Highlighting books looking at the 'state of the union'

Some of the books available this month

Some of the books available this month - Credit: Carl East

Carl East of Winstone's Independent Books writes for the Herald.

Carl East of Winstone's Independent Bookshop

Carl East of Winstone's Independent Bookshop - Credit: Carl East

This column would have been a final piece about the Sidmouth Literature Festival. It’s with real regret that the committee have had to cancel this year’s event, the rail strikes this week having made it impossible to get enough of the speakers and panellists to Sidmouth to make the weekend viable.

So, what books to cover this week? The obvious choice with two by elections this week and the backdrop of a politically made financial crisis, are titles looking at the state of the nation and how we came to be in such a mess.

The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain by Darren McGarvey

The Scottish writer, broadcaster and rapper won the Orwell Prize for his previous book Poverty Safari. In this Radio 4 Book of the Week, he now looks at how “Remote politics” has robbed ordinary people of their voices and connection with leaders in Westminster and how a web of outsourced administration has put “faceless desk-killers,” nominally in charge of life-or-death decisions.

It’s wide-ranging, from discussing the Peasants Revolt of 1381, recent treatment of immigrants to the workings of The Department for Work and Pensions and his reporting is always lively and sharp.

This is a polemic against “posh politicians who’ve never tasted desperation” and have no need to understand real people’s lives, it is an angry book that does however posit solutions to some of society’s ills, starting with abolishing private education.

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Simon Kuper’s Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK.

Eleven of the fifteen post-war British prime ministers went to Oxford. This narrow of talent pools has the author argues, brought us an establishment filled with an incestuous clique of rivals and friends, amateur rulers convinced of their own right to govern.

Kuper went to Oxford in 1988 from a north London comprehensive school, and personally knew many of the subjects he profiles. He tells how he quickly learnt that he and his fellow undergraduates were being trained “to write and speak for a living without much knowledge”. A debating society skill which has served our Prime Minster well.

Kuper’s history of this group runs from the 1980s up to date and details how after the collapse of communism they sought out a new enemy, the European Union. He argues convincingly that the ongoing damage to public life is due to just one viewpoint from, one type of person, from one school dominating leadership.

Can’t We Just Print More Money? Rupal Patel and Jack Meaning of the Bank Of England

This is a light and accessible book which attempts to explain key economic terms and arguments with examples we can relate to and comprehend.

Chapters range from the topical “How do I get a pay rise?” to the internet’s favourite economics question “Why aren’t Freddos 10p anymore?”. This gives a fun voice to an

institution that is faceless, monolithic and in a way I cannot understand, independent of government.

The answer to the title question, by the way, is a sort of YES, but with caveats and uses the example of the Spanish Netflix hit Money Heist to explain.

Social Capitalism: the End of Neoliberalism and where to go Next by Andrew Blackwood

Local author, Blackwood’s book is a detailed dive into economics, written to be readable by all, though rigorously annotated and footnoted. He argues that our current economic model is broken and that unrestrained Capitalism of the Neo-liberal style will never produce a solution to our economic woes. It’s a persuasive argument and deep down, we all know that growth and consumption, especially of the natural world must be curtailed at some point in the future. He argues that to bring about a freer and fairer society, some reining in of the free market must be combined with abandoning increasing GDP as a target.