A New Politics From The Left by Hilary Wainwright

The Blurb On The Back:

Millions passionately desire a viable alternative to austerity and neoliberalism, but they are sceptical of traditional leftist top-down solutions.

In this urgent polemic, Hilary Wainwright argues that this requires a new politics for the left that comes from the bottom up, based on participatory democracy and the everyday knowledge and creativity of each individual.  Political leadership should be about facilitation and partnership, not expert domination or paternalistic rule.

Wainwright uses lessons from recent movements and experiments to build a radical future vision that will be an inspiration for activists and radicals everywhere. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Hilary Wainwright is a sociologist and political activist best known for co-editing Red Pepper whose unconvincing book claims to offer a “new politics for the left” but effectively offers up old theories that rely on specific changes in economic and political power to be effective, which is a shame because the rise in participation in Labour indicates a hunger for participation but Wainwright’s left offers no new ideas to help them.

There’s a lot of academic jargon in this book as Wainwright strives to put her theories in the context of Hayek, the collapse of the Soviet Union and then looks back onto left-wing thinkers such as Beatrice Webb and the rise of Labour over the 20thcentury.  I found a lot of this quite interesting in terms of a summary of why certain events happened but I found myself disagreeing quite strongly when she comes to Corbyn, who she seems to revere and is critical to her idea of returning to grassroots initiatives and I found her desire to overturn “hierarchies of knowledge and authority” as simply an excuse to transfer power and authority to groups she happens to support.

Wainwright goes on to examine four examples of what she categorises as “changes in understandings of knowledge” converging with changes in economic and political power to demonstrate a “new economic logic”. Two of these examples – namely the digital commons initiative in Catalonia and Fairmondo ( a co-operatively owned market place) – are very interesting and I would have liked to see more analysis and exploration of the opportunities that the left can bring especially given current concerns about the big digital and technology players. However, I didn’t quite see where Wainwright was trying to go with the Lucas Plan and Newcastle Council’s UNISON-backed opposition to privatisation of an IT function – as she seems to suggest that their ultimate failures were based on timing and political opposition with no real consideration given to the long-term sustainability of the plans or, in the case of Newcastle, the impact of the austerity agenda.

Ultimately I couldn’t help but think that this was a missed opportunity to really try and put forward some political ideas that tie in with what’s clearly happening within the UK at the moment and I found Wainwright’s sniping at compromises made by other left-wing parties in Greece and Spain and her resort to “plots” and opposition or corruption by the powers that be very off-putting.  If a left-wing radical government does come to power in the UK, it will be in spite of theorists like Wainright, not because of them.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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