Dead Socialist Watch, #301

Jim Figgins, railway signalmen and trade unionist, who travelled slowly from the communist-influenced left (the Railwaymen’s Minority Movement and the Railway Vigilance Movement) to leadership positions (executive, 1931-4, an organiser from 1938, assistant to the general secretary in 1943, elected general secretary in 1948, retiring in 1953). Richard Crossman thought he reminded him of “a retired Anglo-Indian country gentleman farmer” [David Howell, in the ODNB]. Born Largs, Ayrshire, 8 March 1893, died at Cuddington, Surrey, 27 December 1956.

Tony Blair, Catholic

So, Mr Blair’s become a Catholic, and there are a billion pop explanations in play — that Blair’s keen to wallow in guilt for his disastrous foreign policy, and nobody does guilt better than Catholics (cf going straight into the Middle East job after doing so much, and in such a well-intentioned way, to bollocks up the region) — that it’s the long-term result of being married to Cherie Booth, once you’ve jumped through all the Carole Caplin papaya-flavoured hoops that have been set up along the way — that you can’t quite keep that much moralism bottled up inside you without letting it spill out all over something, and now he doesn’t have the British people anymore he might as well absorb himself into the Holy Roman and Apostolic Catholic Church. (I’m sure we can always come up with more: if you do, pop ’em in the comments).

But it seems to me there’s a more interesting, longer-term trajectory at work in what we can usefully for the purposes of this post call Blair’s mind, and I’ll say a bit about that over the fold.

Continue reading “Tony Blair, Catholic”

Books of the Year

We’re in the home straight, so it’s time for the annual round-ups. Four books stand out in my 2007: Patrick Cockburn’s The Occupation – published in the Autumn of 2006, but I didn’t get round to it until January, so I’m counting it as a 2007 book – which joins Rory Stewart’s Occupational Hazards as one of the indispensable memoirs of this terrible war. I thought John Rawls’s posthumous Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy were very interesting when they came out, and I’m delighted that enough colleagues and graduate students here in Oxford thought the same that we could hold a very stimulating seminar to discuss them in the term just ended. Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved is terrific, as expected (though I’m hardly an impartial critic). And the best history-of-political-thought volume I read this year was Michael Sonenscher’s Before the Deluge: Public Debt, Inequality and the Intellectual Origins of the French Revolution, which goes to show how the eighteenth-century political economy scholarship of the last generation or so can be put to work to address the really big historiographical questions.

What else was good this year?

The End of Extremism?

Daniel Davies, no stranger to internet flamewars, explains why blogs are likely to spell the death of both far-left and far-right politics in the UK:

Blogs are rather like sodium pentathol or Stella Artois in their effect on social inhibitions, so when you add them to a scene which is largely composed of people with poor impulse control at the best of times, then you are basically lighting the blue touch paper…

To watch the SWP/Respect bust-up, Socialist Unity is the place to go; the BNP is self-destructing in blogland over here.