Thinking Against the Current book promotion@LeftCentral

Thinking Against the Current 

This collection of literary/historical essays, written 1970-2010, covers political subjects as diverse as 17th Century Quaker persecution history, the social impact of Malthus, the self-emancipation of English women, Eleanor Rathbone on the human rights of girls and German women’s resistance to Hitler. The more literary subjects include the social thinking of the English Romantics, Dickens’ Great Expectations, Simone Weil’s great essays attacking militarism and Virginia Woolf’s opposition to the State — as well as contemporary American women poets on the problem of war. But despite all its diversity, this collection has one unifying theme — the necessity for resistance, for ‘thinking against the current’, as Virginia Woolf wrote in ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air-raid’. The torch of resistance to oppression and militarism is shown to have been continuously handed on through the generations from the seventeenth century to our own day by men and women who had the courage, at whatever personal cost, to ‘fight with the mind’. This book of passionate, lively essays is not merely a treasure trove for biographical researchers; it is also strengthening medicine, introducing us to unfamiliar forebears who can help us in our current struggle for a better world. As Simone Weil said: “We can find something better than ourselves in the past”.

Sussex Academic Press (UK) – published September   2013

Author: Sybil Oldfield

We are delighted to announce that Lincoln Green will be reviewing this text at the Central.

Madrid’s Forgotten Avante-Garde book promotion@LeftCentral

Madrid’s Forgotten Avante-Garde 

Madrid’s Forgotten Avante-Garde explores the role played by artists and intellectuals who constructed and disseminated various competing images of national identity which polarised Spanish society prior to the Civil War. The convergence of modern and essentialist discourses and practices, especially in literature and poetry, in what is conventionally called in Spanish letters “The Generation of ’27”, created fissures between competing views of aesthetics and ideology that cut across political affiliation. Silvina Schammah exposes the paradoxes facing Madrid’s cultural vanguards, as they were torn by their ambition for universality, cosmopolitanism and transcendence on the one hand and by the centripetal forces of nationalistic ideologies on the other. Taking upon themselves roles to become the disseminators and populisers of radical positions and world-views first elaborated and conducted by the young urban intelligentsia, their proposed aim of incorporating diverse identities embedded in different cultural constructions and discourse was to have very real and tragic consequences as political and intellectual lines polarised in the years prior to the Spanish Civil War.

Sussex Academic Press (UK) – December   2013 Author: Silvina Schammah Gesser

We are pleased to announce that this book will be reviewed for LeftCentral by Dr Alan Sennett

The Men Who Lost America by Andrew O`Shaughnessy:Book Review

LeftCentral Book Reviews

Image © Mr d`Aprix

When it comes to the American War of Independence, the UK and the USA are two nations divided by a common history, although a general consensus has emerged regarding British incompetence.   Professor Andrew O`Shaughnessy has attempted to address this and in doing so has written a beautifully balanced book.  It contains ten biographical subjects, George III, Lord North, Sir William Howe, Admiral Lord Richard Howe, John Burgoyne, Lord George Germain, Sir Henry Clinton, Lord Cornwallis, Admiral George Rodney and John Montague.  There is significant interplay but remarkably no repetition of detail, in a well crafted and riveting book.   Read more of this post

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy St Patricks Day and may the road rise with you…

Nora Connolly 

© Image Oxyman

They died in their hundreds with no sign to mark where save the brass in the pocket of the entrepreneur

It`s that time of year again, when the Irish Diaspora, is expected to celebrate the land that made us refugees. St Patrick`s day has always conjured up ambivalent feelings for me, long before it was cynically appropriated by a multinational drinks company. The traditional parading in green, the masquerading in shamrocks and Irish harps unsettles me. Nationalism, regardless of its provenance, always makes me uncomfortable. But, despite the bogus nationalist artefacts and sentiment, it`s an important opportunity to pay due deference to the Irish in Britain, for their distinctive contribution to the economic and cultural life of the nation. It`s also a chance to recognise, as Paul Michael Garret does, that a homogenous view of British society founded on a notion of assimilation by virtue of `whiteness’ `helps to mask the internal ethnic, regional and national differences which characterise the UK. ` The Irish as Garret points out didn’t simply assimilate into British life as `the myth of homogeneity requires the denial of differences`. This is important because when we deny differences, there is a danger of misjudging later migration by people `who possesed a different skin colour`and whose entry to the UK is viewed as problematic, while earlier `white` immigration considered smooth and problem free. Read more of this post

Would we have been rolling about in laughter if James Callaghan had won the election in 1979?

Peter D`Sena  

Image © Ingo Hoehn

Peter D’Sena wonders if Callaghan had won

the election of 1979,

would so-called alternative

comedy and its associated forms of popular

culture have had a very different

genesis, trajectory and influence.

 

“Ladies aaaand Gentlemen!”, bellows the compere. “Please give a warm welcome our headline act tonight: the one, the only, Jim Davidson!”

It’s a Saturday night in March 1983 and in a new West End club (let’s call it the Comic Shop) the atmosphere is hot, sweaty, smoky and slightly claustrophobic.  Our hero struts on and, as this is ‘Sit Down’ comedy, he perches on a stool, Perry Como style, in order to start his routine.  A heckler in the crowd drunkenly berates the leader of the opposition (Willie Whitelaw), but even his jibe about the nation’s big, bushy browed soft target falls on deaf ears – the age of political apathy of the ’70s, has by this time grown apace and the passive audience quickly hushes this would-be participant down.  And why shouldn’t they?  The opposition is becoming merely ornamental.  After all, inflation is down into single figures; the labour party seems to be in internal harmony, especially after buying the loyalty of the Liberals and preventing the formation of a splinter group (the would-be SAP); and labour’s deputy leader, Tony Benn, not only seems to be a credible complement and successor to Callaghan, but also likely to capture a greater margin of victory in the general election called for a few months time.  Even for the few who are bothered to politicise, there seems to be more to laugh than cry about.  Dr Owen’s tactics of submarine diplomacy, in 1982, proved enough to prevent the quirky Argentinian leadership from taking the Falklands; Callaghan has pulled back from schmoozing with the new president – the B-list actor, Reagan and distanced himself from Star Wars; and the death of Brezhnev has opened the door to the possibility of a socialist-dominated Europe moving closer to reciprocal agreements with the new Soviet leadership.  Unemployment, which had been a threat in the late ’70s, seems to be turning around, so much so that a TV show called Boys from the Black Stuff won’t be taken beyond its pilot.   The show with a character called Loadsamoney looks to have much more potential under Labour than Yosser Hughes.  This is an age of parody rather than post-modern irony, and in the media the closest thing to conflict is the TV ratings war, where it’s a close call between Blind Date and Fantasy IslandRead more of this post

Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

Has Probation a future?

Mike Guilfolyle

copyright citizensheep`s photostream

The modern Probation Service in England and Wales was accorded formal statutory footing in 1907 by a reforming Liberal Government having its embryonic Victorian antecedents in the appointment of Police Court Missionaries who worked in local Magistrates courts to redeem or act as guardians to many of those deemed by society as incorrigibles, inebriates and the socially excluded. The primary duty to ‘ advise, assist and befriend’ was enjoined on new entrants in what quickly became a more professionalised, welfare -oriented community based statutory agency. The union representing Probation staff Napo (National Association of Probation Officers) was formally established in 1912. The social work ethos that informed and shaped the widening casework responsibilities of Probation Officers was facilitated by the development of what was widely seen and lauded as the pivotal role of the professional relationship that the client/offender had with a Probation Officer( and later Assistant Probation Officer grades) . This role was strengthened with additional responsibilities that including work in prisons, parole supervision and aftercare, the provision of social enquiry reports( now known as pre-sentence reports ) to courts on Adult defendants found/pleading guilty to a range of middle ranking offences, as well as the setting up of Bail Hostels. Another significant statutory task which became integral to the Services work was the introduction of Community Service in 1972. Read more of this post

Question Time – Democracy Lite?

Lincoln Green 

BBC Question Time

Copyright UK Parliaments photostream

I was an audience member in the BBC Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013, when David Dimbleby chaired a panel which included Mary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Nigel Farage MEP (Leader of UKIP), Caroline Flint MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe) and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative Party Chairman).

Whilst the aim of the programme is to entertain and to provoke, attendance prompted thoughts about broader issues and about the underscoring attitudes which inform opinion and which programmes such as Question Time by their very nature fail to address.

Perhaps the most well debated issue was not actually broadcast but took place earlier, chaired by the floor manager to warm up the audience and to check the broadcasting systems.  The theme of responsibility for diet was discussed for almost an hour, raising issues such as personal responsibility, education for change, busy working parents and child care, and most pertinently the nature of the food industry.  Even with the luxury of extra time allotted only hints of the real issue were addressed – that the function of the food industry is to make a profit, and the easiest way to do this is to create something on which people will spend plenty of money (junk food) which is very cheap to produce and highly addictive (fat, sugar and salt).  Read more of this post

Pensions for all and solidarity forever…

Legal Eagle

copyright Professor Megan`s photostream

I am aware that my recent comments concerning social democracy and the golden generation may have been slightly misconstrued. My intention was not to critique those now retired I was actually commending this generation for placing themselves on the right side of the poverty line, a position they and previous generations earned through struggle. I simply wished to highlight the obvious, that future generations who manage to reach the ever distant pensionable age, are going to find themselves in poverty. And we must reflect upon this as social democratic institutions wither on the vine both here and abroad. Quentin Crisp once said that in Britain the “people are cruel but the system kind; while in America the opposite was true”. If we accept this notion, then we need to ask, what happens to the poor in Britain when the system also becomes cruel? Because, I for one am tired of hearing privileged Tories bemoaning the fact that people are simply living too long in this country. We should be rejoicing in this and congratulating some of the social democratic institutions that have made this possible, such as the National Health Service, which is looking increasingly susceptible to privatisation in the future. One thing is for sure; once this privatisation kicks in we will undoubtedly see a drop in longevity levels in the UK, thus allowing the rich to make huge profits while resolving the tiresome problem of the demographic time-bomb. Read more of this post

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