On reviewing a book I haven’t read

Poster for 'the spirit of '45' by Ken Loach.

Well I’ve never done this before. The book is Citizen Clem by John Bew. The pic at the top of this article is from the Ken Loach film, Spirit of ’45. When you’ve read this book review, if you’re interested in all the talk of Jeremy Corbyn being like (or not like) Clement Attlee, I suggest you watch that film. It’s probably better than this book, and it’s more likely to contain the information that’s relevant to us today:

  1. What Attlee did for this country was vital. It only worked because people had been having an exceptionally hard time (the war) and the government was in a strong position (politicians get very authoritarian when there’s a war on) so Attlee’s government was able to move quickly, and solve problems for people before anyone could stop them.
  2. What Attlee did for us didn’t last forever because it was too centrally controlled, and therefore open to corruption and easy to dismantle; and because when things started going better, everyone relaxed and stopped paying attention to politics.

Why this book about Attlee?

We are having an exceptionally hard time now (doing without most of the social care, housing and education facilities that we need). We have an exceptionally authoritarian government now, and what they are doing is largely against the wishes and interests of the people so we are paying attention – because we’re being hurt, we’re being conned, and we are angry and frightened.

So I thought it a good time to buy a book about Attlee. I chose Citizen Clem by John Bew because, when reading the blurbs on the bookshelves, this one claimed a brand new preface, all about the 2017 election, and I thought that would be interesting. Trouble is, reading it gave me violent indigestion. Most of us realise that what was interesting about the 2017 election is that it did not at all go the way the pundits and PR-politicians expected. In fact, the 2017 election went so far out of the control of those used to being in control that Rupert Murdoch stormed out of a meeting in full tantrum mode when the exit polls started coming in.

What happened?

There were a lot of reasons for this outbreak of wilful democracy by people who are supposed to stay at home watching telly.

New voters

Pundits struggling to catch up said young people voted because they were infuriated by tuition fees and the degradation of their life-chances. Well, they were – but they were also pretty offended by the suits on the telly telling us tuition fees and personal problems were their only interest.

Progressive alliance

Electoral reform groups swelled hugely as more and more of us lost patience with the hopelessly dysfunctional system that sidelines small parties and causes career politicians to throw all their money and attention at a few ‘marginals’ – constituencies where people’s vote might actually count. As a result, many red, green and non-party-aligned groups came together to thwart a corrupt system and plan how to use their votes.

And… and… and…

And then there’s the anti-austerity movement, leaders of the growing tide of those who, not to put too fine a point on it, want their ****ing money back thank you very much; and the peace movement and the refugee-support movement, and the no-sanctions and disability campaigners… to put it even shorter, the outraged ‘sense of fair play’.

Why *not* this book about Attlee?

The author of Citizen Clem managed to write his brand new preface, all about the 2017 election, almost without noticing those things. He wrote it as if he really didn’t know why support for Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet goes through the roof every time they actually get a chance to talk to people. He wrote it as though he’d got all his information straight from the BBC’s most unreconstructed, establishment-echo-chamber living reporters, then augmented it by getting some quotes from people like Tristram Hunt, such as “as the Labour party retreats towards ideological self-immolation…”, and “Corbyn’s metropolitan liberalism, unthinking anti-Americanism, distaste for nationhood, contempt for parliamentary democracy and rigid socialist orthodoxy…”

So although I haven’t read it, I think what we have here is a book by a ‘historian’ who watches telly and misses some of the greatest events of his time. I really recommend not reading Bew’s book. There are better books about Attlee, so until you find one, I recommend settling down somewhere warm and watching Spirit of ’45 instead. Here’s a preview….


… Okay, I do know it’s silly to review a book you haven’t read but I am just *so* put off. If you have read Bew’s book, and can prove me right or wrong, feel free to comment from a more informed standpoint…

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