Feelbad Britain: How to make it better, edited by Pat Devine, Andrew Pearmain and David Purdy

Lawrence and Wishart, 2009, 250 pp, pbk 1 905 007936, £14.99

‘The struggle to replace neoliberalism, at national and global levels, is what the politics of the next ten years will be about, just as the Great Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it prompted an urgent search for workable alternatives to the discredited economics of laissez faire’ (p.8).

The authors recognise that after so many years of a neoliberal New Labour it will take a long time for the democratic left to turn itself into a political force. This book is designed as a first step in the direction of that important task.

Chapter 1 outlines our current economic, social and political crisis. The dominant theme under both Conservative and New Labour governments has been ‘the deliberate extension of market forces into all aspects of social life’ (p.24), and the authors outline the ‘social malaise’ which has been the result. Two of the subheadings say it all: ‘New Labour: Consumer Thatcherism’ (p.54) and ‘What on earth is to be done?’ (p.63). The editors’ answer is ‘a sustainable post-capitalist world’ (p.65) which takes the danger of climate change seriously and is characterised by a combination of ‘social equality and human solidarity’ and by ‘positive freedom and democratic self-government’ (p.66).

In relation to the need to restrain growth in a context of resource depletion the editors recommend the dismantling of the current work-income nexus and a Citizen’s Income as a means of achieving that.

Subsequent chapters unpack the ideas outlined in chapter 1: Citizen’s Income, social ownership and democratic planning, a work-life balance tilted more towards time for collective, private and public activities, a renewed democracy, the NHS, schools as places of genuine education, and reducing the demand for energy (which is consistent with a post-consumerist work-life balance). All of the detailed chapters, except for that on the NHS, recommend practical policy aimed at the new kind of society envisaged by the first chapter.

In the closing chapters Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks inspire a call for real political debate (as opposed to the current ‘ephemeral quarrels and personal clashes’). The undermining of the feminist critique by a superficial empowerment of women is lamented, hope is located in the broad left agenda of many card-carrying Greens (p.233), and David Purdy wonders whether left-leaning elements both inside and outside mainstream political parties might be able to work together to create a new political landscape.

It’s a pity that the book has neither index nor bibliography, and, more importantly, no contribution from Compass or the Fabian Society. However, the authors are to be congratulated on creating a coherent theoretical and practical platform which will inform the political debate that we need to have in this new era of coalition government.