Calum Childs Blog

Just stating the facts.

Bring Home the Revolution Book Review

25th January 2021 Book Reviews No Comments

Bring Home the Revolution is a book by Jonathan Freedland about how Britain can become more like the United States. And, no, he doesn’t think we should all have guns or people be able to hunt animals. He writes in the Guardian, but he isn’t as left-wing as some of the Guardian’s other columnists.

The book I’m going to be talking about was published in 1998, which you have to bear in mind when reading the book. Some of the concepts he talks about have since been brought into place in the UK. (For example, he talks about how the UK should have a US-style Supreme Court, which we have had since 2009.)

He talks about a variety of aspects that we could learn from the United States. Some of it is political (he talks about having an elected second chamber, similar to the US House of Senate, as well as distributing powers more evenly across states and counties) whilst other aspects are cultural (he says that the UK’s culture is too dependent on class, whilst USA’s culture is based on being able to go from rags-to-riches.)

Jonathan Freedland also suggests that the UK should have a written constitution, which limits what the government can do. For example, there is a section of the constitution saying that Congress (equivalent to the House of Parliament here) can’t make any rules that restrict the right to freedom of expression or press. There is no such legally-binding law here, and all the government needs is a simple majority in the House of Commons to pass it through.

Last-minute update: Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown has recently said that we should move to a political system called federalism – the system that started in the United States, and is in place in countries such as Russia and Germany.

Federalism is mentioned in this book, and one of the upsides is it allows local areas to have laws, rules and systems that suit them. An example given in this book is between Northampton, Massachusetts (“Lesbianville”) and Phoenix, Arizona.

Phoenix elected a sheriff called Joe Arpaio that was hard on crime and was known as the “meanest sheriff in America”. Jonathan Freedland describes the unique prison system that the sheriff came up with:

He has banned all privileges, from girlie magazines to cigarettes. Coffee is illegal and classified as “contraband”. Food consists mainly of baloney – cold, cheap meat – after the sheriff abolished the customary three meals a day.

Entertainment is minimal. At first videos were restricted to Donald Duck or Lassie, but when the inmates objected, films were withdrawn altogether.

The TV is in the communal day room, Tent City’s only non-canvas structure [the prison is made up of mostly former army tents] where prisoners are now allowed to watch either the Weather Channel or the proceedings of the local council. ‘Cruel and unusual punishment’, says Joe with a chuckle.

Bringing Home the Revolution, pages 76-77

The state of Massachusetts was (and I should think, still is) the complete opposite to Phoenix, Arizona when it comes to punishing criminals:

True to [Massachusetts’] liberal reputation, judges there have dreamed up a new way with dealing with women’s crime. Instead of automatically sending all female offenders to jail, they would offer them an alternative: a compulsory course in women’s literature.

Under an experimental scheme, a reading list that included the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and George Eliot became a potential sentence for all female felons except those guilty of the most serious crimes.

‘It taught me patience, taught me to stick with things,’ said Melanie Thompson, a convicted prostitute who surrendered to the 3-month Changing Lives Through Literature program rather than go behind bars.

Bringing Home the Revolution, page 83

Overall, I think that Bringing Home the Revolution is a very good book, especially if you don’t like the way the political system currently works. It also tells you more about the USA, or at least, how it worked in the late 1990s. The book also brings up some thought-provoking questions: should we get rid of the monarchy? Why do we see our politicians as “above us”, despite them just being public servants?

I agree with Jonathan Freedland’s conclusion that we need to change our political system to a form similar to the USA’s (in other words, federalism), but he also proposes getting rid of the monarchy and making the UK a republic. In the past few years, due to Harry & Meghan moving to the US and Prince Andrew’s links with Jeffrey Epstein, the idea of getting rid of the monarchy has grew in popularity, but I don’t think we should be getting rid of the monarchy just yet, at least for a while…

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