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Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The bard of Barking writes, 18 Aug. 2010
This review is from: The Progressive Patriot (Paperback)
Billy Bragg's Progressive Patriot is part autobiography, part attempt to define and understand modern Britain. Like many people Bragg feels a huge mix of emotions towards the country that he lives in. Anyone even vaguely familiar with Mr Bragg's ouvre will know from the outset that his starting point is not 'my country right or wrong' and that Billy Bragg is a socialist. Bragg's work is-of course-steeped in 'Englishness'; evident in songs such as 'St Swithun's Day' and his reworking of 'Jerusalem'. It was good to read a book by a songwriter who was able to write and not merely think in terms of slogans and emotive phrases. To his credit Bragg writes well and much of the book is a highly informative trawl through English history from pre anglo-saxon times to the present day.

Bragg's own working class credentials are impeccable. Middle class socialists irritate me, especially when they adopt fake cockney accents and pretend to be something they're not but Billy is the real deal; no doubting it. Turns out that radicalism runs in the Bragg family. Bragg helpfully includes a wonderful photograph of his grandfather-an eastend dockgate radical-squaring up to a policeman. His formative experiences are clearly the key to understanding the man himself; growing up in Barking as part of the cockney disapora. Many liberal commentators write of the working class as though they were part of the problem rather than part of the solution; Bragg quotes a particularly dispiriting example of this from The Guardian. Broadly speaking Bragg's analysis is spot on and he casts himself in the role of a 'critical friend' of the working class. Bragg does sterling work reclaiming George Orwell for the left and reminding us that the post war welfare state was a huge leap forwards for British society.

Any criticisms? Well, Bragg tries to do too much in this book and ultimately no national identity (especially one as complex as that as modern England/Britain's)can be ever completely defined or reduced down to a fixed set of attributes. There will always be differing (and competing) versions of 'Englishness' and some (such as Bragg's) will be more benevolent and inclusive than others. Also, Bragg starts by expressing understandable alarm about the rise of the BNP is his native Barking (and by implication in similar working class communities across the country) but he seems reluctant to even posit a suggestion as to why this might be. Bragg also gives New Labour an easy ride. Indeed, many people have suggested that New Labour's abandonment of its core constituency has created a vacuum which the BNP have been able to exploit. I was also surprised that Bragg mentions 'Rock Against Racism' (which awakened Bragg's political conscience, as it did for many other people) but not the Battle of Cable Street when thousands of working class eastenders turned back Mosley's Blackshirts in 1936. These criticism aside I enjoyed the book and never doubted that Bragg's heart was in the right place.
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