what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, January 28, 2019

The danger of being labelled

Richard North’s daily blogs have been indispensable reading for me recently – he penetrates the laziness of the British media reproduction of government and political press releases in a formidable manner. 
He co-authored the most persuasive of the alt EU history books, the 600 page The Great Deception – can the EU survive? (2004) – which was mostly ignored by the press and academics at the time. One blogger started his very fair and detailed review with the not unfair comment that it was
“an unusual book – part scholarly inquiry, part cheap polemic”
I read the book (in 2008 or so) although I can’t recall the impact it made. It’s one of the texts I might have expected Ambassador Sir Ivor Rogers to refer to if he had been in the mood for giving his readers some context for his commentary on how the UK got to where it is today…It certainly deserved a critique.....as far as I'm aware, noone critiqued Hitler's "Mein Kamp" at the time - and such myopia (with all due respect to the eminently decent Richard North) says a lot about the political nous of "serious" commentators.
Another blogger has recently discovered the book (the link on the title gives the entire text) and has been feeding installments (up to the 12th at the last count).

But, until now, I was baffled by how such a strong Brexiteer as North could write such frank and tough dissections of the government, political and media coverage of the Brexit “debate” as contained in his daily posts...
But this article explains why - that (unlike the other Brexiteers) Richard North actually had a detailed plan for exiting the EU which was totally ignored by the government. You can actually find it here – and it built on a 400 pages strategy called Flexcit which he and others had developed a year or so before the referendum…. 
The most significant thinker in the Brexit movement. Richard North, the advocate of “Flexcit”, warned that, as a sudden departure would wreck people’s lives, Britain would have to be like Norway and stay in the single market, “at least in the medium term”, as it dedicated many years, maybe more than a decade, to flexible negotiations about a future arrangement.

But, as the referendum campaign was getting underway in autumn 2015, the key Brexiteers decided that presenting voters with such analyses would be confusing and divisive – and that their campaign for withdrawal would focus only on the problems created by membership….Suddenly, Richard North – the architect of the only plan for Brexit - found himself marginalized.
You don’t need to be a detective to work out why the darkness fell. How could the Brexit campaign inspire nationalist passions, how could Fox, Lawson, Johnson, Farage and Banks inspire even themselves, if they were to say that the only rational way to leave the EU was to carry on paying money, accepting freedom of movement and receiving laws that Britain had no say in making, while an orderly retreat was organised? Who would vote for that? What would be the point of leaving at all? Better to promise everything while committing to nothing

North could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved by the book’s general neglect since the public seemed (just prior to the poll) to favour his gradualist approach. And another polemical treatment - European Integration 1950-2003 – superstate or new market economy? - by John Gillingham (2003) had received a much easier ride just a year earlier.
But, then, Gillingham is an established academic – even if a rather abrasive neoliberal as demonstrated by his more recent The EU – an obituary (2016)

Academics who write for the general public have been rarities – one thinks of JK Galbraith – and never popular amongst their fellows. They can these days (just about) get away with blunt presentations without attracting a label – although Niall Ferguson is an obvious example of an ideologue who positively panders to his fawning audiences - and whose reputation has suffered accordingly. My favourite, the political economist Mark Blyth, has so far – amazingly - been able to avoid being labelled as a leftist - one wonders for how long….
But non-academics who try to craft books have to be ultra-careful in their presentations to avoid the fate of being ignored or written off as crude polemicists! So far, journalists such as George Monbiot, Paul Mason and Owen Jones have managed to avoid this fate.

David Dorling is an interesting example of an academic who has ventured – so far successfully – into political territory with his books such as Injustice (2011) which identified 5 “social evils” – elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair and explored the myths which sustain them. The argument is that we are all guilty of these evils and of sustaining these myths. More recently he produced "A Better Politics" - a great and persuasive read. 
He has just issued a new book Rule Britannia – Brexit and the end of empire – which I am eagerly waiting for

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