Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Speed reading review for Tablet ..Utopia for realists and how we can get there, Dismembered:how the attack on the state harms and Confessions of a recovering environmentalist

Utopia for realists..and how we can get there (Bloomsbury, £16.99) lays out an optimistic  blueprint of a world, where there is a universal basic income, 15 hour week and open borders. Rutger Bergman calls for a massive redistribution of wealth, making for a more equal and just society. He  suggests that people are basically decent, not always trying to rip off the system. Bergman also questions some of the accepted dogma of our times, such as the adherence to GDP as a measure of well-being. The overall message though is one of hope in change.    

Whilst Bergman looks to how life might be, Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s Dismembered (Faber, £9.99) warns of what could be lost, if government continues to hack away at the state. The writers expose the lunacy of a growing population, requiring ever more from services, like the NHS, education and care services, whilst government continues to cut resources.

Statistics abound, as to how education, care, prisons, the police and the health service have all been dismembered. However, there are also positive stories such as Thurrock Council where services have improved, after being taken back in house. The authors call for greater articulation of the positive contribution that the public sector makes to the common good.

The least optimistic of these titles is Paul Kingsnorth’s Confessions of a recovering environmentalist (Faber, £14.99). Kingsnorth plots his path, via a number of published essays, from eco-idealist to a man disillusioned with much of the environmental movement. He criticises the reductionist approach that has seen the sole focus being climate change and the need to cut carbon emissions. Meanwhile, things like the mass extinction of many species tend to get ignored.
Kingsnorth himself has responded by moving his family to Ireland where they pursue a more self-sufficient life on a small holding. Questions over the nature of progress and the damage done by the domineering relationship that humanity has developed toward the natural world provide much food for thought.

published in the Tablet - 12/8/2017

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A life long fighter for social justice - Kevin McNamara, MP

Former Labour MP for Hull Central, Kevin McNamara, has sadly passed away at the age of 82.
In his earlier life, Kevin studied for a law degree at the University of Hull, prior to going on to teach history at St Mary’s grammar school in Hull. He met his wife Nora, whilst studying law, marrying in 1960.

Following his school years, he did two years (1964 to 1966) as a law lecturer at Hull College.

Kevin unsuccessfully contested the Bridlington constituency in 1964, prior to winning Hull North in 1966. He then served as an MP until his retirement in 2005.

The Hull MP served as shadow Northern Ireland minister between 1987 and 1994 under Neil Kinnock. Then, Tony Blair replaced him with Mo Mowlem, when he became leader.

Kevin was a stalwart supporter of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, doing all he could to advance that agenda in Westminster and beyond. Widely touted as a republican in the British media, Kevin strongly believed that had successive British governments taken a different approach to Northern Ireland from 1969, seeking to accommodate the demands of the civil rights protesters, then the war, that brought the physical force tradition of the republican movement to the fore - under the guise of the IRA - could have been avoided.

He supported peace throughout his life in Ireland and beyond. Despite losing the shadow portfolio on Northern Ireland, he remained a key operator in the background, helping Mowlem and Blair bring about the Good Friday Agreement.

A keen student of all things Irish, Kevin took a particular interest in the McBride principles, for which he attained a Phd from the University of Liverpool in 2007.

His commitment to Ireland, though, did not stop him championing the cause of the families of soldiers killed at Deepcut and other British army barracks in the noughties.

The breadth of Kevin’s interests were nicely demonstrated at a Christmas celebration of the Agreed Ireland Forum (another group of which he was an integral part), which included leading members of Sinn Fein, the Labour Party and the parents of those bereaved as a result of their children dying in barracks serving in the British army.

Kevin’s commitment to the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church were a guiding principle throughout his life. He was a keen supporter of international development and the first chair of the All Party Parliamentary  Friends of Cafod group.

In the latter part of his Parliamentary career, Kevin championed the cause of gypsies and travellers, pushing for local councils to be forced to make provision for the travelling community. He was chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.

One of his last public pronouncements came in the run up to the 2005 general election, when in response to then Tory leader Michael Howard’s targeting of the travelling community, he described the leader of the opposition’s comments as having “a whiff of the gas chamber” about them.   

He was awarded a  Knighthood of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great by the Catholic Church.

My own personal recollection of Kevin was from his retirement do in 2005, when after a formal celebration in the Commons, a few of us went round the corner to his favourite Chinese restaurant - all you could eat for a fiver or some such figure. A warm celebration ensued well into the night.



Kevin was on holiday in Spain, when taken ill. He was quickly diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, being transferred back to England. He died among family and friends at home in Formby, Liverpool.


He is survived by his widow Nora, three sons and a daughter.

(5.9.1934 to 6.8.2017)

published - 12/8/2017 - https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-e2ab-Kevin-McNamara-A-man-dedicated-to-peace

8/8/2017 - obit - 8/8/2017

Monday, 7 August 2017

Story of the rise of the Sun newspaper...then came phone hacking, post truth etc

Review of play Ink by James Graham

The play, Ink, by James Graham offers a fascinating insight into the demise of the Daily Mirror and the rise of the Sun newspaper.

Owned by IPC, which also owned the Mirror and other titles, the Sun had made unspectacular progress since its launch in 1964. However, in 1969, Rupert Murdoch decided to buy the title. It was his entry point into the British newspaper market.

The play focuses on what happens, as Murdoch appoints former Mirror man Larry Lamb as editor. An anything goes approach to news, which effectively had a dumbing down effect on the whole newspaper industry ensued.

The Mirror, under its legendary editor Hugh Cudlipp, was viewed as the ideal of what a tabloid newspaper should be, standing up for the mass of people against injustice, yet also witty entertaining and informative. Cudlipp’s Mirror caught the spirit of Britain in the post war years.

Ink is an entertaining play with dark humour, illuminated by some excellent performances, especially from Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch and Richard Coyle as Larry Lamb.

The play reminded me of John Pilger’s documentary Breaking the Mirror the Murdoch Effect (1998). I was fortunate enough to work on that program, which told the story of the Mirror and the damaging arrival of the Sun on the scene. Pilger’s programme was uncannily accurate in providing a critique of the Sun.

The ensuing years have seen the phone hacking scandal and other instances of journalism being drawn into the gutter. This form of journalism has in many ways led to the post truth world and fake news.

For a brief period in the early noughties under the editorship of Piers Morgan, the Mirror did try to return to its basic principals. Pilger, Foot and others came back, the readership responded positively but sadly the owners were not prepared to give the experiment time and normal service – as it had then become – was soon resumed.

The halcyon days of the Mirror when it boasted the likes of Pilger, Paul Foot and Keith Waterhouse  seem long since past. The present day incarnation of the Mirror does a reasonable job in keeping the red flag flying in a largely blue market but it is a pale shade of what went before.

Certainly today, we could do with a decent newspaper with the values of the old Mirror, prepared to stand up for working people against injustice. Such a publication would nowdays no doubt have online as well as a print presence but it would surely succeed if tried.

*Ink finished its run at the Almeida theatre on Saturday, it transfers to the Duke of York’s theatre on 9 September, running until 6 January