Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman

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

Labourism vs. Cultural Politics: A Labour Party Conference Reading Guide
Wednesday, 22 September 2021 07:20

Labourism vs. Cultural Politics: A Labour Party Conference Reading Guide

Published in Cultural Commentary

As Labour Conference gathers in Brighton, Mark Perryman from Philosophy Football picks ten books that seek to bridge the labourism vs. cultural politics divide

The cultural front will scarcely be acknowledged in either Labour Party Conference proceedings or much of the fringe, whereas at The World Transformed it is as close to centre stage (sic) as cultural politics gets in the arena of the party political. This is as much of a division in Labour, some would argue an even more significant division, as left vs. right. For conference reading I’ve chosen ten new books that in their different ways seek to bridge that divide.   

Paul Sng – This Separated Isle

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This Separated Isle is a fantastic starting point in this respect, in the way it combines incredible photos with short punchy essays to portray this island of modern Britain as a contested space of despair versus hope. A brilliant mix quite untypical of most ‘political’ books, but photography books too.

Owen Hatherley – Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances

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Owen Hatherley’s essay collection, Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstancesis an exploration of how architecture shapes lives and communities from Walthamstow to Edinburgh, via ever-decreasing public toilets and the closure of public libraries. Enchanting and imaginative, with excursions to other nations, a truly great read on the much-neglected subject of the built environment.  

Marcus Gilroy-Ware – After the Fact? The Truth About Fake News

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Marcus Gilroy-Ware’s After the Fact? The Truth About Fake News details how the media is both a product of politics and produces an entire culture, not simply headlines and bulletins. It is these means of production that generate fake news – and worse, eg the anti-mask, anti-vaxx fake news we've witnessed during the pandemic. What kind of left is equipped to acknowledge this, let alone challenge it? As Marcus shows, it's one that contests the cultural front.

Michael Lavalette – Palestinian Cultures of Resistance 

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National liberation movements, often out of necessity, have understood the role of what writer Michael Lavalette calls ‘cultures of resistance’, specifically in Michael’s new book Palestinian Cultures of Resistance where his focus is on Palestine’s ‘national resistance literature’ of an earlier period, the 1960s to early 1990s. With the huge, yet reactive, spurts of Palestine solidarity protests whenever Israel launches its attacks on Gaza and the West Bank it is surely time to provide a platform for the modern-day versions of such cultural resistance for a broad, popular, proactive movement of Palestine solidarity to take shape. 

William Morris – Pilgrims of Hope

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Quintissentially English, yet avowedly internationalist, William Morris’ poetic tribute to the 1871 Paris Commune, The Pilgrims of Hope, in a new edition with an introduction provided by Michael Rosen, couldn’t be more effective as a response to the fiction that Morris did a nice line in floral wallpaper and that’s about it. Rather he was, and remains, a true English revolutionary. 

Rick Blackman – Babylon’s Burning: Music, Subcultures and Anti-Fascism in Britain 1958-20

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For those of us of a certain age, Rock against Racism (RAR) 1978-81 remains the pre-eminent practical example of the fusion of politics and culture. It may be generational but to my mind there’s been nothing like it since – more’s the pity. In Babylon’s Burning: Music, Subcultures and Anti-Fascism in Britain 1958-20 Rick Blackman provides not only a spirited account of RAR but both a prehistory and postscript of movements of ‘pop ’n politics’ which both inspired and were inspired by it.

Chris Brookmyre – The Cut

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To escape from Labour’s conference floor, or all that hard thinking at The World Transformed, a little crime fiction might not go amiss with almost as much intrigue, conspiring and backstabbing as factional warfare manages to conjure up. Chris Brookmyre’s latest, The Cut, uses one of his favourite devices revisiting an old crime to find not all was what it seemed, not even remotely. Pure escapism, or a means to view Labour politics with a new eye?

Janine Booth – Unprecedented Rhymes: Verses versus the Virus

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Janine Booth is a poetic ranter with a socialist-feminist tendency, labour historian, RMT activist, member of Lewes CLP, one of her CLP’s conference delegates, and pioneer of the Spoaken Word night in the town. Her latest poetry collection Unprecedented Rhymes: Verses versus the Virus is bang up to date with poignant Covid poems, notwithstanding the apparent absence of iambic pentameters.

Ed Balls – A Memoir in Recipes of Family and Food 

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Why not serve up a supper after a hard day at conference with an Ed Balls recipe book? Not a sentence I’ll admit I had ever previously imagined myself writing! Appetite: A Memoir in Recipes of Family and Food is warm and endearing, and with enough culinary insight and originality to be taken seriously. This left me wondering why so few of these qualities shone through when Ed was a major figure in the Labour party. Because the food that we eat and cook isn’t considered a suitable topic for a frontline politician to be concerned with. That division – labourism vs. cultural politics – has a lot to answer for. My only quibble is that there’s not much for us vegetarians. Volume two, eco-warrior Ed Balls saves the planet one recipe at a time? Reinvention complete!

Stuart Hall – The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left

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Which brings me to my number one book to provide a cultural politics reading of the 2021 Labour Conference and guide our ideological way through the culture debates at The World Transformed. First published in 1988 following Labour’s third successive defeat, Labour in 2021 has managed to chalk up four more since 2005, and Stuart Hall’s The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left consists of his hugely original essays from these years.

Stuart effortlessly combined the cultural and the political because for him it is through ideas are contested and changed. The analysis is still relevant and highly readable, with uncanny connections to labourism’s enduring failure to contest the cultural front. Readers who make these connections will be prepared for a road that may be hard but is full of possibility. What better road home from Brighton ’21 could there possible be?

Note: No links in this review are to Amazon. If you can avoid giving money to billionaire tax-dodgers who profit from their employees low wages and poor working conditions, please do. Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football and his latest book is Corbynism from Below. 

Five Books for May Days
Wednesday, 12 May 2021 15:46

Five Books for May Days

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman presents five books on culture and politics for a month full of May Days

May Day was obviously this year circumscribed by all things lockdown. But in all honesty for decades now there has been precious little imagination and reinvention to preserve it, let alone grow it.

Compared to International Women’s Day, LGBT Pride or Black History Month, May Day as a much-needed celebration has ben replaced by a going-through-the-motions at best, abandonment at worst.  So to cheer myself up I went in search of some May Day reading that might have the answer to not simply revival but reinvention, because in their different ways they take culture matters (sic) seriously.   

 post capitsalist desire    

Mark Fisher was a writer who single-handedly expanded the intellectual horizons of an entire new generation of left thinkers, and at the core of his work  was the connection between politics and culture. The posthumous collection Post Capitalist Desire, edited by Matt Colquhoun, consists of Mark Fisher’s final lectures and provides a real insight into his contribution, and our loss. Ranging over capitalism, revolution, consciousness and Marxism, the themes may seem familiar yet Mark’s approach, using theoretical tools to interrogate the terrain of the popular, was entirely original and shines through on every page of this magnificent, if tragic, epitaph of a book. Of course he had predecessors taking culture seriously, including Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall, but the difference now is that there is an ever-increasing generational urgency for this ‘taking seriously’ to become our dominant mood of thinking and acting, because the alternative is defeat and irrelevance.         

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Testament to this is  Capitalism’s Conscience, edited by Des Freedman, not quite a funeral notice on the occasion of the Guardian’s 200th anniversary, though not far short. Never mind the technological, cultural and economic challenges to all versions, but particularly newspapers, of ‘legacy media’. The argument here of the contributors, across a diverse range of themes, is that the daily house journal of the liberal left has simply failed to keep up with how those two labels,  liberal ideals combined with left-wing politics, have changed.

Again the key signifier of this is generational, what the writer Keir Milburn terms ‘Generation Left’. Being anti-Corbyn politically is perhaps forgivable, we can live with differences of opinion, or at least should be able to. But it’s not forgivable to woefully misunderstand and then purposefully misrepresent what motivated those tens of thousands who became part of the Corbyn wave and in 2017 voted for Corbyn’s Labour in their millions, the uptick in Labour’s vote the first since 1997. 

Only the most dogged defender of the paper would disagree that the paper has veered out of touch, struggling to maintain the loyalty of its core readership, failing to attract younger readers. Yet many of us cannot resist it as a daily read, a reference point for our agreement, and disagreement, although who knows whether such loyalty will be enough to sustain the paper, and for how long. A bit like the current Labour Party, eh? 

At its best the Guardian remains peerless as an investigative and campaigning newspaper.  This has absolutely been the case throughout the pandemic, day after day, edition after edition, revealing the truly horrific threat of a deadly disease, exposing the lethal and corrupt incompetence of the Tory government’s handling of the crisis, and offering a range of positively radical  routes towards a post-pandemic politics. All very necessary and most welcome, yet if politics is reduced simply to the rhetoric of condemnation and detailed policy formulation it is surely missing something – emotional literacy.

Moving, angry and idealistic

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The Right, currently, are immeasurably better at this than the Left, or to put it another way we underestimate Boris Johnson at our peril.  There’s a reason he’s Boris, and Thatcher was Maggie, in a way Sir Keir Starmer simply isn’t ‘Keir’ to most of us. For a textbook example of connecting emotional literacy to a radical political message have a read of Many Different Kinds of Love by poet, author and socialist Michael Rosen. What Michael effortlessly achieves is to mix the personal and the political, as finally we escape from  the immediacy of the disease to engage with what comes next. Written in Michael’s inimitable style, it is a book that is moving, angry and idealistic. Oh for a Labour politics we could describe in the same way!

Part of what comes next, or at least should come next, must be a renewed commitment by both governments and social movements to reverse the climate emergency. However bad the scale of the Coronavirus crisis, it pales into insignificance compared to the pain, suffering and deaths the climate crisis threatens to inflict on the globe.

What is encouraging is the breadth of informed concern and dedicated desire for change that this is provoking. Much of this exists outside the spaces of traditional left politics, or a politics of whatever tradition. Is this a strength or a weakness?  Only time will tell but all the evidence of previous social movements requiring the scale of changes the climate emergency demands is that they only succeed when they become as much a popular cultural force as a political one.

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A measure of how far the climate emergency movement has travelled in this very necessary direction already is the Teen Vogue collection No Planet B edited by the magazine’s politics editor Lucy Diavolo. No, this is not a misprint – the teenage edition of Vogue has a politics editor and has filled a book with chapters on the climate emergency. Almost all of them have been written by young women aged 10-25 years, and make the connections between the environment, migration and inequality with an imperative for action that prime minsters and party leaders – almost all male and aged 50-65 years – could well do with reading.  A book from a new generation for readers of all ages. 

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And my number one pick of five books for you to read in May Days? Jeremy Gilbert’s Twenty-First Century Socialism. Jeremy is one of those writers who seamlessly mixes the cultural and the political, refuting the very idea the two are divisible. It combines high theory with popular idiom, shamelessly polemical yet attentively open-minded.  His new book is a short read, almost a manifesto, so can be polished off in one May Day, thereby interpreting the world and leaving the rest of the month to change it. It covers The meaning of capitalism, the promise of socialism,  the ideas for a programme of transformational politics and a strategy for how to achieve them.

If books in the right hands really are weapons, this one’s thermonuclear. 

Please note no links in this review are to Amazon, if buying from corporate tax dodgers can be avoided, please do so.              

Building a popular, progressive sporting culture
Friday, 02 April 2021 16:01

Building a popular, progressive sporting culture

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman has been reading up on the sport we’ve lost, and what sport might become, as what seems like a never-ending lockdown gradually eases

Way back when, during the first lockdown, March ’20, Jonathan Liew wrote a brilliant column on small sport vs big sport. What Jonathan meant by ‘big sport’ was what we watch, for the lucky few as fans in person, for most on the TV. And ‘small sport’? What we do, a jog, a bike ride, a workout session via Youtube, an open water dip. Can be done on our own, non-competitive, little or no kit required, cheap, and in theory open to just about all. It is ‘small sport’ that has persisted through the pandemic while ‘big sport’ has been cancelled, postponed, threatened with financial oblivion, struggled on in a much-reduced version.   

1 The age of fitness

As a handbook for these curious conditions and whatever might follow few will better Jürgen Martschukat’s timely The Age of Fitness.  His pioneering argument is that the obsession with individual performance via such ‘small’ sport is emblematic of, a product of, neoliberalism. Competition, individualism and commodification certainly all play their part.  But does the potential exist for a sporting counterculture?  I would argue it absolutely does – but first we have to understand sport that cannot be reduced to a simple binary opposition, big bad sport vs small good sport. This book brilliantly provides the framework for just that necessary insight.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are pencilled in to mark big sport’s return with a  vengeance this summer. Postponed from 2020, the sensible move would have been to keep to the quadrennial Olympic cycle and defer instead to 2024. But commercial interests and lucrative broadcasting rights outweigh any such good sense in the hands of conservative sports administrators. ‘The Games Must Go On’ becomes the mantra, and the latest edition of Understanding the Olympics by  John Horne and Garry Whannel is the best possible explanation of where this unwelcome alliance of commerce, broadcasters and conservative officialdom with big sport has come from.  

That isn’t to say there isn’t much to enjoy about the Olympics, or as I put it in the title of my own book for London 2012 ‘Why the Olympics  Aren’t Good For Us, and How They Can Be’, countervailing tendencies exist. Gender is one such way in which what the Olympics represents is challenged, and Jean Williams’ pioneering Britain’s Olympic Women is of the ‘hidden from history’ feminist tradition of uncovering those whom otherwise would be forgotten.

From the first games of the twentieth century via the early postwar and Cold War games to the 1980s and the impact of professionalism Jean Williams tells the story, including  athlete Audrey Brown at the Nazi Olympics of ’36, swimmer Margaret Wellington at the ’48 austerity games, equestrian Pat Smythe and the 1952 Cold War games, and so many more to leave readers questioning why we hadn’t we heard her story before? Uncovering such a story and many others of women Olympians is, eventually, a happy ending.

Bullying, abuse and drugs

The big fear is that the modern pressure to succeed at the highest level has no such positive conclusion, instead bullying, abuse and drugs in the chase for gold. Where might this end? The Medal Factory by Kenny Pryde achieves the difficult task of reminding readers of the collective joy and national pride as Team GB’s cyclist swept the medals board while not ducking the dark side of the coaching and competitive culture that lay behind all that success.  A revealing read.        

Pandemic sport, either watching it on the TV or doing it ourselves, has offered many a relief from the horrific daily updates on ever-rising death rates. A snatched moment of normality, win, lose, or draw, the chance to dream. Ian Ridley’s The Breath of Sadness was written before Covid yet its incredibly emotional trail around country cricket as a journey through the loss and grief of losing his relatively young wife at the age of 56 to a lethal cancer is sadly very much a book of the current moment. 

2 Where Theres a will

Where There’s a Will by Emily Chappell shares a similar theme, sport versus grief, in Emily’s case the distraction of endurance sport, ultra distance cycle racing.  But also the inspiration sport can provide to help untangle the tangled emotions of death for the living – why them, why not me?  

Paul Fournel’s Need for the Bike approaches this emotional role of sport from a different angle , an instant classic when originally published in France , now translated into English, this is a story of the bike as companion, purveyor of agony and ecstasy, the perfect vehicle for a two-wheeled two fingers to everything the pandemic has thrown at us.

Meanwhile in ’20 what ‘big sport’ lost was the sense of being there, in the stands,  down the pub, watching with mates, and for the lucky victorious crowd, celebrating too. Few missed the latter more than Liverpool fans, a first domestic league championship since the old First Division title of 89-90. Anthony Quinn’s Klopp is testament to all that Liverpool achieved in this most unusual of seasons and the manager arguably uniquely well-placed to make this long-awaited achievement possible. 

Liverpool’s era of nearly-but-not-quite coincided with a failure to find a successful managerial culture to follow the immensely successful ‘bootroom’ era of  Shankly and Paisley era, and to a lesser extent Evans and Dalglish too. Man Utd found the same in the wake of both Busby and Ferguson, and now at Arsenal too, after the Wenger years. While Arsène’s autobiography My Life in Red and White isn’t exactly a ‘kiss and tell’ – few football autobiographies are that revealing – there is more than sufficient insight to reveal what Wenger brought to Arsenal and the scale of the problem in coming anywhere close to replacing his contribution. 

For that missing element in a decent football book, the confessional, Rob Steen has this down to his customary fine writer’s art with The Mavericks. Originally published in 1994, now reissued and updated, Rob’s book goes behind the changing room door to reveal the backstory of a generation of 1970s flair players whose ability to entertain on, and off the pitch, was much more about their lawlessness and free spirit than sticking to the plan and playing for the team.

Harry Pearson’s Far Corner, subtitled ‘a mazy dribble through North-East football’ was also first published in 1994. Rather unexpectedly, almost three decades later, Harry’s written a follow-up called The Farther Corner, this time subtitled ‘a sentimental return to North-East football.’ Of course sentimentalism in and of itself is not enough, although any book that takes in the clubs Newcastle Benfield, Pontefract Collieries, Seaham Red Star  and plenty more where they came from will help convince that it is an emotion not to be lightly dismissed in a time of such chronic uncertainty.  

Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters

For an appreciation of all that we have missed for the past year, and a reminder of both from where our football clubs came from and mod£rn football’s insatiable desire to consume the traditions they helped generate, the books of Daniel Gray are an essential pleasure. Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters, telling the story of what Daniel dubbed ‘England’s football provinces’ – or in other words life outside the big city clubs – was the first of what has become a quartet.

The latest Extra Time adds a further 50 (50!) ‘eternal’ delights of  mod£rn football  to the 50 he’d uncovered previously in Saturday 3pm which just goes to show putting the £ into ‘modern’  cannot destroy everything we hold dear – well not yet.  In between producing these two finely optimistic books Daniel also managed to find ‘50 lost wonders of the beautiful game’ neatly summed up in the book’s title Black Boots and Football Pinks. Sadly there will be ample scope post-pandemic for a second volume of these losses too.

A visual memento of what a year not going to games has robbed us of us is superbly provided by British Football’s Greatest Grounds compiled by Mike Bayly. I have shelfloads of football photography books, all much treasured, but I was beginning to think the genre might be exhausted by now. Mike’s book confounds that assumption, with photos that give an all-round sense of the stadium located in its surroundings, and sharply observed essays to accompany the photos. As for ordering the must-see 100 grounds with my club Lewes FC’s Dripping Pan at number one, I couldn’t possibly comment! But the ‘100’ will have readers  arguing over the selection and  ranking for years to come, and that’s what I call a formula for a great book!  

In his book Because It’s Saturday Gavin Bell defiantly describes lower league football as the game’s ‘heartlands’ though even here the march of Mod£rn Football isn’t entirely absent. In which version of Orwellian Newspeak was the fourth division reinvented as ‘League Two’? For an insight into the commodification of the ability to stop, make and score goals, Daniel Geey’s Done Deal is both unrivalled and deeply unsettling.

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When Coronavirus struck there were those in the game, as the saying goes, unwilling ‘to let a good crisis go to waste.’ The most extreme version of this became known as Project Restart, to entrench the wealth and power of the ‘big’ clubs at the expense of the rest of the Premiership. Jon Berry ingeniously subverts the phrase for the title of his book Project Restart  to describe the impact of twelve months’ worth of virus and lockdown on a sport that stretches from Sunday league to Premier league, and all points in between. And Berry concludes with the interesting question – when it’s all over, can football be part of making the post-pandemic world a better place? Let’s hope so.

Fan ownership

Long before the current crisis Jim Keoghan established himself as a chronicler of  how to turn such hope into reality. First came Punk Football, Jim’s spirited account of the rise of fan ownership, a hugely significant movement vital to a better football. Although as recent reversals at Swansea, Portsmouth and Wrexham  illustrate, the commitment even amongst fans to such a model, when a rich investor comes calling promising success on a plate,  remains fragile. 

The continuing need nevertheless for fan ownership is made via the title of Jim’s new book How to Run a Football Club – well it would be with the simple insertion of the word ‘not’. The argument made in this finest of reads is that whatever level football is enjoyed the ‘simple love of the sport’ should be paramount, but isn’t.  Fan ownership would inevitably mean scaling back the huge operating budgets of the behemoth clubs, and would that be such a bad thing? What precisely would we miss, and what would we gain?

Unlike the supporter ownership movement Football’s response to #BlackLivesMatter, however laudable, was characterised by a corporate version of social responsibility, in this case anti-racism almost entirely divorced from any kind of initiative that could be described as fan-led. When ‘taking a knee’ becomes an obligatory pre-match ritual rather than how it originated as an act of rebellion, it is increasingly doubtful this is a player-led response either.

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Two recent books explore an entirely different situation where sporting officialdom, players and many fans too pitched themselves against anti-racism. Geoff Brown and Christian Høgsberg’s short book Apartheid is Not a Game revisits the notorious 1969 South African Springboks’ rugby tour and South Africa’s 1970 cricket tour of Britain, and the successful efforts by mass protests, disruption and sabotage to stop them. Pitch Battles by Peter Hain, one of the key organisers of those protests and his co-author, South African scholar and activist André Odendaal, connects sport’s boycotts and protests vital role in the anti-apartheid movement to a wider struggle for an anti-racist sporting culture, bringing the story up to date with both present-day South Africa, lockdown and #BlackLivesMatter. A superb read for resistance and change in ’21. 

Racism and English Football by Daniel Burdsey points to all the complex, but very necessary, challenges in developing such a response. Until these are faced a truly anti-racist football will remain as far away as it was before last year’s explosion of black resistance.  A fine and vital book – but academic publishers and authors who produce such invaluable books, why no cheap paperback edition?

8 St Pauli

What might a fans’ resistance movement look like, on race and the extreme  commodifying this most fabled of ‘people’s games’ look like? Three recent books provide an inkling. St Pauli: Another Football is Possible by Charles Viñas and Natxo Parra connects the history and development of this club as icon of resistance to a wider social movement of change rooted in fandom but not restricted by it.  

Football from below

In Ultras Mark Doidge, Radoslaw Kossakowski and Svenja Mintert describe a very particular fan culture that is in turns passionate, orchestrated and performative, global in appeal though to date English fandom has remained largely unaffected, unimpressed even. Digital Football Cultures  edited by Stefan Lawrence and Garry Crawford points to an experience of supporters which today is more genuinely international, following the game online, building fan communities, expressing a cultural ownership of club, team, and players, in a manner not always welcome. A football from below?  Possibly. 

Finding the answer to these questions isn’t easy, but to treat football with the seriousness it deserves means we have to at least try, and the conventions of both the game and politics barely equip us with the ideas and tools the task requires. As the co-founder of Philosophy Football, Stephen Mumford’s book Football: The Philosophy Behind the Game quite naturally appealed  to me. It didn’t disappoint with its stimulating mix of the game’s attractions, including beauty, chance, victory and the ideas we observe, but sometimes miss, in the course of ninety minutes. 

For those of a particular inclination David Goldblatt is the Eric Hobsbawm of football writing – just like the greatest of historians tracing of our society’s past to explain the presen,t David has done the same with football. His latest The Age of Football surveys a sport in the grip of neo-colonial power, the crisis of an institutionalised Europeanism, corruption and shifting power politics. In David’s hands context is all and makes for the very best of footballing reads.    

The unprecedented support for #BlackLivesMatter across the sporting establishment couldn’t be more different to how sport responded, if at all, to Colin Kaepernick’s original act, which was absolutely of anti-racist resistance.  And Colin wasn’t alone, as fellow pro American footballer and Superbowl winner Michael Bennett details in his sharply titled book Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.

This is a movement of protest, against injustice, opposition to racism and the way black communities are policed . How neatly all of this can co-exist with the most powerful forces in sport seeking to co-opt it remains to be seen.  A book that provides the kind of framework to help us not only anticipate such outcomes but shape them too is The Game is not a Game by Robert Scoop Jackson, who like Bennett and the peerless Dave Zirin all hail from the USA, and all three authors are published by the leftist book publisher Haymarket Books.  So here’s a question – why doesn’t a sports-obsessed culture like Britain’s produce very much committed leftist sports writing of this sort, published and produced by left-leaning British publishers in cheap, accessible and attractive formats? 

Tennis from below?

There are three examples of what is possible in this respect from three different British independent publishers, and on a sport we might not expect for such an endeavour. First off, from Pluto Press we have David Berry’s A People’s History of Tennis in which he traces the making of a sport beyond the Pimms, strawberries-and-cream set, constructed instead out of feminism, socialism and migration. ‘Tennis from below’, who’d have thought it? 

5 Racquet

Next up, from Repeater, same sport but a very different  approach. Racquet is a celebration of the sheer diversity  of tennis, edited by David Shaftel and Caitlin Thompson,and  consisting of articles from the magazine of  the same name. The downturn of the late twentieth century boom of tennis as a popular recreational sport, the roots of elitism in tennis versus race, gender and class on and off the court, the sexualising of Maria Sharapova – here is a range of politicised sports writing to enthuse and inspire others, whatever our sport.

My third example pushes at the boundaries of possibility. Self Made Hero has published Czech author Jan Novák’s graphic novel Zátopek, a pioneering combination of words by Jan with the comic-strip art of Jaromír 99 which creates a mix that both engages the modern reader and informs us of the achievements of one of the true athletic greats. It’s also about the kind of postwar East European  communism that framed his achievements on the track. Form and content are combined to produce a truly memorable read.

6 The Miracle

And my book of the Spring? The Miracle Pill by Peter Walker would be the ideal book any year as we emerge from Winter, spring into Spring and look forward to Summer. Combine this with the pressing desire by many to reassess their lifestyle choices after the best part of twelve months under one lockdown restriction or another, and Peter’s book is spot-on perfect. What makes this read really special is the argument that the sedentary position isn’t an individual choice but the product of social imperatives that diminish, ignore and do little to encourage an active life. The consequences are severe and costly but the alternatives are cheap and beneficial. It’s a progressive, popular, commonsense vision of building a better sporting culture. A miracle? I’m told they can happen.

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

How to Read a Way out of the Crisis
Monday, 14 December 2020 16:32

How to Read a Way out of the Crisis

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman presents his annual set of book reviews

The lockdown has forced all manner of reflections on how a deadly disease can threaten humankind’s existence and what kind of world will follow any much hoped-for recovery. Where those reflections end up is anybody’s guess.

Slavov Žižek is the kind of writer to be relied upon to make such a guess, and a well-educated one too, his response to the crisis, Pandemic!, doesn’t disappoint in making any reader think, and rethink. The evidence of past plagues is that to assume any such rethink on a systemic scale will happen of its own common-sense accord is only to leave power in the hands of those with little or no interest in effecting any such change.

The Monster Enters by Mike Davis is a historical testament to that, tracking how agriculture, food producers, governments and big business have colluded following past pandemics to protect their own interests at the expense of public health.

Lee Humber’s Vital Signs makes the case for the absolute necessity of a radical public health strategy with the explicit purpose of tackling inequality – inequalities revealed in explicit and deadly detail via disproportionate Coronavirus death rates.

Dead Epidemiologists is an investigation by Rob Wallace and his co-authors into where the virus came from, its origins and its rapid escalation to become a deadly pandemic. A detailed understanding of how and why the Coronavirus crisis proved so lethal is provided by the short and instant book The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of the medical journal The Lancet.  

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One of the most interesting responses to this catastrophe has been from below: localised, community-focused self help, or ‘mutual aid’. Edited by Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar, Pandemic Solidarity is a collection of accounts from across the world of how these initiatives began, the ways they organise, and the questions they pose for more traditional ways of ‘doing’ politics.

But perhaps what the coronaviris crisis has revealed more than anything else is the prevalence of loneliness, not solidarity, in our society. Noreena Hertz’s pioneering argument in The Lonely Century is that rather than treat this as somebody else’s ‘problem’  the necessity is to reorganise society to produce connectivity – and out of this, collectivity.

Whether this might be one of the more hopeful outcomes of the crisis is too early to say although the bracing intellectual self-confidence of the many contributors to Everything Must Change, edited by Renata Ávila and Srécko Horvat, certainly seeks to convince the reader that things won’t remain the same, because the virus has proved they can’t. We shall see. To turn simply waiting to seeing how things might turn out into actively shaping those outcomes, Grace Blakeley in her new book The Corona Crash provides just the right kind of political programme, and analysis to frame the outcomes, with a newly radicalised version of a post-pandemic politics.

It isn’t to minimise the huge human – and as these accounts testify largely avoidable – tragedy to suggest that 2020 is simply the warm-up act to the climate emergency to come. In Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency Andreas Malm skilfully makes these connections to reveal the links between capitalism’s insatiable appetite for the natural world resulting in first a global disease and next the destruction of a planet.

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Is it too late to put a stop to all this? Nearly but not quite – it is certainly the case that we are already in the midst of a climate crisis, but as Derek Wall maps out in Climate Strike, resistance most certainly isn’t futile, it’s our only hope. The paperback edition of Naomi Klein’s On Fire is pretty much a primer for the fusion of a movement against the Climate Emergency with the political demands for a ‘Green New Deal.’        

To turn such a fusion into mass, popular support however requires showing definitively it isn’t simply environmental interests that demand this but material interests too. At the core of this is the energy industry – decarbonise this and decarbonisation becomes a realisable objective. Renewables make perfect sense, by definition they last for ever, but decarbonisation on the scale required demands massive state intervention, as Ashley Dawson argues in People’s Power. Individual lifestyle choice is insufficient, nor can the market be trusted not simply to act in defence of vested interests. The sun, wind and tide – these are our common treasury for all on a global scale, and only the state can protect them to harness their power.

Will this lead to declining living standards? No, but they will be different. Co-authors Giorgos Kallis, Susan Paulson, Giacomo D’Alisa and Federico Semaria in The Case for Degrowth make this argument very well – though is ‘degrowth’ really the best label to maximise the breadth of support required for such a politics? Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living is a perhaps more positive version of a not dissimilar politics, describing her case as  for an ‘alternative hedonism’, the sound of which the only response to can only be, yes please.        

The climate emergency is gathering pace at the precise moment that both the market economy and the welfare state are undergoing momentous change. This is the terrain on which any politics, including environmentalism, is forced to operate. Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings use one aspect of this change as the focus for their book The Asset Economy which they define as property inflation’s impact on class determinants and generational dynamics. An impact only too familiar to many 21st century parents and their millennial offspring!

 Alongside a housing crisis it is the ever-expanding digital economy that more than any other single economic factor which shapes the lives, and life chances, of millennials. Wendy Liu’s Abolish Silicon Valley is a fantastic political call to arms in the cause of socialising the ownership of this most individualistic entrepreneurial of economic forces. The 2021 Edition of the annual Socialist Register takes a similar theme, Beyond Digital Capitalism, to explore not only the regressive limitations of the digital economy but also the progressive possibilities for a socialist social media and new forms of workplace organising, community restaurants and low-carbon public transport – it’s a truly inspiring read. 

The Coronavirus has revealed the actually existing welfare state gripped by its own crisis.  Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s The Lost Decade records the government-made decline of the public realm in devastating detail. No amount of clapping for NHS frontline staff could make up for a decade’s worth of decline – and before that too, they record the underfunding, underpaying and undervaluing of an institution so vital to the nation’s health, virus or no virus.

Of course institutions, not even the rightly venerated NHS, can stand still.  Reinventing The Welfare State by Ursula Huws skilfully combines this imperative for change, while firmly establishing that the market isn’t the sole model for such a change. The ideas are bold, original and inventive, they’ll need to be if the near universal political acceptance of the market model for the past four decades is to be reversed. The consequences of such bipartisanship are sharpest of all in the university sector.

Editors Michael Rustin and Gavin Poynter’s Building a Radical University is a history of the University of East London, best known to those of a certain age as NELP (North East London Polytechnic). The book presents the institution as a haven of ‘radical innovation’ but whilst the instances cited are entirely admirable their survival is surely in resistance to, not the product of, the destruction of the polytechnic sector in the cause of a worthless marketing exercise. ‘Rebuilding the Radical Polytechnic’ – perhaps a future volume for the editors and contributors?   

At the core of both the Coronavirus crisis, and its after-effects, is of course inequality, particularly in wages and workplace conditions. This was the key determinant in how millions experienced the virus, caught it, and survived it, or not. Inequalities turbo-charged towards something over spilling into the obscene by the rapidly changing nature of work – from Amazon’s model, expertly documented in The Cost of Free Shipping edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese, via the Angry Workers collective recording the bitter experience of  casualisation in Class Power on Zero Hours, to Callum Cant’s superb analysis from inside the gig economy Riding for Deliveroo.

New versions of the workplace, changing terms of employment, the displacement of work as a defining characteristic of personal identity – all these and more pose fundamental challenges for how trade unions organise. Yet their core role in defending and extending wages and conditions remain as vital as ever, evidenced by the surge in trade union membership during the Coronavirus crisis. Unions Renewed by Alice Martin and Annie Quick is a powerfully made case both for this defensive role and at the same time a trade union offensive towards the democratisation of the entire economy. Such a twin role will be indivisible from the moral and political case against ever-increasing inequality. Ben Phillips makes this case in How To Fight Inequality, while arguing that for such a movement to win must coalition build right across all forces in civil society. From the USA, Jackson Rising, edited by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya, is a handbook for how such a coalition was built and achieved radical change in one American city. Read, and be inspired.   

Pre-lockdown there had been a wave of mass, popular movements intensely typical of a digital era framing how to organise. #Metoo was arguably the first of these but of course there is always a prehistory, one which is neatly captured by the sparkling prose and eclectic selection of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Ladies Who Punch, which could almost be called ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls - the grown-up edition’.  

And then during the early summer months of the Coronavirus crisis, #BlackLivesMatters erupted. Two books provide both backstory from both sides of the Atlantic and how such a street movement connects with resistance from within the beast of the legislature, Congress and the Commons. This is What  America Looks Like by Ilhan Omar subtitled ‘ my journey from refugee to Congresswoman’  is the autobiographical account of a politics entirely different from Trump’s, or Biden’s.  

Much the same could be said of Diane Abbott, the biography by Robin Bunce and Samara Linton, as chronicled here a target of, and consistent campaigner against, racism. There is, quite simply, far too few like her, more’s the pity. Nesrine Malik’s We Need New Stories proposes the kind of politics to produce the kind of consciousness from which just such a movement might emerge.    

When we, eventually, come out the other side of the Coronavirus crisis the pressing need for an oppositional politics of resistance will be urgent. Darkly sinister forces of conspiracy theories and pseudo-libertarianism have emerged and are preparing to prosper. The new and updated edition of David Renton’s  Fascism is the best short introduction to the scale and horror of what such a politics of hate and blame can conjure up. To date, despite on occasion the very real threat of a breakthrough, the various British variants of fascism have never succeeded. No Platform by Evan Smith tells of one episode, and the controversies it provoked, that contributed to the fascists’ defeat.

Thankfully while the threat of fascism should never be lightly dismissed, its imminent revival as a mass political force is unlikely. Instead we have the global phenomenon of populism, complicated by the fact this has both reactionary right  variants as well as popular left variants. The Populist Manifesto edited by Emmy Eklundh and Andy Knott provides a very good account of this sometimes bemusing variety under the heading of one ‘ism.’ For the People from Jorge Tamames takes a narrower focus, but is no less invaluable as a consequence. Focussing exclusively on the variants of Left populism, specifically Podemos in Spain and Bernie Sanders in the USA, this is a book to give hope for a better politics, and a better future, once the crisis is over.    

The key to that hope reaching fulfilment has to depend not so much on charismatic leaders but engaging ideas. This is the key difference between a Left that is popular and one that is simply populist.  A good starting point is to deconstruct those elements that have degenerated democracy. To that end the multi-authored Media Manifesto provides both an accessible critique and a credible alternative for what passes today as ‘news’. Peter Geoghegan’s Democracy for Sale expertly dissects how in the digital age the forces that produce such a biased, monopolised news production range far beyond what we read in a paper, listen to on the radio or watch on the TV and as this brilliant exposure reveals, are all the more dangerous as a result.

Eliane Glaser takes a very different tack in her new book Elitism. Described as both ‘a progressive defence’ and a ‘provocation’ the title would seem to fly in the  face of the former ,while living up to the latter. But this most interesting of writers is on to an idea, something rooted in the coronavirus crisis. Science and the scientists, doctors and frontline NHS workers, public health professionals, their collective expertise puts a fly-by-the-seat-of-his pants PM to shame. That doesn’t mean science and professionalism is neutral, but to ignore it entirely we do so at our peril.

And as for a thinker who draws these, and many other threads of ideas together, a new generation of writers will cite the late Mark Fisher. Matt Colquhoun’s Egress serves both as an excellent tribute to Mark Fisher’s influence and introduction to his ideas. For those familiar – or not so familiar – a hugely illuminating read.    

The coronavirus crisis has coincided with the end of Corbyn and Sanders insurgencies, and the defeat of Trump. Quite where this might leave politics afterwards is anybody’s guess and it’s too early for the guesswork, educated or otherwise, to get into print yet. A useful starting point before we get to read the eventual theses is the new edition of Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin’s The Socialist  Challenge Today, a polemical survey  of the hits, and misses of Corbyn, Sanders and Syriza.

The latter is the subject of a detailed critique in Greece 2015 by Éric Toussaint. Of course such critiques are necessary, although the crushing of hopes dashed can produce demoralised despair when what is required is the energy of renewal. Three very different accounts of the Corbyn era provide, perhaps unwittingly, some sort of basis for this kind of energetic  thinking, and doing.

From the outside left As It Happened is a collection of  Lindsey German’s briefings on the Corbyn project from the highs of 2017 to the lows of 2019.  Enthusiasm for what might be possible is combined with a sharply critical view of why it didn’t – or if you like, revolutionary realism.

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It is hard to imagine Deborah Mattinson ever describing herself as a revolutionary but the work she has done on polling and focus groups for a period revolutionised Labour’s approach to electioneering. Beyond the Red Wall is her attempt to make sense of Labour’s disastrous loss of so many ‘heartland’ seats in the 2019 General Election. We can argue the toss over the book’s methodology but recognising the seriousness of these losses and not assuming we know the answers why is absolutely vital.  

Muckrakers Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire don’t pretend to offer any such answers but their strictly unauthorised inside story on the Corbyn Leadership Left Out is so wonderfully scurrilous that it is a rollicking good read, whether or not the reader agrees with the politics.

This Land by Owen Jones is the same account but from an openly Corbynist perspective. With an unrivalled media platform, Owen is probably the best known purveyor of Corbynist politics. However the most interesting thing about his book is the scale, and the limits, of his critique of what Corbynism became.  

Chris Clarke’s The Dark Knight and the Puppet Master offers a very different view on what should follow Corbyn. Highly critical of left populism, Chris offers pluralism as his alternative, and in the process rejects the idea that Labour can be both popular and plural. Why not?        

The year will end on one happy note, the downfall of Trump. In his place President Joe Biden – but what Biden’s America will end up looking like, nobody yet knows. Better than Trump’s is a mighty low bar! Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht in Bigger Than Bernie are convinced that without Sanders at the helm it won’t be as good they’d have wished it to be. For Bernie supporters that’s a self-evident truth – the key however will be how to edge Biden towards the ‘better’ and when the process slows find the means to edge it forward again without retreating to the comfortable margins of inglorious, indignant, opposition. 

Where are the resources for such a hopeful outcome? Out of history, that’s where. Ruth Kinna’s Great Anarchists, illustrated by the sublime Clifford Harper, is a superb place to begin this journey of optimism, chronicling in words and pictures this most optimistic of ideologies.

Or Robert Tressell’s classic account of the potential for a working-class politics of change in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, now ingeniously recreated by Scarlett and Sophie Rickard as a graphic novel. At the core of these different yet complementary accounts is a sense of coming together to fulfil a common cause.

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That process Jodi Dean describes in her brilliant short book Comrade as ‘political belonging ’ a value sorely lacking when the practice of politics becomes divorced from the ambition to change, everything. 

The latest edition of the twice-yearly journal Twentieth Century Communism ranges over its usual fascinating mix of efforts towards such a scale of change, including communism fighting to survive under the Nazis in interwar Germany, the Soviet-China split in the postwar years, and Eric Hobsbawm’s writings on dialectical materialism.

Domestic tales of such efforts, not all of them happy, are retold in Ian Parker’s extraordinary Mapping the English Left through Film which details the story of 25 Left groups, with each account introduced with the device of a film Ian has chosen to best represent their politics, opening with Arnold  Schwarzernegger’s Total Recall as the Labour Party. If that doesn’t tempt readers nothing will. Ian’s book is both very funny and highly informative, a rare combination amongst most writers on the far Left. 

But sometimes these small, highly committed, revolutionary-activist groups produce leaders and regimes which in this tiny closed world are no laughing matter. My Search for Revolution is the story of the Workers Revolutionary Party, best known for counting Vanessa and Corin Redgrave amongst their ranks, as told by former member Clare Cowen. A story Clare describes as abuse, including sexual abuse, all in the cause of creating a party equipped to effect revolutionary change. 

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In the interwar years, dominated by the Popular Front against fascism, that cause connected to a broad public support in every sector of society. The Folk Singers and the Bureau provides a fascinating account, thanks to the painstaking research of author Aaron J. Leonard of just one instance of the breadth and depth of such support, namely folk music. Tellingly, much of the book consists of what the establishment did to first narrow, then demonise, and finally criminalise this support.

Edited by Colin Coulter Working for the Clampdown deals with a very different period of this fusion of the popular, the political and the musical – the late 1970s to early 1980s, punk, Clash and Rock against Racism. For those of a certain age there’s never been anything like it since. Nostalgia isn’t a healthy trait to equip a radical politics of today and tomorrow but sometimes it’s worth making an exception, because the lessons of Rock against Racism (RAR)are too valuable to be lost in the mists of time. Colin’s book helps us to understand why.    

Central to RAR’s impact was its agitational visual identity, mixing punk and dayglo, but in a highly original fashion, not derivative of punk in the least, but stood as part of that moment in its own right. The same care and attention to visual arts activism was applied to RAR’s sister organisation the Anti Nazi League (ANL) by one of the British Left’s most important graphic designers, David King. David set a standard of originality and impact both framed by the wonderful art of the Russian Revolution but entirely capable of going beyond it too. Rick Poynor’s David King is a superbly illustrated design biography and deserves to be read by anyone seeking to communicate ideas, and ideals, visually. 

A much slimmer volume is the pamphlet Protest Stencil, testament to how low cost guerrilla marketing, ‘subvertising’ with good graphics can extend the reach of ideas where more conventional methods fail. Or to while away the grim dissatisfaction of the pandemic ,indulge yourself and let rip the artistic imagination, crayons at the ready, with N.O.Bonzo’s Off With Their Heads – an ‘antifascist colouring book’, yes really!  

For many lockdown has meant spending more time at home, willingly or otherwise, and less time doing all those things that take us away from home,  willingly or otherwise. Animal Squat, written and illustrated by Doublewhy, is a children’s book like few others, a tale of wild things and even wilder ideas for parents not afraid of their sons and daughters questioning why?

More time at home has also meant for many rediscovering the joys of eating in versus eating out or takeaways. There’s no one better to make such a realignment enjoyable and economic than Jack Monroe, and her latest book Good  Food for Bad Days is perfectly timed for the baddest days imaginable.

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And when this virus is all over, what then? My book of the year maps precisely how a pandemic became a crisis, how new models of support and solidarity became the basis of survival and were given a social worth and weight never accorded to them before, and also provides an organising focus which demands the remaking of the political. The Care Manifesto by The Care Collective is my favourite book of 2020 because not only does it find a way out of the crisis, but lays the basis for something better in its place.  

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

Null and void: tackling the commercialisation of sport
Friday, 03 April 2020 09:12

Null and void: tackling the commercialisation of sport

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman argues that the coronavirus crisis has exposed the commercialisation and corruption of sport; that the current football season should be declared 'null and void'; and that radical change is needed when we emerge from the crisis, involving the revaluation of our public services

When we're not even at the peak of the health crisis caused by the coronavirus, the rush to resume sport has been for the most part unseemly. Speculation as to how this will be done has been badly thought-out. The selfishness, with honourable exceptions, is revealing. At the moment, sport doesn’t seem to have bought into the ‘all in this together’ philosophy that we’re hoping against hope will get us through the crisis.

It’s not often that I agree with Karren Brady, Sun columnist, Tory peer and vice chair of West Ham F.C., but when she argued that the best option for football was to ‘null and void’ the 2019-20 football season, I thought she was at least being honest about the urgency and scale of the situation that football, and all other sports, is facing. 

I prefer the term ‘incomplete’ – meaning the season ends now. Forget about any resumption – the league places are frozen in time, no champions, no Champions League places, no relegations, and no promotions. Of course some fans, thinking mainly of themselves and their own club, accused her of naked self-interest, because West Ham currently hover above the drop zone only on goal difference. But the point is that such a cessation for everyone this season will be good for some and bad for others – Liverpool and Leeds especially. That’s the inevitable result of being ‘all in this together.’ 

As for games played behind closed doors, the great Celtic manager Jock Stein once said ‘football without fans is nothing.’ He was right – it is no accident that football markets itself to advertisers, sponsors, and broadcasters as an inclusive spectacle, as much about what’s going on with those watching the action as those making it.

Coca Cola, one of world football’s principal sponsors, summed this up very well with one of their advertising slogans ‘If transfer fees were paid for fans what would you be worth?’ Of course the value of fans to the game should not be monetised in such a way, but the fact that it is shows that the absolute worth of fandom in the People’s Game cannot be numbered just in pound signs. 

Immediate incompletion would have revealed the sheer abnormality of the times we are living through. It would have been a welcome self-sacrifice, as football faced up to its responsibilities. But no, the desire to get back has dominated, fuelled mainly by the huge commercial merry-go-round, driven more than anything else by the deals with subscription-only broadcasters that funds football’s largesse at the upper end. Football, it seems, cannot be allowed to stop for any longer than can be avoided.

Incompletion would need to be Europe-wide, incomplete seasons would mean no Champions League, this season, and none next either. An eighteen month break: is that really too much of a sacrifice to ask? Yes, apparently as UEFA and the clubs scramble to find a way to keep their money-spinning show on the road.

And the international game isn’t much better. In a rushed decision Euro 2020 becomes Euro 2021, and the awkward fact that this was the year designated for the Women’s Euros has been solved by bumping that into the following year.

What does this produce? A massive set of fixture pile-ups, across the globe. The world sporting calendar is delicately balanced between providing a summer of sport to look forward to and forgetting that sometimes – even with sport – less is more. The women’s Euros in 2022 means England hosting both these and the Commonwealth Games at the same time. Madness! Both will lose out big time.    

There’s also another reason why 2021 should be free of tournaments in the summer for the men’s game. And that is, to give the players  and the fans time off to look forward to the World Cup in 2022.

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And this fixture pile-up when the crisis is over isn’t restricted to football either.  Another rushed decision had been made to move the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to 2021. This means all manner of  world and continental championships for many Olympic sports being postponed to the following year, where they will then clash with other events planned for 2022.

The solution is to null and void the lot. Tokyo 2020 becomes Tokyo 2024, Euro 2020 becomes Euro 2024, the existing hosts move along to the next time. After all,  a 4-year extension is not long given the current global crisis, while providing the time for the event organisation to recover.    

That recovery, to be worthwhile, must involve radical change for the most well-paying sports. It is obscene for football clubs to be laying off non-playing staff in order to claim state aid, when the average wage of a Premiership footballer is £60,000 a week. It is outrageous for owners, chairmen and directors to be taking wealth out of their clubs when clubs lower down the leagues, non-league clubs, and the recreational game are all facing extinction. When the wealth at the top end is so huge, the cost of self-sacrifice and solidarity borders on the negligible – but so far has proved too much for too many. 

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The very welcome exceptions to this sorry tale are to be applauded, such as executive boxes and boardrooms given over for temporary conversion by hospitals, and clubs and players keeping the foodbanks going that depend on matchday collections.  

There is, of course, a community around every club that amounts to more than just gate receipts and replica shirts sold. Maybe this crisis will force a greater recognition of this – that the Fans Supporting Foodbanks stalls outside Anfield, Goodison Park and numerous other grounds, will be recognised as being as much a part of what football is about as anything else.

Sport will take time to recover, and it won’t be the same when it does. Rushing back for ‘business’ reasons won’t help. Sport as a culture will have to rebuild relationships. The hardcore fans’ loyalties won’t have changed, but many of the more casual fans will have discovered that they didn’t miss it as much as they expected to.

And the inevitable financial pressures a huge chunk of the population will face will mean the money previously spent on football is needed for more pressing priorities. For far too long sport has taken the financial loyalty of fans for granted – it would be distinctly risky to assume this can continue.

Something else has happened during the lockdown, what sportswriter Jonathan Liew calls ‘small sport’. There seems to have been a rise in physical activity by people having to stay at home with one outing for exercise – perhaps having a walk, a jog, or a bike ride. Home weights for keeping fit have sold out online, and  Joe Wicks Youtube keep fit lessons for at-home primary schoolchildren have topped 1.5million views per session. This is nothing to do with the failed model of elite sport success spurring participation, because that doesn’t happen.  Rather this is sport as a social movement. ‘Small sport’ may just prove to be a darn sight more useful than ‘big sport’ when finally we emerge from this crisis, and have to rebuild all our cultural activities, including sport.

When we do emerge, plenty of sports – including fans and followers – will want to celebrate. In that moment, let’s remember sport has an extraordinary ability to spark a conversation. It cannot effect social change on its own, but it does get its audience thinking in a way that political parties, protest movements, books and newspaper articles often can’t.

Since the mid 2000’s sport has vigorously embraced the ‘Help for Heroes’ movement. Nobody should begrudge the aid veterans very much deserve, but sport has propagated this otherwise noble cause without thinking about it. As the sportswriter Richard Williams has put it, very sharply:

There is something disquieting about this gradual blending of sporting and military culture, with its underlying assumption that all the spectators at any given event involving an England international team necessarily share the government's view of the rightness of what our forces are doing overseas (as opposed to simply honouring their courage in doing it).

This blending of sport and the military generates an understanding of who our ‘heroes’ are, and in the process all those that aren’t. Yet this crisis has shown that NHS staff, care workers, refuse collectors, shop assistants, cleaners, posties are heroic, providing a public service that our lives depend on.

This demands that financial reward while it isn’t everything is at least a start in providing a recognition of the centrality of these workers to our society. No, Perhaps they don’t the ability to dribble past three defenders, feint one way, send the goalie the wrong way, and put a screamer in the top left corner of the net. But maybe they have something different to contribute – and that deserves our support too.

So when sport resumes, let’s not only celebrate that, but also ensure these public services and their workers aren’t a charity case, and instead are valued, invested in and rewarded financially, as an essential part and parcel of the society that absolutely depends on them.  

Wembley NHS

Mark Perryman is a research fellow in sport and leisure culture at the University of Brighton and co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football.

Ten books to turn 2020 upside down
Friday, 07 February 2020 09:18

Ten books to turn 2020 upside down

Published in Cultural Commentary

Want to turn the world upside down in 2020?  Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman has found ten books to help us on the way

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 1. On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, by Naomi Klein

 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 that will come Europe’s way, along with ever increasing risks of floods. 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, together with a plan to do something about it.

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2. The Case for the Green New Deal by Ann Pettifor

A small group of economists have been working on a ‘Green New Deal’ since the mid 2010’s . The idea was revived and made popular first by the U.S. Democrat Party’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez early championing of the idea on her election to Congress in 2018, and then once more last as the highlight of Labour’s 2019 general election manifesto. Ann was one of that original small group, and The Case for the Green New Deal serves to inform and inspire a politics of alternatives to the otherwise forthcoming destruction of our planet. 

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3. Now We Have Your Attention, by Jack Shenker

 While it is absolutely right to seek to establish a commonsense understanding that the Climate Emergency changes everything, this won’t happen by ignoring the fact that for most life goes on, 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-ay resistance by casual workers, renters’ unions, and grassroots Labour members. A book to both make sense of - and change - the world.

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4. Hostile Environment : How Immigrants Became Scapegoats, by Maya Goodfellow

 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, but too much of the discourse around it is. And that in turn was 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 contemporary racism has been framed by this process and the widespread failure to challenge the basis of it.   

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5. The Fall and Rise of the British Left, by Andrew Murray

 It might be thought in some quarters 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 comes from the school of thought that takes the long view. We are where we are, but that 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 are of more immediate relevance right now - the ups might have to wait.

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6. The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain, by Daniel Sonabend

 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. They did this by any means necessary, but mainly through hard-faced, well-organised, physical confrontation. Not for the politically faint-hearted - have a milkshake handy whilst reading.

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7. Antisemitism, The Party and Public Belief, by Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg , Antony Lerman, and David Miller

 What would the 43 Group make of the Labour Party being portrayed as an antisemitic party? The rigour of the approach by the academic authors of Bad News for Labour cannot be faulted, there is a wealth of detail here. But what is lacking is a broader political perspective - there should be no ifs or 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. 

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8. Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy

 OK so strictly speaking this is not a book, but a quarterly journal. However add four issues of Renewal together in the course of a year and you'll have the 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. 

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9. Steal as much as you can: How to win the culture wars in an age of austerity, by Nathalie Olah

 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?

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10. Island: How To build a radical culture beyond the idea of England, by Alex Niven

 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, to let a thousand ‘Englands’ flower, and create what the book proclaims is 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.

 

London is drowning – but keep the faith
Friday, 13 December 2019 20:09

London is drowning – but keep the faith

Published in Music

Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman recalls the Clash's epic album of 40 years ago. Image designed by Hugh Tisdall for Philosophy Football

14th December 1979 – the year of Thatcher’s election was seen out with the release of London Calling, widely regarded as the finest of all Clash albums.  Forty years later, 14th December 2019, another Tory nightmare begins and London's drowning. So it seems timely to look back, in hope.

The Clash had burst onto the fast-emerging punk scene in ’77 with their debut album. The band’s second long-player Give ‘Em Enough Rope was released to mixed reviews. It was over-produced, so the raw energy edge of its tracks was somewhat blunted. All this was to change however, with London Calling.

From double album length, weighing in at an astonishing nineteen tracks across four sides, to the stunning cover pic of Paul Simonon doing some serious damage to his bass guitar, this was to become an instant classic.  The rich mix of sounds showcased the foursome’s ever-expanding musical influences – jazz, reggae and dub, the blues, rockabilly, ska. This by and large wasn’t what was expected of 1970s English punk bands. Despite that, both fans and critics loved it.   

On their debut album Joe Strummer had belted out the anthemic ‘We’re so bored with the USA’ yet two years later The Clash appeared to have fallen hopelessly in love with the place.  The influences were obvious, from Montgomery Clift to Cadillacs – a wholesome embrace of Americana minus the shrill anti-Americanism of the band’s more obvious politics.

The band were emerging as fulsome internationalists too. Every bit at home belting out their tribute to inner-city resistance The Guns of Brixton as their very particular account in Spanish Bombs of the battle against Franco’s fascists. For many listeners these tracks would be their first introduction to either subject. The Clash were a genuinely educational, as well as innovative, outfit, a key influence shaping a generation whose politics were framed by being anti-Thatcher on the home front and soon enough against Reagan on the global front too.  Sounds familiar?        

Two tracks in particular stand out. Not only as unforgettable when first heard but uncannily prescient four decades on too. 

What are we gonna do now?
Taking off his turban, they said, 'is this man a Jew?'
'Cause they're working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying: 'We earn more than you'
We're working for the clampdown
We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers

This ‘clampdown’ mixed authoritarianism, race hatred and economic power. What The Clash railed against in 1979 remains the shape of Johnson and Trump’s right-wing, racist populism today.

And then of course the album’s title track, London Calling:

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared and battle come down

This was the era of the Winter of Discontent, the Special Patrol Group, war in Ireland (and soon enough in the South Atlantic too), the Nazi National Front on the march, Brixton and Toxteth ablaze, civil disobedience against Reagan and Thatcher’s nuclear arms race, and then the year-long Miners’ Strike.  ‘War is declared’ – they weren’t far wrong.

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin' thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river

The meteorology might be a tad skewift but a frightening vision of the future has become the vivid reality of the present-day climate emergency. A melting polar ice cap, record-breaking heatwaves, agricultural growing seasons in crisis, and rising seal levels.

We can rest assured that The Clash of yesteryear would have been playing Extinction Rebellion benefit gigs today.  It’s Revolution Rock, ’79 vintage – play it loud in 2019, and keep the faith.

Philosophy Football’s 40th anniversary London Calling T-shirt is available from here.

How to read an election
Friday, 29 November 2019 11:36

How to read an election

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman provides a handy reading guide to the General Election

There’s not much doubt politics is getting hot, hotter, hottest – just as the nights draw in and get cold, cold, colder as Boris Johnson seek to bring some kind of ending to the sorry saga of all things Brexit.

A December General Election? The first at this time of year for goodness knows how long. And to sort out Brexit? Well the last one didn’t, and there’s absolutely no guarantee the result of this one will either, whichever way it goes.

In the immediate aftermath of ‘17 there was much talk that for Labour it was the manifesto that wot (nearly) won it. Mike Phipps’ For The Many helps us understand the original’s appeal and the ideas required to win this time.

Most of the contributors to the essay selection Rethinking Britain are slightly more detached from the organised Labour Left than those contributing to Mike’s book, though they share the same intent ‘for the many’, ranging over economics, employment, investment, and social security.

One of the brightest voices for such a brand of ‘new’ economics is Grace Blakeley, her first book Stolen is a compelling account not only of all that’s wrong with how financial power is misused but also what could be done about it.

The abolition of tuition fees was a vote-winner in 2017, makes good sense but surely we also need to ask what are universities for, not just how they’re being paid for. A good step in the former direction is provided by Raewyn Connell’s The Good University complete with the rather excellent sub-title ‘ what universities actually do and why it’s time for radical change.

My favourite source for ideas in and around Labour however, is the quarterly journal Renewal. Issue after issue it never disappoints – the latest is themed around the issue of democracy, with a stand-out essay by Lewis Bassett on the vexed question of democracy in the Labour Party.

Radical, new, policies broke through at Labour’s 2019 party conference including the 4-day week, abolition of private schools, a Green New Deal. Most of these have found their way into Labour’s 2019 manifesto. But in any general election these face the problem of how they are affected by the Brexit impasse which isn’t going to disappear in a hurry.

Also, Labour’s antisemitism crisis will be an issue too. Strange Hate by Keith Kahn-Harris firmly and correctly puts the resolution of that crisis in the context of anti-racism. While for those unfamiliar with the specificities of Jewish culture A Jewdas Haggadah provides a much-needed introduction, with occasional hilarious results.  

people get ready

For a primer chronicling the history of the rise of Corbynism read David Kogan’s Protest and Power : The Battle for the Labour Party. As to what happens if Labour wins, Christine Berry and Joe Guinan’s People Get Ready! deals strategically with how Labour might govern while seeking to implement a post-neoliberal economic strategy unimaginably radical in its ambition. Wow.

But to get even close to that point, Labour’s arguments for ‘real change’ need both to be made popular and to challenge a resurgent right-wing racist populism. J.A.Smith’s Other People’s Politics charts precisely this terrain via a rigorous deconstruction of the populist surge, and what kind of response from Labour this requires.

Labour’s ‘Momentum Left’ is often derided as extremist and Marxist. In fact it is overwhelmingly non-marxist – Marxism no longer offers the pole of attraction for those who favour politics against the mainstream that it once did. In its place there is a greater range of models of critique. But that’s not to suggest it is dead, buried or irrelevant. The Corbyn Project by John Rees is testament to the necessity of a Marxist critique of even the most left-wing versions of reformism,. We may choose to disagree with the critique, but to ignore it entirely is a serious error.

The new edition of the classic Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein The Labour Party: A Marxist History now updated by Charlie Kimber to take in both the Blair-Brown years and Corbynism, carefully records from a Marxist standpoint the errors Labour governments have made over the decades. Again we can differ over the precise nature of the causes and consequences, but those causes and consequences need accounting for.

If Marxism is no longer sufficient to explain everything about the modern world, that doesn’t mean it is analytically redundant. Testament to that proposition is the sharply titled, and written, Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism . Full of techno-politics of an unashamedly left complexion, the book is described as ‘a manifesto’. Notwithstanding the free broadband offer, Labour still doesn’t entirely share Aaron’s somewhat breathless enthusiasm for the progressive potential of technological change.

However, modern politics needs to understand how digital technology is transforming the terrain on which we contest. An unpicking of the contradictions this generates is provided by Jamie Woodcock’s Marx at the Arcade, a careful survey of video games and the politics they produce.    

Another ‘unofficial’ manifesto is The Socialist Manifesto by Bhaskar Sunkara, who offers up a political platform which is historic in inspiration, futuristic in vision, and practical for the present.

In a similar vein Nancy Fraser’s The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot be Born takes Gramsci’s famous dictum as a starting point to understand the twin, opposing, potentials of left and right populism out of the current global impasse typified by Trump, and Brexit. It is one of the first of a very welcome new pamphlets series from Verso, short enough to be read between canvassing sessions – relevant, intelligent writing leaving campaigners wanting more.

For the ‘new to be born’ demands that the ‘old’ has to be subject to critique. Stephen Duncombe describes this process as ‘reimagining politics’ which he explains in a new edition of his superb 2007 book Dream or Nightmare, updated to take in the age of Trump.

Such a reimagining demands an engagement with what politics means for those whose entry post-dates the 2008 financial crisis, 2019’s first and second time voters on whose support Labour is counting so much. Keir Milburn’s Generation Left should be considered the set text for connecting with these voters’ practical ideals.

And after all the votes have been counted, what changes and how much? The annual Socialist Register has taken for its 2020 theme ‘new ways of living’ with an admirably global view of the cusp of new versus old.

A scary vision of how such a transition might end up is provided by Peter Fleming’s The Worst is Yet To Come, described as a post-capitalist survival guide, ranging over economic decline, social division and environmental detonation. Oh well, it wasn’t good while it lasted.

TheTwitteringMachineCOVER

To prevent such a vision becoming a reality requires a conversational culture that enables differences of opinion to be shared, rather than as a badge of rising intolerance. Two contrasting approaches to this are provided by Billy Bragg and Richard Seymour, yet both take a similar starting point, social media. Billy’s The Three Dimensions of Freedom champions democratisation in the face of what some have described as ‘surveillance capitalism’. While in The Twittering Machine Richard Seymour tackles the degradation of political debate the entire social media edifice has helped bring about. In time honoured fashion we need both, institutional change and taking personal responsibility to effect that change. The importance of both approaches cannot be underestimated with elections increasingly fought as much online as on the doorstep.

Even in the heat of the such campaigns we need to locate change, personal and political, in the midst of what theorists call ‘the conjunctural’, the terrain of the present. A special edition of the journal New Formations takes this as its theme, This Conjuncture drawing on the work of Stuart Hall to apply the theory to a wide range of what constitutes the present.

Of course any sense of this particular ‘conjuncture’ is pretty much defined by all things Brexit. But of course the issue and what it raises has a history too. Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson’s Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire makes this precise point very well – imperial nostalgia is still a powerful political mobiliser.

cover The People s Flag and the Union Jack

Similarly, in The People’s Flag and the Union Jack Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw apply the consequences of an Englishness entwined with the imperial and the martial to the enduring failure for Labour to engage with either the break-up of Britain or the consequent re-emergence of the English nation. Both are of course vital to any understanding of Brexit.

It isn’t however a crude reductionism to suggest that Brexit must also be understood via the prism of class. Mike Carter’s All Together Now? is an epic journey, walking half the length of England to help provide that prism, looking at the deindustrialised communities almost entirely disconnected from the body politic. What kind of answer are the parties providing to their howls of rage?

In a similar vein Our City by Jon Bloomfield is an incredibly powerful testimony of how race and migration shapes the modern British city, in this case Birmingham, establishing grounds for both unity and division, the choice of which is entirely political.

Riding for Deliveroo, the debut book from Callum Cant, is another potent rejoinder to those who would reduce the entire General Election to all things Brexit. Callum’s spirited case for a resistance to the ‘new economy’ should be more than sufficient to convince it shouldn’t be.

If an election shaped by the Brexit impasse fails to respond to these many and varied howls of rage, the future will be anything but progressive. Cas Mudde’s The Far Right Today connects such an understanding to Brexit’s transatlantic equivalent, the 2016 triumph of Trumpism. A triumph framed by a populist racism coupled with authoritarian populism that has its origins in, and message projected by the alt-right.

The New Authoritarians by David Renton is an important new analysis of this phenomenon, that distinguishes this radicalised, racist right from more traditional versions of classic fascism. It is all the more dangerous for this shift. As David argues, our opposition and offering of alternatives is strengthened not weakened by understanding the nature and appeal of what we are up against. Casting votes will not be enough.

The biggest issue in the election should surely be the Climate Emergency. This will condition the shape of politics to come, so it’s useful to have a handbook to guide us. There is none better than Paul Mason’s latest, Clear Bright Future, a guide to past and present crises beyond any conventional electoral focus and a map of what a radical future in their place might look like too.

A more conventional response is provided by System Change not Climate Change edited by Martin Empson. It’s conventional in the sense that most of the contributors derive their politics from Marxism. It’s not to deride the entire legacy of this most revolutionary of ideologies to recognise that firstly its contribution to our understanding of the environmental crisis is negligible, and secondly other revolutionary ideas are serving to make up for that absence and inspiring millions to action.

For example, Greta’s short book No One is Too Small to Make A Difference , which would be my pick as the perfect 2019 Manifesto. And for a campaign guide, Extinction Rebellion’s handbook This is Not A Drill showcases the scale of audacity, action and creative resistance this campaign has generated in such a short time.

But however imaginative, however creative, in the same way that voting is not enough nor will blocking roads be sufficient if the Climate Emergency is to be reversed. We need ideas that become policies and in turn become government action. Labour putting a Green Industrial Revolution at the centre of its message is a hugely important development in this regard, although Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams’ The Economics of Arrival shows how far traditional, including left, governments need to travel to produce a society that is sustainable.  

Despite the claims of politicians on the stump, nothing in politics is ever entirely ‘new’. It pays to take more than a moment to pay heed to the past. Portugal in 1974 is one such instance, the most potent example yet of revolutionary change where we’ve become accustomed to least expect it, Western Europe. It’s an episode brilliantly recalled by Raquel Varela’s new account, A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution.

rebel

Closer to home the new edition of Rebel Footprints by David Rosenberg is a guide to the streets and other parts of London that carry with them a radical past. It’s a history lesson on the move – what a way to spend a Sunday afternoon after 12th December, with David’s book in hand, strolling for socialism.

Anti-racism is a strand that runs through much of this past, or at least it should. Evan Smith’s history British Communism and the Politics of Race may focus on one particular part of the Left and its changing relationship to anti-racism, yet the insights provide a much broader perspective on what makes, and what doesn’t make, an anti-racist Labour Party.

To keep up to date more broadly with the historiography of communism there’s no better source than the journal Twentieth Century Communism. The latest issue is testament to its customary eclectic mix, containing Eric Hobsbawm, the Brothers Grimm and the Communist Party of Cyprus.

A range of new titles offer an impressive revisiting of how to construct a political culture. Too little has been done on this front by Labour, since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. In the rush and tumble of the campaign theres’s Fck Boris and Grime4Corbyn – but what will remain of this after the polling stations close? If 2017 is anything to go by, not a lot.

Beautifully produced, the songbook Working Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song edited by Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore provides like-minded artefacts from the past to inspire us that a radical political future is not only necessary but possible – and the beauty of this is that with instrument in hand, the music can be turned into a weapon of change here and now.

Visual Dissent is an extraordinarily vivid collection of works by the much-celebrated photomontage artist Peter Kennard. If only more of the Left took note of Peter’s ability to communicate with wit, humour and impact.

The LGBT movement is never backward at coming forward with communicating its hopes, ambitions, demands for change. The origins of that political and cultural imperative are beautifully chronicled in the photos and accompanying essays from Stonewall ’69 which comprise Fred W. McDarrah’s Pride: Photographs after Stonewall.

And for a soundtrack? In Don’t Look Back in Anger Daniel Rachel chronicles the rise and fall of Cool Britannia, a music that just like the politics of the same era, the 1990s and the noughties, promised so much but in the end didn’t deliver. Better luck this time, eh?

And as for when the cut ’n thrust of the campaign serves to get a tad blunt and tawdry, I recommend a turn to How to be a Vegan and Keep your Friends from Annie Nichols. Individual, lifestyle choices aren’t sufficient in themselves, we need governments to effect change on the scale the Climate Emergency requires, yet reinventing our diet and ‘keeping our friends’ provides more than an inkling of both what is possible and necessary. Tasty too!

Who knows what the future might hold after 12th December? We can but dream, with many sacrificing evenings and weekends to help make it happen. A very welcome return therefore of the Big Red Diary to help plan the first year of supporting, resisting – or maybe even a mix of the two – a new government.

poems for when your phone dies

And my book of the General Election campaign? Matt Abbott’s debut poetry collection A Hurricane in my Head: Poems for When Your Phone Dies. Poetry? And these are for children too! What’s that got to do with 12th December, eh? Heaps. This is a once-in-a-generation vote, not only to determine Britain’s relationship with Europe via the EU, but also the scale of ambition to tackle the Climate Emergency.

On both fronts those of us of a certain age will struggle on and learn to live with the dire consequences, if the worst possible result imaginable materialises and Johnson is back at Number Ten on the morning of 13th December. But those at secondary school, the age group Matt’s book is primarily aimed at, will have to live with the fallout for most of their adolescence. A Johnson victory moreover will cement the popular shift to the Right, institutionalise its grip on power for a considerable time to come, so those at school will face a grim future.

At the very moment the Climate Emergency needs reversing most urgently, the least will be being done to stop it. The school climate strikers symbolise an entirely different discourse, hope on the move, pinning the blame for the dire prospects for their future squarely on those old enough to know better. Matt’s poems capture this hope and potential superbly, with a line in humour that the grown-ups will smile along to warmly. 12th December, for those not yet old enough to vote is just the beginning – and this is their book.

Note: No links in this review are to Amazon, if you can avoid buying from the corporate tax-dodgers please do. 

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

What do they know of cricket, that only cricket know?
Wednesday, 17 July 2019 13:44

What do they know of cricket, that only cricket know?

Published in Sport

 Mark Perryman criticises the exclusive way some sports are managed, and suggests some progressive policies to bring out all the benefits of sport – for the many, not the few.

Cricket’s version of the ‘years of hurt’ – 44 in this case – came to a spectacular end early last Sunday evening. Thrilling, eventful, and glorious – no wonder the front pages the following morning were full of it. The sub-editor who came up with the headline ‘Champagne Super Over’ is surely in line for a hefty bonus.

For a certain version of a miserabilist leftism, all this amounts to is a concocted, nationalistic, distraction from more important matters at hand. For others, it’s hip-hip-hooray! The world has changed at the flick of a super over and superior number of wickets taken! The nation will take up bat and ball! Obesity crisis, what crisis! The truth lies somewhere in between, or as CLR James famously put it ‘What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?’

The hoo-hah over the tournament’s TV broadcasting rights sold off to the highest bidder, a Sky TV subscription channel, illustrates this perfectly. The England and Scotland women’s World Cup campaigns attracted record-breaking viewing figures, with over 12 million for England’s semi-final. But until the final was after much pressure shared with Channel 4, the cricket World Cup scraped by on a few hundred thousand viewers.

The contrast couldn’t be more obvious. Ever since the birth of satellite TV, hyped-up claims have been made about the virtue of its ‘generous purchase’ of TV rights. Yet in every single case numbers following the sport on TV have plummeted, popular interest has been squandered, and participation levels have declined.

It’s been a disaster. Why on earth would any host nation allow the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a domestic World Cup to be be squandered in this way? Yet this summer we have had not one but two examples, in cricket and netball.

MP 2

Netball in particular has wasted the biggest chance it has ever had to grow the sport. Most women in this country have played the game during their schooldays, but the overwhelming majority promptly gave it up when they left school, never to return to the court. There’s been a modest reversal of this depressing trend following England’s gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, but nothing like the kind of platform a World Cup offers.

These sports’ governing bodies, and there are plenty of other examples, clearly cannot be trusted with the wider interests they are charged with. Of course most are hard-pressed for funds, but when participation is sacrificed for the short-term injection of cash, and to boost profits of privately-owned media companies, then something is clearly amiss. Some – though not enough – of the broadcasting rights to sporting events are regulated. They are not available to the satellite channels, and have to be broadcast on terrestrial TV. As a first step, an incoming Labour government should significantly extend that list, to include any domestic World Cup or World Championship for starters, and the Ashes too.

Nanny state? No! It’s standing up for the nation’s sporting interests. Those interests are centred on two roles sport performs like no other cultural activity – encouraging participation and framing a common-sense nationhood.

Sport is socially constructed

On the same weekend as that epic cricket World Cup final, terrestrial TV also treated us to the Wimbledon finals and the British Grand Prix. Both attracted huge audiences, yet neither will lead to many viewers taking up driving round Silverstone as a hobby, or picking up a tennis racquet for the first time.

That is because participation isn’t just about what we can watch on TV from the comfort of our own sofa, it is about providing the means to get us off that sofa too. Sport is socially constructed. A local go-kart track for the child inspired by Lewis Hamilton’s 100mph derring-do might do for starters, but the numbers who can afford to enter this hugely expensive sport at a competitive level are minuscule.

And tennis? The annual platform Wimbledon provides tennis frames it as an intensely upper middle-class pursuit, from the Royal Box guest list to strawberries and cream followed by a glass of Pimms. A revolutionary reinvention of tennis would reframe it as an urban, inner-city sport. A network of concrete tennis courts would not only be vandal-proof, they would require virtually zero maintenance. Add on an army of local authority coaches providing the much-needed structure to encourage those who pick up racquet and ball, and the whole sport could become about mass participation

It could become a sport for the many, not the few – ring any bells? And the few who made it up the ranks to play at Wimbledon would be a pleasant surprise and a welcome side effect, not the sum of our ambition. Having regulated the broadcasting rights, an incoming Labour Government should run an audit of every sport’s governing body’s finances. Those that failed to meet tougher objectives around mass participation would be deprived of the generous state support they receive, from taxpayers and Lottery players. Totalitarian? Not at all, it’s just common sense – these sports have lost the right to be trusted with the organisation and management of cultural activities which are so important to people’s health, happiness and well-being.  

Participation in physical activity is key to the nation’s health. But sport can deliver even more than that. A World Cup, in any sport, reaches the parts of a sporting nation like nothing else. When Liverpool won the Champions’ League the blue half of Merseyside looked away with studied indifference, while they were hardly dancing in the streets of Manchester, North London and elsewhere either.

A World Cup win is of a different scale. The casual observer is mobilised to become hardened fan for a month at least. In Eric Hobsbawm’s brilliant phrase ‘An imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.’

But of course that ‘imagined community’ is hugely contested, never more so than in this era of the Brexit impasse. Jacob Rees-Mogg clearly hadn’t spent very long on the playing fields of Eton if he could in all seriousness tweet after England’s World Cup victory, ‘We clearly don't need Europe to win.’

MP3

Yet this was an England team with an Irish-born captain, an opening batsman born in South Africa, a man of the match born in New Zealand, and wicket-takers born in Barbados and the grandson of a Pakistani immigrant. It was diverse, multicultural, and all the better for it. Of course this isn’t enough to roll back a resurgent popular racism – but it’s a start, an unrivalled platform for a very different imagined nation to the one of Rees-Mogg’s elitist and xenophobic imagination. Nothing reveals faux-populism like a politician’s ignorance of sport.

What do they know of cricket who only cricket knows? Not enough! The failure to understand the social impact and construction of sport leaves the political left incapable of contributing to the kind of national conversation that Sunday’s World Cup win has ignited.

Fortunately, what CLR James also taught us is that sport matters for its own sake too. For many millions of people, sport is not a distraction from the real world, but an invaluable and central part of that world. Let’s join them, savouring without apologies the victories of England and Wales – and along the way, hopefully learning lessons for the next Labour government’s more progressive policies around the ownership, control and regulation of sport.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football. Their World Champions T-shirt, celebrating the diverse and multicultural England team is available here. Illustration is by Hugh Tisdale/Philosophy Football.

Liberté, Egalité, Velocité: the Bicyclists' Road to Socialism
Thursday, 04 July 2019 09:37

Liberté, Egalité, Velocité: the Bicyclists' Road to Socialism

Published in Sport

As Le Tour begins, Mark Perryman offers up a 5-point transitional programme for a cycling revolution

It's July – the month when since 2012 first Wiggins, then Froome, and last year Thomas, turn Le Maillot Jaune into Le Maillot Britannique. Or in Thomas’ case Le Maillot Gallois. And on the back of this comes a surge in riding our bicycles, rather than simply watching the excellent television coverage.

Or not! According to the latest figures from the Department for Transport, only 6% of the UK population cycle at least once a month, just 1% of primary school children cycle to school, and a mere 3% of secondary school children. Compared to Europe we remain the third lowest of daily cyclists, at 4%. Only Cyprus (2%) and Malta (1%) get on their bikes less than the Brits.

Once again the myth that elite success, Le Tour, Team GB’s hatful of gold medals in the Olympic Velodrome, the cycling world championships coming to Yorkshire in the autumn, is proved to have next to no impact on increasing participation.

Yet cycling not only helps generate a healthier population by getting us out of our cars – the same data revealed that the average length of a car journey is 8.5 miles – we can help alleviate urban air pollution, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and decarbonise the economy.

Le Maillot Jaune won’t achieve any of this, but La Révolution might. It was Trotsky who once offered up a ‘transitional programme’ from capitalism to socialism: mine is a tad more modest – from four wheels, to two. After all, we have nothing to lose but our chains......

MP We have nothing to loose but our chains1

Socialist cycling club, 1939. Available as a postcard from Leeds Postcards

1. No VAT on Bikes

A signature move would be to remove VAT on bicycles. A 20% reduction across the board on the price of a bike, anything from £200 upwards, isn’t to be sniffed at. It uses tax gathering as a tool to actively shape lifestyles, something that will be required more and more by any government seriously committed to a sustainable economic strategy.

2. Socially Useful Bicycle Production

In the past few years there has been a spate of car factory closures. This is unlikely to slow down, as consumer habits are changing. Sadly, it’s not that car-drivers are driving less, it’s that they’re driving existing models for longer. The urgent need to upgrade every couple of years is coming to an end, and electricity is coming to replace the petrol in the tank.
Good, but where does the electricity come from? If not renewables while pollution may be reduced, the impact on climate change much less so – and the same applies to E-bikes.

Those factories could be taken over by the state, and used to churn out cheap but well-made bikes. Forget about front-wheel suspension, which is entirely unnecessary for the vast majority of journeys – lightweight steel is what improves the quality of any ride. Focus on this for a new line of nationalised, not-for profit children’s and adults’ bikes. Traditional centres of car manufacture are unlikely ever to recover, certainly not on the scale they once had – but what if they became centres of bike manufacture?

3. Bicycles on trains

Eight and a half miles isn’t a bad standard to aim at. Of course many car journeys are considerably less, so there’s no need to aspire to Le Tour standards straightaway. Most of us, depending on any hills getting in the way, could do those 8.5 miles in well under an hour. In big cities that will be quicker than by bus, and no wait for the next train either.

For some, however, the journey to work is considerably longer. Why then does commuting by train actively discriminate against those who’d take a bike to complete the journey? The only ones permitted are those who can afford the expensive ‘2nd bike’ option, the fold-away. And at the weekends it’s no better, a ride in the country for city-dwellers is made difficult because the train ride to get there has next to no space for bikes.

None of this applies on the continent where it is not uncommon to find entire carriages given over to cyclists and their bikes. What new train design in the UK has even begun to address this? There is ever-decreasing provision for carrying bikes, which is sheer madness – both commercially, and for the environment.

4. A bike shed for every workplace

OK, 8.5 miles is going to leave some of us a tad sweaty. If you’re into all-weather cycling, quite possibly soaking wet and caked in mud as well. No way to start the working day! So every workplace needs to be kitted out with a bike shed, changing room and showers. Central and local government should set the example in their offices, but tokenism isn’t enough. It needs to be in planning regulations for new workplace builds, with interest-free loans for all existing workplaces to add this provision.

5. The cyclists’ road to socialism

In the early years of socialism ‘Clarion Clubs’ of socialist cyclists would take body, soul and the message for change from city to countryside. A late 1980s version was the annual Oxford to London Nicaragua Solidarity bike ride, that thousands would take part in every year.

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Clarion House’s annual Big Red Picnic, which is a Morning Star fundraiser Photo: Joan Heath

Despite the supposed frailty of Jeremy Corbyn being challenged by pictures of his regular Islington to Westminster – 4.5 miles according to my road map – cycle-commuting is a culture largely absent from the Left nowadays.

A left cycling culture could help generate instead what the writer Lynne Segal has described as moments of ‘collective joy’ – a day out yes, but with a world, not just a wheel, to change too.

I could add, of course, safer cycleways and paths. These are certainly needed, because fear remains a major impediment to the revolutionary growth in cycling for our individual and collective benefit I am advocating. Yet the overwhelming emphasis on this, to little or no substantial change, serves only to produce a self-fulfilling prophecy. If it’s that dangerous, which it isn’t, and nothing is being done about it, which it hasn’t, why bother?

Like any decent manifesto for a revolution mine is the advocacy therefore of hope, not despair.

Liberté? Yes. Egalité? Of course. Velocité? Why not? Driven not by profit or an economic system driving our planet to destruction, but by ourselves. A Révolution in anybody’s language.

Tour de France 2019 s s final

Out just in time for Le Tour: Philosophy Football’s Liberté, Egalité, Velocité T-shirt is available from Philosophy Football.

 

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