How the Establishment Lost Control

How the Establishment Lost Control

An examination of dramatic developments across the British political landscape and the current crisis of consent, post-Brexit.


The post-war consensus is breaking up. The general election result, the 2014 Scottish referendum and the Brexit vote all testify to an insurgent mood amongst swathes of the population. This book attempts to explain these dramatic developments and to show how they question received notions about politics, history and how change happens.


A great read about the current moment in the Left -- it's specifically about the Left in the U.K., but a lot of the observations are easily applicable to the US. There's a lot of stuff I'm definitely gonna take to heart with my own political organizing. ~ Hannah Spaulding, NetGalley

How the Establishment Lost Control charts the events that led to Labour's unexpected election success and the Brexit vote, tries to explain how and why it happened and offers an argument as to how the left move forward if they want to continue the momentum (no pun intended!) Overall it does this well. If you want a (very) left-wing overview of how we got to where we are then this book is worth a read. The first half of the book gives a whistle-stop tour of the changes in the political landscape from the early 1970s to now in an attempt to explain Corbyn's success. I am fully on board with most of the arguments presented here (I joined Labour first as a supporter and then as a member and voted for Corbyn in both leadership elections). However, it tries to cram loads of different points into a very short space- the whole book is just over one hundred pages- so what you get is lots of very strongly worded opinion statements, granted with equally as many stats and references to back them up, but with not much analysis. There isn't really any nuanced discussion before the author jumps on to the next point so it moves too quickly. It is easy to gloss over the numbers and at times It feels as though the author making brash unjustified claims their even though the evidence is there, so as a reader I felt underwhelmed and even disconcerted at times. It was strange to read something I knew I agreed with but didn't quite feel comfortable with because of the way it was presented. The second half of the book is much more analytical and rectifies the problem of the earlier chapters. However, Chapter 4 moves straight from fast-paced description to full-on analysis, using the Marxist theory of class consciousness explain our current situation. There's not really a bridge between the two and it was a bit of a strange leap. I certainly wasn't expecting it and I imagine it would feel even stranger if you've never studied Marx before! I am in agreement with the author, however, and I think the theory is well explained and accessible. The last two chapters are by far the best, striking the right balance between description and analysis. The argument in the last chapter is strong, to the point and well developed, ending the book on a high. ~ Rebecca Farren, NetGalley

This book feels timely, coming as it does ten years on from the start of the great recession set in train by the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market in the US. Since then, we have had years of swingeing cuts, disguised under the moniker of austerity, plus a series of responses to that which have functioned as further shocks to the system in the UK and elsewhere: the Scottish Referendum; Brexit; Trump and the General Election of this June. However, Chris Nineham does much more than present a portrait of the last decade. Rather, he puts this into the context of the post-war consensus, its collapse and the subsequent onset of neoliberalism. He also discusses the turn away from Marx (and more broadly social-democratic traditions in economics) effected by sections of the left and, in particular, the academy, with its concomitant downplaying of class and its replacement with identity and choice as defining categories. Finally, he examines the tendency of the media to replicate and push hegemonic positions, allied to an inability and unwillingness to understand and engage with political events and views outside of their small Overton window. So, what are the answers given in the book and what other problems does it discuss? Going back to Marx, Gramsci, Luxembourg and, in particular, Lukács, he makes the case for the continuing efficacy of a material analysis, with attention given to the role of alienation and commodification in hiding the extraction of surplus value from the worker, allied to the ruling class’s control over what Marx called ‘the mental means of production’ (p.68), i.e. the role of ideology in attempting to ensuring the smooth running of this system. The book suggests that the contemporary birth of a revivified movement for social change can be dated back to the Seattle protests at the WTO in 1999. This is a view shared by Jodi Dean, among others.ii We then have the formation of Stop the War Coalition in the UK in 2001, further protests against the global elite in Genoa, Seattle, Nice and Washington, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the rise of Syriza in Greece and the formation of the People’s Assembly against Austerity in the UK in 2012. The latter did much of the work in the initial Corbyn campaign in 2015 and brought the energy of activists with years of campaigning between them to the staid world of mainstream political parties. In short, the author argues that we are in a moment of great optimism, buoyed by the shocks to the establishment in the UK, provided by the events listed in the first paragraph of this review. Brexit in particular opens up possibilities for a breakthrough by a working-class political alternative, coming as it did from a resounding ‘no’ to the political orthodoxy of the last forty years. The author acknowledges that times of crisis leave the door open for the right, particularly when their take on Brexit and the European Union in general is given such media dominance, both during and after the campaign. There has been a push to present it as an anti-immigrant, nationalist occurrence, despite the evidence suggesting otherwise, instead providing a multitude of reasons for people who voted leave. What they all had in common, though, was dissatisfaction with the state of things. The left must take advantage of the blow to British capitalism dealt by Brexit. The book concludes with a section on the role of mass politics in achieving and securing change, giving space to a discussion of the problems that will be faced by a Corbyn-led government, with the forces of the ruling class lined up against it. This can be countered via the revolutionary organisation within the mass movement: as Chris Nineham says in his final line, ‘a time of system failure and class-based discontent is a time to take the initiative’ ~ Martin Hall, Counterfire

An antidote to the neoliberal fixation of British mainstream discourse. A must read for the informed citizen. ~ Francesca Martinez

A must read for anyone concerned with the state of our times, its historical antecedents and the possibilities of a different world. ~ Alpa Shah, author of In the Shadows of the State

A clear guide as to how the elite got us into this mess and why it can’t get us out of it again, it will stimulate debate as to how the left should respond. ~ Andrew Murray, author of The Imperial Controversy and Off the Rails

A provocative intervention into contemporary politics. Chris Nineham shows how 40 years of neoliberal capitalism resulted in accumulation by dispossession and the accumulation of discontent. The book makes an argument for socialism as the only adequate political response to the ongoing crises. ~ Christian Fuchs, author of Critical Theory of Communication and Reading Marx in the Information Age

A highly readable, fast moving account of how the British establishment have lost the plot. Chris Nineham reveals, often using their own words, that they know they have, but they would rather you didn’t read it here... ~ Danny Dorling, author of Inequality and the 1%

An important and perceptive history of post-war Britain and the effects of neoliberalism. A critique with a robust philosophical basis, it explains where the inequalities that led us to this point originated, how they are being perpetuated, and how they can be deconstructed. Essential reading for anybody wishing to understand the state we’re in. ~ Brian Eno

This is a book to cheer you up.  The game’s afoot. The old certainties are fading.  The market doesn’t work.  People’s lives are dominated by insecurity and pressures of all kinds.  Can we bring together all who resist to make a real change? Chris Nineham argues for that possibility.  It is a test not only of our determination, but also of our understanding. ~ Ken Loach

The sub-text of this book is 'Against Pessimism'. Chris Nineham gives us a guide to the fractures and fault-lines in the establishment, reminding us how often our rulers don't get their own way, and how the Left can make the most of these weaknesses. ~ Mike Rosen

Chris Nineham
Chris Nineham Chris Nineham is a founder member of the Stop the War Coalition, and currently a vice chair. He was one of the organisers of the two million...
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