Shaun Doherty

The task of the critic

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Terry Eagleton and Matthew Beaumont, Verso, £17.99

Subtitled Terry Eagleton in Dialogue, this book is the product of discussions with Eagleton during 2008 and 2009 with supplements from previously published interviews, and updates and revisions from Eagleton himself.

This format is fraught with danger - it can serve as an extended self-justification of the author's work or it can be clouded by an over-intrusive interviewer. In describing interviews as "careful fictions…ultimately the product of an artful edit", Matthew Beaumont has acknowledged the problem.

Labour's last throw of the dice

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Commentators in the Guardian were left clutching at straws in the wake of the queen's speech outlining the government's legislative programme in the run up to the general election.

Polly Toynbee described it as "a programme of substance flashing out a lighthouse reminder of what Labour stands for" and Seamus Milne opined that it is "a deathbed conversion to a more recognisably social democratic agenda".

City Academies - still touting for business

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The crisis of international capitalism will have a myriad of unforeseen consequences, one of which will be its impact on the privatisation of public services.

In education the battle around the privatised city academies is set to intensify. In two simultaneous, but apparently contradictory, developments the government has announced that it is expanding the academies programme to include a further 70 secondary schools, while many private sponsors are reported to be having second thoughts about their involvement. Something clearly has to give.

Ronan Bennett: A sense of impending tragedy

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Writer Ronan Bennett talks to Shaun Doherty about the lead up to the Iraq war, the ignorance of New Labour and being a political writer

How did 10 Days to War, your series of eight short dramas marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, come about?

Someone had come up with the idea of dramatising the run-up to the war in a series of short films. It was green lit, fully financed, and given a broadcast date - which was obviously the anniversary of the war - but had no script. So I was asked.

God is not Great

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Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, £17.99

Christopher Hitchens' political journey from Marxism to cheerleader for the US neo-cons and their war in Iraq provides a crucial context for this book's attempt to demonise religion. Since 9/11 Hitchens has believed that Islamic fundamentalism is the biggest threat to "Western civilisation" and although he attacks all religions he reserves a special animus for Islam, manifest in the book's title.

Irish elections: new dancing partners for Fianna Fáil

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The Irish elections saw Fianna Fáil emerge again as the largest party, but without an overall majority.

Fine Gael, the other right wing party also increased its representation in the Dail, but with 27 fewer seats than its rival. However, it is in the search for coalition partners that the real story of the election emerges, with important lessons for the left.

The three main parties of the left - Labour, Sinn Féin and the Greens - each indicated in advance they would be prepared to form a coalition with one or other of the two main parties. Consequently any left-right division was blurred and no clear left alternative offered to voters.

Two Plus Two Equals Five

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Review of 'The Betrayal of Dissent', Scott Lucas, Pluto £10.99

A polemic that starts from a flawed premise won't hit its target. Lucas could have written a useful counterblast to those, like Christopher Hitchens, who abandoned socialist politics and turned themselves into cheerleaders for Bush and witch-hunters of dissent. Unfortunately the central theme of this book is to place Hitchens and his ilk in the tradition of George Orwell who, it is argued, performed the same function at the start of the Cold War. The rationale for this is that Hitchens has written a very complimentary book about Orwell and uses him to defend his apostasy.

Band of Warring Brothers

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Review of 'Henry V', director Nicholas Hytner, National Theatre, London

No other Shakespeare play has been so shamelessly harnessed to the chariot of imperialist war than 'Henry V'. In the 1944 film version Laurence Olivier turned it into a patriotic wartime epic by cutting out those bits of the text that didn't conform to this political objective. From the Falklands to the first Gulf War, and most recently in the war on Iraq, the propagandists and the ideologues have appropriated Henry's famous rallying cry in order to provide a noble justification for squalid adventures.

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