Book Review: Paint Your Town Red // Matthew Brown and Rhian Jones


Paint Your Town Red is part analysis, part brief history and part how-to guide. It deftly exposes the problems with our current modes of governance and ownership, then offers a guided tour through successful, local alternatives, from the Mondragon corporation in Spain to the much lauded Preston Model in England. The book closes with a series of short and immediately practicable suggestions for people to start creating change in their community. Brown and Jones suffuse this book with a contagious, intoxicating sense of hope.

The core thesis of Paint Your Town Red is that local government, workers cooperatives and other innovative responses to the crises affecting the modern world, are not only the most effective, but also the most feasible responses for those who want to improve society.

The author’s analysis of society is detailed and persuasive without getting caught up in intractable debates. Its discussion of the causes of Brexit is even handed and moves on once the necessary point has been established. Similarly, Covid-19 is considered throughout, though it recognises that the pandemic has exacerbated existing issues and doesn’t get caught up in the woolly debates over responses. Impressively for a book released so soon after the pandemic begins, the discussion of Covid never feels like an afterthought.

The highlight of this analysis is how the major problems identified are always linked back to the value of alternative models of ownership. From wage stagnation and brain drain to recalcitrant national governments, the author’s have clearly thought deeply and seriously about these problems, which is why their solutions are so convincing.

The work is also convincing in no small part due to its series of case studies, which run the gamut from individual organisations to entire regions. These are detailed enough to show that an alternative world is possible, and indeed that it can be successful, without the book becoming a weighty compendium.

Throughout, Brown and Jones hint at something more. There are a few pages that wouldn’t look out of place in an introduction to Alex Nivens’ reimagining of English Identity, New Model Island, and its occasional forays into national economics hint at a substantive engagement with concepts from Grace Blakeley’s Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation. The book rightly recognises that these topics are best expounded on elsewhere and is richer for only taking as much from these works as is needed.

Being unencumbered in this way keeps the book breezy and light – rather than becoming a dense academic text, Paint Your Town Red dedicates itself fully to being a how-to guide for aspiring local radicals. It is in this regard that the book really shines and acts as a clear counter to the oft cited platitude that the left does not offer solutions of its own.

As a how-to guide, Paint Your Town Red is far more comprehensive. There are reams of resources, suggestions and discussion points. This section of the book comes after it has thoroughly convinced the reader that change is both necessary and within their grasp- and is all the more powerful for it.

This text deserves a place on the bookshelf of every local councillor, every theorist and everyone who’s ever despaired that there is nothing to be done. Paint Your Town Red is not just a dizzying portrait of a possible future, it’s a clear roadmap for getting there.

Words by Charley Weldrick

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