

The most recent and controversial example of the popularity of a radical alternative to the mainstream comes in the person of Russell Brand, who has reinvented himself as a political campaigner and voice in support of progressive causes. Brand’s celebrity profile has combined with his radical message to dominate the headlines in recent weeks. His new book, Revolution, in conjunction with his media appearances has succeeded in shaking things up and is a welcome antidote to the Nigel Farage/UKIP bandwagon. Despite being attacked by figures on the left and right, Brand has clearly captured a zeitgeist, revealing an appetite for radical, anti establishment ideas.

I recently wrote an article in support of Brand’s entree into politics which has so far received a staggering response. At time of writing it has received 45k likes at the Huffington Post. George Galloway re-posted it on his Facebook page two days ago, where thus far it has been seen by 2.65 million people and attracted 34k likes. This response is obviously more to do with the inordinately high profiles enjoyed by Russell Brand and George Galloway than the actual article, but nonetheless theirs are profiles inextricably linked to political views which are in opposition to the mainstream.

In the 1930s the Left Book Club proved that in conditions of economic depression and austerity, and in the face of the emergence and growth of the ultra reactionary menace of fascism in response, the battle of ideas could be fought and won by the left. The idea for the Left Book Club came about in the course of a conversation over lunch between the publisher Victor Gollancz and two leading left wing voices of the time, Stafford Cripps and John Strachey. As Paul Laity tells it in his excellent introduction to the Left Book Club Anthology (Victor Gollancz 2001):

What could be done, Cripps wanted to know, to revitalise and educate the British left? He was considering a new weekly paper, but Gollancz had another idea – a club along the lines of the successful Book Society, which would sell radical books very cheaply. The first advertisement for the Left Book Club appeared only a month later.

The response to the ad was staggering. Two thousand adherents were needed to make the Club work; after only a month, there were more than 6000. By the end of the first year, membership had reached 40,000 and by 1939 it was up to 57,000.

Laity goes on:

With the Labour Party appearing unadventurous and feeble, many socialists looked further to the left. World capitalism was in crisis – economies crashing, governments toppling, empires over-extended – and most British progressives agreed that it had to be replaced. The National Government was believed to be running the country in the interests of big business rather than the people.

Marx’s axiom that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, immediately springs to mind reading Laity’s words.

George Galloway has just announced his intention to resurrect the Left Book Club in order to wage the same battle of ideas in the 21st century. This time round it will be an eBook club and will harness the subversive power of social media to challenge the tired mainstream and breath life back into the idea of politics as a mechanism by which to transform people’s lives.

It is an excellent idea with huge potential. People are desperate for an alternative, which must combine theory and practice if it is to succeed in meeting the challenge of channelling the tide of anti politics in a progressive direction. The power of capital is as without restraint today as it was in the 1930s, when the original Left Book Club was formed. Nationalism in all its forms is on the rise. As such, there is a glaring need to raise class consciousness and the banner of a viable socialist alternative.

The Left eBook Club could not be more necessary.