Category Archives: Politics

Developing England’s North

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Developing England’s North –
The Political Economy of the Northern Powerhouse
Edited by Craig Berry & Arianna Giovannini
Palgrave Macmillan – £92.00

The whole deal with developing England’s North ought to be just as deeply and as equally entrenched within the staid stasis of attitude, as it is within the all to considered sphere of finance and economics. But it isn’t; which, given much of the mire in which the North invariably finds itself, is a mighty big shame.
If not an inexorable problem.

Reason being, in the so-called futuristic, (B-I-G) scheme of all things progressive, one of the most fundamental issues which ultimately holds the North back, is the North itself.
By which I mean, its devout desire to assert it’s very ‘Northerness.’
If you’ve ever spent time in Yorkshire, you’ll know what I mean.
If you haven’t, let me put it this way: Yorkshire prides itself on it’s idiosyncratic stubborness – plain and exceedingly simple.
Regardless of issue.
Regardless of what’s at stake.
Regardless of anything ‘other.’

This essentially explains why most of the North, along with Cornwall and vast swathes of South Wales, voted for Brexit; despite the fact that Brussels has been keeping much of these deprived areas financially afloat for years.
Talk about biting the hand that feeds you, but that’s Yorkshire for you.
Along with most of the North.

This partially explains the background behind a lot of Developing England’s North – The Political Economy of the Northern Powerhouse, as the editors Craig Berry and Arianna Giovannini make abundantly clear at the outset: ‘Brexit’ – the UK’s decision, in the referendum of 23 June 2016, to withdraw from the European Union – looms large over the book’s content. Like the UK in general, most parts of the North are highly integrated with, and as such dependent upon, at least in the short-term, the wider European economy. More generally, the EU’s political and economic structures and processes are in an integral dimension of the (evolving) political economy of the North. Interestingly, the areas of the UK (including large parts of the North) where jobs and production are most dependent on European economic integration (and indeed EU investment) are those that voted most strongly to leave […].”

Therein, I’d have like to have read a little more about the North from as much of an ideological perspective, than that which the book’s secondary title suggests. As again, the area’s social attitudes, wants, needs and desires, will continue to play just as big a part within the realm of The Political Economy of the Northern Powerhouse than is generally given credit.
Or realised.
Perhaps even more in fact, as the subliminal trajectory thereof is huge.

Might this be just one reason why it is never ever, truly confronted?
Might this go some way in explaining ”the fact that the Northern Powerhouse as a specific discursive ploy appears to have been marginalised within Theresa May’s government?”

Compartmentalised into three specific sections (‘Economic Policy and the Political Economy of Northern Development,’ ‘Place, City-Regional Governance and Local Politics’ and ‘Inequality and Austerity in the Northern Powerhouse Agenda’), all the fine contributors to this book have done a most magnificent job within the economic area(s) of their own committed fields. But with possible exception of Chapter Ten’s ‘Regionalisation and Civil Society in a Time of Austerity: The Cases of Manchester and Sheffield’ by David Beel, Martin Jones and Ian Rees Jones, far too much of Developing England’s North is far too entrenched within a myopic quagmire of it’s own linear design.

David Marx

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Youth Culture and Social Change

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Youth Culture and Social Change –
Making a Difference by Making a Noise
Edited by the Subcultures Network
Palgrave Macmillan – £89.99

Now look at it, Simon Cowell and all that nonsense, where they just take the soul out of everything and regurgitate this shit at people, and people want it. Their lives are being narrowed down.

‘Agents of Change, Cultural Materialism –
Post-Punk and the Politics of Popular Music’

Here, Here. And doubly here; for the above opening quote is a sentiment shot straight from both my heart and hip (and then some). For Simon Cowell – to whom many oft refer to as the devil incarnate – is indeed responsible for having taken the soul out of music. Aretha Franklin would no doubt have despised him and everything he stands for.
If not sighed an abundance of mortal resignation at the mere prospect of what Cowell and his ghastly, sickly, conglomorate of fuckers have done to music.

For this reason alone, Youth Culture and Social Change – Making a Difference by Making a Noise is very much a book worth reading.

Although I do have to say, it is on the whole, somewhat disparate and convoluted in its approach. One of the reasons for this being the degree to which the opening chapter ‘Subcultures, Schools and Rituals: A Case Study of the ‘Bristol Riots ‘ (1980) by Roger Ball, goes into considerble depth on said riots; before tengentially heading the reader off and dissecting the degree to which the American hardcore, punk band, Bad Brains, have influneced international, or at least, western youth culture in chapter eight’s ‘How to Forget (and Remember) ‘The Greatest Punk Rock Band in the World’: Bad Brains: Hardcore Punk and Black Popular Culture’ by Tara Martin Lopez and Michael Mills.

Not that there’s anything essentially wrong or uninteresting with either subject; it’s just that on a number of occasions throughout these 283 pages, I found myself trying to make some kind of visceral connection.

For instance, in the book’s Introduction, the editors write: ”The post-war generation came to be defined by their refusal to reap the rewards of the post-war settlement in simple terms. Instead they took new popular cultural spaces like cinema, clubs and concert halls, and used them to build new collective identities. For example, young girls’ sexuality and romantic desires worked against the fault-lines of the prescriptive literature they read. They were being sold the dream of the happy-ever-after ending, but in the process they became aware of themselves as sexual agents. It was apparent that young people did not necessarily want to do as they were told and sought to make a difference by making a noise.”

Absolutely fine.
So far so good.
Especially the line: ”and sought to make a difference by making a noise.”
But where on earth is the correlation between the above and the Tory MP, Oliver Letwin’s comment in the final chapter, ‘Silence is Virtual’: Youth Violence, Belonging, Death and Mourning’ by William ‘Lez’ Henry and Sireita Mullings-Lawrence, which reads: ”The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth ‘alienation,’ or the lack of a middle class… Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder.”

Again, in and of itself, this is absolutely fine – not that I necessarily agree with what Letwin is saying. As are the many other subjects addressed throughout Youth Culture and Social Change. Be it the aforementioned Simon Cowell, Bristol Riots or Bad Brains; gang girl sexuality, underground music within the realm of the UK Riots or Easterhouse and ‘The Politics of Representation in the Glasgow Gang Phenomenon.’

They are, suffice to say, all mighty interesting issues in their own right; but do they all belong in the same book?

David Marx

Waiting On The Word

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Waiting On The Word
By Lorraine Cavanagh
Foreword by Martyn Percy
Darton, Longman & Todd – £12.99

[…] for many people, to fall is to fail. Cities fall; so do people. It is to be reduced: to come to nothing. And yet, we also fall in love. To fall is also to let go. It is also to go with the flow; to cascade, like a river or waterfall.

          Martyn Percy

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

          Rainer Maria Rilke (Foreword)

Both of the above quotes might be construed as an insinuation as to where we, as a society, have gone horribly wrong in so many (avoidable) ways. As mere words written on a page, there’s no denying that they need to be read and embraced for all their worth.

BUT, all too often, those doing the reading will undoubtedly already be well aware of the culpability of entangling ”ourselves in knots of our own making.” It is the vast array of brain-dead sycophants (such as most of those in Theresa May’s Cabinet or those who ever so transiently kneel at the alter of Donald Trump) who really/undoubtedly need to read and be made aware of the above.

Even if just for a smidgen of a fleeting moment.

Alas, it really is the powers that be, whom truly need to embrace an assortment of (the most prophetic and clear-sighted) writings throughout Waiting On The Word.

Indeed those who can afford, as well as both make and allow for change to happen – as Lorraine Cavanagh makes fundamentally clear in chapter five’s ‘Becoming an effective communicator:The preacher as Connector,’ wherein she writes: ”They represent the chronic loneliness which is a direct result of our indifference to the circumstances of other people, the protective self-interest so characteristic of our times, and of our busy and affluent western society. If we read […] of the refugee crisis which is being played out on the beaches of northern France and on the barbed borders of an increasing number of other European countries, it becomes a grim prophetic warning about the future of Europe itself. Turning a blind eye to suffering, by refusing to work together as nations, will ultimately cause our own fragmentation. Without compassion, and a shared duty of care ‘the centre cannot hold’ (the centre cannot hold: Y.B. Yeats, The Second Coming).”

The 143 pages of Waiting On The Word are a more than telling indictment of our most terrible of times.

Aligned with a calling to be open and sincere and to avoid the fickleness of fame, fortune and the most inane of popularity (or should that read celebrity?), it is a book that really does need to be read by anyone and everyone currently in or considering a career in politics (let alone the pulpit).

After all: ”Knowing we are loved is not a matter of knowing that we are popular. Popularity is fickle. It can vanish overnight. But healthy self-confidence is a gift […].

David Marx

Debating Europe In National Parliaments

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Debating Europe In National Parliaments –
Public Justification and Political Polarization
By Frank Wendler
Palgrave Macmillan – £92.00

What with the ghastly likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and of course Jacob Rees Mogg – not to mention the entire Tory government – Britain’s future with(in) the rest of Europe hangs precariously in the balance of (knowingly) machine gunning itself in the foot.
Totally and utterly.
Thus resulting in a broken body that no longer works.
Thus resulting in having become one of the world’s prime laughing stocks – due to orchestrated self-infliction might one add – beyond repair.

Wasn’t Broken Britain enough?
Did/Does ever more irreparable damage need to be done?

Clearly it does, which is why Debating Europe In National Parliaments – Public Justification and Political Polarization and such other books of a similar political design, also hang somewhat precariously in the balance.

Simply because, among other things, no two days are ever the same in Great (great?) Britain.

Moreover, what is without any shadow of a right-wing induced doubt, is the degree to which Britain is no longer taken remotely seriously amid the world’s the corridors of power. Especially when said corridors are in Paris, Berlin and Moscow; which to be fair, this book’s eight chapters simply bypass.
As if an open cesspit of a wound!

There again, as Frank Wendler states in the Introduction: ”The main task of this book is to uncover how public political contention evolves in parliamentary debates, and what forms of political polarization between parliamentary parties can be observed in a comparison of four European legislatures. Against this background, the purpose of this book is to link two debates that currently play a central role for research about European integration: first, the investigation of the effects of EU decision-making on the politics of its Member States, as commonly addressed through the term ”Europeanization” […] and second, research dealing with the perception that the process of European integration is going through a transformative change through the increased public visibility, political salience, and contestation of its policies and decisions, as expressed through the term ”politicization” […]. Through this connection, the book positions itself both in the study of European integration and in the comparative study of parliaments and party systems.”

The aforementioned wheeler-dealer, cum lying toad numero uno, Nigel Farage, would no doubt have (an open) field day deflecting such adult dogma as: ”European integration[…] in the comparative study of parliaments and party systems.”

So well done Frank Wendler for having compiled this rather weighty dissertation on such a wide and varied (complicated) subject matter; upon which Professor Vivien A.Schmidt of Boston University has since written:”Wendler’s groundbreaking study documents the increasing salience of the European Union in national parliamentary debates over the past decade. Using an innovative mix of quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis of four highly differentiated legislatures(the UK, France, Germany and Austria), the book connects different EU-related discursive frames to very different patterns of party polarization, to show how and why this matters for the bottom-up democratization of the EU.”

Excluding two lists of Figures and Tables, an Annex (Plenary Debates of National Parliaments Coded for the Present Study) and Index, these 238 pages make for dry, albeit – given the subject matter – very informative reading.

David Marx

Race Policy and Racial Americans

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Race Policy and Racial Americans
Edited by Kathleen Odell Korgen
Policy Press – £18.39

[…] some argue that multiracial identity has the potential to undo race in the United States as long as it attends to social justice and does not present itself as a racially superior category, while other scholars contend that multiracial identity is supportive of White supremacy and is a throwback to earlier, simplistic, and racist conceptualizations of the American mulatto.

                                                                                    Rainier Spencer

I’m almost inclined to embark on this review with just one word: discuss.

The above is the nigh perfect examination question in relation to that of the book’s title, Race Policy and Racial Americans, wherein it could be said that each of these twelve, exceedingly well-researched and seemingly provocative essays, act as differing answers.

Admittedly, some may home in more than others, simply due to having been written from a different perspective by an assortment of very fine scholars. But all twelve are undoubtedly designed to make one think, perhaps ponder and no doubt deliberate.

For instance, the very opening of the very first essay (‘Multiracial Americans throughout the history of the US) by Tyrone Nagai contends: ”While there are many places that could be used as starting points for a history of multiracial people in the US, perhaps none is better than acknowledging the fact that the presence of multiracial people in what we now call North America pre-dates the formation of the US by at least three centuries.”

If the current US administration – if such it can be referred to – were to actually deign and accept as much as the blatant truth, then the shocking violence that took place in Charlottsville,Virginia last year, might never have happened.

Likewise, such ultimately simplistic, yet subjective thought also traverses the second paragraph of the eleventh chapter (‘Multiraciality and the racial order: the good, the bad, and the ugly’) written by Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl and David L. Brunsma: ”Race is a human construction, one whose meanings are debated and defined by society. Thus, the meanings of multiraciality, as a racial category, also vary. Multiraciality is a complex and problematic notion because it both challenges and reifies the socially constructed, but experientially real, notion of race. On the one hand, it directly confronts the power of ascribed monoracial classifications, but, conversely, it still works within the language and ideologies of the racial classification system. We believe mutliraciality is an important social and cultural barometer to watch.”

Indeed, it absolutely is.
Although it cannot be stressed more vigorously enough, the degree to which so many (white) Americans are utterly unaware of said cultural barometer.

Might this be because multiraciality itself, ”is a complex and problematic notion” that challenges the very social construct it endeavours to solve, if not redeem?

In Trump’s America, this altogether exploratory book ought to be made compulsory reading for everyone working within the sphere of White House. That most are actually incapable of reading, is of course, a different tragedy altogether.

There again, as G. Reginald Daniel of the University of California has since written, Race Policy and Racial Americans is ”a timely and masterful addition to the literature on multiraciality. It counters any argument that growing numbers of mutliracials in the United States are a sign that we are in a post-racial society. The authors argue persuasively that multiracials indicate, rather, the need to adjust current race policies.”

Here. Hear.

David Marx

A Different Kind Of Animal

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A Different Kind Of Animal –
How Culture Transformed Our Species
By Robert Boyd
Princeton University Press – £22. 95

”Robert Boyd marshals an astonishing range of scholarship, colourful vignettes, and anecdotes to argue that humans make use of insights and adaptations that we do not understand. We learn very often not by figuring out how things work but imitating others who have locally useful ”know-how.” Boyd describes the conditions under which selection favours ”a psychology that causes most people to adopt beliefs just because others hold those beliefs” (Introduction).

How exceedingly, woefully true.

”People do indeed adopt beliefs just because others hold those beliefs.”
There are countless examples scattered throughout the history of unfortunate folly; surely the most volatile of late being the fact that so much of (ignorant and myopic) North America has opted to have a cold, callous, cowardly, businessman as its leader – just because others were somehow indoctrinated to believe his vile, yet overtly simplistic, gung-ho rhetoric.

Talking of which, this book’s Introduction further goes on to clarify: ”Not all of the consequences are positive: maladaptive ideas and false beliefs can also spread via blind imitation.” To be sure, hasn’t ”blind imitation” nigh always been at the helm of the western world’s (cultural) downfall?

A Different Kind Of Animal – How Culture Transformed Our Species does much to explain why this is unsurprisingly so.

If nothing else, it’s seven chapters are more than demonstrative in deciphering that while society – to varying degrees – can be smart, ”we are not nearly smart enough to have solved the vast array of problems that confronted our species as it spread across the globe.”

All the more reason that we as a society, ought to tread a whole lot more carefully when it comes to choosing those we feel have our best interests at heart. Two very current, prime reasons being: America’s Donald Trump (for whatever reason), doesn’t believe in climate change, while the UK’s Theresa May (for whatever reason) doesn’t believe in a fair society.

And more than anything else, said two examples go a long, long way, in substantiating that we are indeed: ”not nearly smart enough.”

These 196 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, References and Index) are a fine reflection of human adaptation as seen through some sort of prism of acute vulnerability. As the author of The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, Joseph Henrich, has since both asked and stated: ”What makes us unique? Are we really just smart chimpanzees? Why is our species both so cooperative and yet so violent? Addressing these questions, Robert Boyd adroitly combines detailed analysis of diverse societies, crystal-clear experimental studies, and rich descriptions of hunter-gatherer life with the precision that only mathematics can provide […]. Boyd boldly leads us on a scientific journey to discover who we are and where we came from.”

In and of itself, we would be more than wise to take supreme note of the latter – before it’s too late.

David Marx

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East

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Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East
By Azriel Bermant
Cambridge University Press – £22.95

Throughout my political life I have usually sought to avoid compromise, because it more often than not turns out to involve an abdication of principle. In international affairs, it is often also symptomatic of muddle and weakness. But over the years I have been forced to conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is an exception. Here a historic compromise is, indeed, necessary.

                                                                                    Margaret Thatcher

It does make one wonder where former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the all round architect of so-called Broken Britain, had the vivacious vim of audacity to think, let alone actually utter the word, ‘compromise.’

She is nevertheless, completely correct to use the word in relation to the appalling, on-going stalemate of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although so far as eradicating great swathes of the United Kingdom, by way of the unlawful/soul-destroying Miners Strike of 1984-5 is concerned, she remains the most unscrupulous of political vermin, to have ever traipsed the steps of Downing Street.

Suffice to say, said Miner’s Strike has very little to do with Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East, but just as Tony Blair has become increasingly tarnished over his handling of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War; for me personally, I cannot help but forever equate Thatcher with said strike and the total, total annihilation of (Britain’s) moral society.

With this in mind, let it be said that there was a most pronounced prism of cynicism which needed to be reigned in as I made my way through these twelve chapters of predominantly linear, literary diplomacy. Twelve chapters of coherent and very considered analysis of that which the title purports: an examination of the ‘Iron Lady’s Middle East policy throughout her tenure in office.

Something which, all things considered – her relationship with America and Ronald Reagan especially – wasn’t always quite as verbatim as expected. Her London constituency of Finchley may well have been predominantly Jewish, but Thatcher wasn’t always in agreement with Reagan’s foreign policy towards Israel.

A questionable modus operandi that Azriel Bermant touches on on numerous occasions throughout these 217 pages (excluding Figures, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index), not least in the book’s Introduction itself: ”Thatcher was instinctively sympathetic towards Israel, and she did attempt briefly to counter the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) position on the Middle East. However, there were also numerous occasions when she took the lead in supporting policies that caused considerable difficulties for the Israeli political leadership […]. This book therefore, challenges the exaggerated emphasis that has been placed on the differences between the FCO and 10 Downing Street on Middle East policy, and also questions the impact of partisan pressures on Thatcher’s policy towards the conflict.”

With an inexorable spotlight on her rather brazen approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book fundamentally questions claims that Thatcher sought to counter Foreign Office policy, by maintaining she was in (relative) close agreement with Whitehall on the unsurprisingly, on-going dissension.

As such, a little dry perhaps, but on the whole, Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East is concise and very much to the point.

David Marx