With the current crisis keeping so many of us at home, we’ve asked Labour MPs and shadow cabinet members for their top book recommendations for our movement.
1. Anneliese Dodds, Shadow Chancellor
In his Myth of the Strong Leader, Brown challenges the widespread but misplaced belief that ‘strong leaders’ are the most successful and the most admirable.
This book provides a refreshingly different perspective on political leadership. As Brown shows in detail and across a range of different countries, shouting and foot stamping tends not to get results.
2. Bell Ribeiro-Addy, MP for Streatham
Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, by Afua Hirsch, is about a search for identity. It is about the everyday racism that plagues British society. It is about our awkward, troubled relationship with our history. It is about why liberal attempts to be ‘colour-blind’ have caused more problems that they have solved. It is about why we continue to avoid talking about race.
3. Angela Rayner, Chair of The Labour Party and Deputy Leader
I’ve picked Stark by Ben Elton. It’s a funny take on what happens when big business and the ultra rich have too much power. Unfortunately despite being published in 1989 it’s still very relevant now! It was inspired by the growing environmental movement of the 1980s and gives a bit of both inspiration and light relief to everyone fighting for justice now.
4. Nick Thomas-Symonds, Shadow Home Secretary
My favourite book – and the writing that inspires my politics – is undoubtedly Nye Bevan’s In Place of Fear. Socialism is always important, but never more so than when the world is going through a crisis. Bevan sets out how his principles were needed to shape the modern world as it was then, which resulted in the birth of the NHS and a massive social housing programme. On the left we will need that kind of vision as the country looks to manage this crisis and emerge from it.
I’m a Liverpool fan, and there are so many books on football I could have picked, but one I don’t think has had the attention it deserves is 61 Minutes in Munich: The Story of Liverpool FC’s First Black Footballer Howard Gayle. Gayle’s contribution on the pitch for just over an hour at a key moment in the semi-final of the European Cup in 1981 was a moment of high drama, as Liverpool went on to reach the final and defeat Real Madrid. His account of the abuse and racism he faced is moving and has modern-day lessons.
5. Jo Stevens, Shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The first volume of Angelou’s five volume autobiography is one of my favourite books. Extraordinary writing by an extraordinary woman who faced and overcame heartbreaking discrimination, sexual violence and poverty. I cry every time I read it.
6. Charlotte Nichols, MP for Warrington North
We Fight Fascists’ by Daniel Sonabend tells the forgotten history of the 43 Group, a group of Jewish veterans fighting fascism in post-war Britain. It’s an extraordinary story, and a timely reminder to us all never to get complacent about the far right and our duty not to be bystanders to bigotry.
7. Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement
Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth, by Ed Howker & Shiv Malik, exposed the challenges facing the ‘jilted generation’ defined by the authors as anyone born after September 1979. A decade on, does lockdown provide an opportunity to assess what a decade of Conservative governments have done to the life chances of a generation who were told if they spend thousands on their education and interning they would get a good job, a home and a decent life. Young people ended up paying for a global financial crash they didn’t cause, will they also end up picking up the tab for the Coronavirus crisis too?
8. Lloyd Russell Moyle, Shadow Minister for Natural Environment & Air Quality
I read The Shock Doctrine at university, where I developed my political views. I read it alongside books like A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin, and other works by Noam Chomsky and George Monbiot.
It talks about how crises have been used to transform our political landscape, giving examples of the 1973 coup in Chile, the Falklands War and the war in Iraq. Naomi is an excellent author and this book is a great place to start.
9. Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, by Jon McGregor, is such a great book and a reminder that everyday life is where the most significant things happen but you have to pay attention to see it. This also feels like a good moment to recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (not that I’m suggesting lockdown will last that long!). The New York Times once said it should be required reading for the entire human race. I agree.
10. Kim Johnson, MP for Liverpool Riverside
I’ve chosen Angela Davis: An Autobiography. Growing up in Liverpool in the late 1970s, Black youth were regularly abused by police. Police stop and search was rife, and there was also deeply entrenched race discrimination, employment, housing, education. The growth of civil rights in the USA gave us the power to fight back, taking direct action. Angela Davis was a powerful role model, a strong, vocal Black woman, sadly we are still fighting that fight today.
To get your hands on some of these books, you can try Hive, which represents hundreds of independent booksellers. The left wing book publisher Verso has also made many online versions of its texts free.
We’ll get through this crisis together, by staying in touch and looking after one another – so share your recommendations and discuss your reading with friends and family. Happy reading everyone!