Jacob Middleton

The Great Crash

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Selwyn Parker, Piatkus, £12.99

In the last five days before this was written, two of the world's largest investment banks have disappeared: Lehman Brothers in a puff of derivatives, Merrill Lynch swallowed whole by a competitor. HBOS, holding one in every six pounds saved in Britain, was gobbled up by Lloyds-TSB, the Brown government tearing up its own anti-monopoly rules to force the takeover through. And the largest insurer in the world was nationalised to prevent its collapse.

A Century of Spin

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David Miller and William Dinan, Pluto Press, £14.99

David Miller and William Dinan have written a short, punchy book on how public relations have come to dominate public life, even to the extent where a would-be prime minister, David Cameron, himself spent much of the 1990s as a professional spin doctor. But the links go deeper.

Friends of the Poor or of Neo-Liberalism?

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The rise of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the past 30 years has been dazzling.

NGOs are typically private, not-for-profit, bodies that carry out humanitarian work or provide basic social services, often working in the Global South. There are an estimated 37,000 international NGOs with global reach, one fifth of them formed in the 1990s. The number of smaller NGOs operating within a single country is far larger - there are an estimated one to two million in India alone.

Respect and the 'Muslim Vote'

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Jacob Middleton picks apart the claims that Respect has set aside class politics and is instead pushing a "communal" agenda that will appeal only to Muslims.

Respect's stunning election successes last month have roused up a torrent of abuse. Some of it is predictable, lambasting support for Respect among British Muslims. In a piece that compared Respect to the Nazi BNP, Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer that, "Once again, we find a slice of the electorate in a poor part of Britain that is so lost in identity politics and victimhood that it will vote for those who stoke their rage, no matter how worthless they are." Cohen's fixation says much about the prejudices of pro-war hacks.

Flawed Templates

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Review of 'Redesigning Distribution', editors Bruce A Ackermann et al, Verso £17.99

Redesigning Distribution starts with an inadvertent confession by Real Utopias Project series editor, Marxist academic Erik Olin Wright. The papers in Verso's collection of essays had originally been titled "Rethinking Redistribution", but that was felt to be inappropriate for capturing the problem of finding that "combination of voluntary choice and authoritative allocation [which] generates the most desirable outcomes."

Behind the Bluster

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Review of 'Dilemmas of Domination', Walden Bello, Zed Books £12.99 and 'Taming American Power', Stephen M Walt, W W Norton & Co £17.99

Walden Bello, squeezing his way onto a carefully-vetted Make Poverty History platform in Edinburgh this summer, spoke of the intimate connection between the devastating poverty we see globally, and the devastating wars currently being fought. MPH stewards could be seen offstage frantically mugging for others to remove the Filipino economist from his dais.

Liberal Democrats: Charlie's No Angel

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The Liberal Democrats may fish for left wing votes, argues Jacob Middleton, but they are no alternative to the parties of war and neoliberalism.

Millions of voters will be faced with a grim choice at the forthcoming general election. An enormous gulf exists between the Labour leadership and a Labour electorate way to the left of it. The Liberal Democrats have carefully inserted themselves into the political space created by disillusion with New Labour, offering themselves as a 'progressive' alternative to a profoundly discredited Labour government.

Poverty: The Poor are Still With Us

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Despite New Labour's claims social justice and the free market are unhappy bedfellows.

Tony Blair, in a speech at the end of last year, claimed to be 'proud' of the government's achievement in its 'crusade' against social exclusion. He may have hoped we would be dazzled enough to ignore the 'achievements' of his more bloody crusade in the Middle East, but even those who opposed the Iraq war have taken up the theme. Robin Cook, writing recently in the Guardian, breezed over the carnage in Iraq to play up New Labour's record in tackling poverty and social injustice. Polly Toynbee and Johann Hari are among the left-liberal newspaper columnists plugging the same message.

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