Saturday, 30 July 2011

From Conservative Home...

In the even younger life of The Political Reader, we published a review of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working-Class. At the time, I wrote a piece for Conservative Home about what the Conservatives can learn from a book like this. I'm delighted that they have published it.

So, re-live the memories of Owen Jones' first contribution to the world of political books within the context of the Conservative Party... and let us know what you think!

Click here to read the article.

Coming up this week...

What you can expect in the coming week in the world of The Political Reader...

  • Later on today I'll be posting a link to an extra article TPR has recently written for another website. Read it here later to reinvigorate memories of one of our recent Sunday Review titles...
  • On Sunday you can read our next Sunday Review, this week of 'In Defence of Politicians (in spite of themselves) by former Times Political Commentator and true legend of the political commentariat, Peter Riddell. The highlight of the TPR week.
  • Monday sees the announcement of next week's Sunday Review when we'll be taking a guest review. Viewers of BBC 4 will likely be familiar with the author of next week's book...
  • By the time Tuesday comes around, we'll be recommending some more summer books to the read in the best of political fiction.
  • On Wednesday we'll be doing another 'Essay in Focus' section and looking stateside once again to find the best analysis of the (by then surely resolved, for now at least) U.S. Debt crisis.
  • Thursday sees another author biography, this week focusing on the Harvard Professor who writes this week's book. Know who it is yet?
  • And on Friday we have another recommends section looking at the work of Immanual Kant and asking "what are the essential books to understand the man, his philosophy and his legacy today?"
  • Saturday sees us do this all over again as we usher in a new week at The Political Reader.
Like what we've got coming up? Dislike it? Got some recommendation for titles to review or topics on which to recommend? Always feel free to get in touch!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

TPR Recommends... The Vulcans

Tomorrow, we look at a book which highlighted the greatest perceived divide of the last decade - that of Islam and the West. Whenever we reflect on that period, it can be remarkable just how much personalities have come to the define the debates and the events - be it Bush, Cheney, Rice or Rumsfeld, the personalities often linger longer in our minds that the policies themselves. In light of this, here are TPR's pick of the best books to understand the key figures in the American cast of the War on Terror.

This book is effectively the best summary available on what this recommends section is about. James Mann profiles the history of six key figures in Bush's inner circle - Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage and Condolleezza Rice - charting their careers back to the Nixon administration and forming one of the most lasting group biographies of the team that redefined America's role in the post-9/11 world. Purchase here.

Not often does a memoir reference one of the most mocked linguistic moments in a politician's career. In only one of the many unconventional elements of Donald Rumsfeld, he has done exactly that (for anybody who doesn't remember, this video is worth a watch). Rumsfeld's career at the top of U.S. Government began in the Nixon administration, making it all the more remarkable that the former wrestling champion was still at the very top of government when President Bush finally accepted his resignation in 2006. To TPR's mind, the best memoir from a member of Team Bush available to date. Purchase here.

Okay, I've cheated - Sir Christopher Meyer is not American. However, from 1997-2003 he was Britain's ambassador to the United States and lived just down the road from the White House. When this book was published in 2005, it was attacked by the Labour government and slated by many MPs who urged him not to publish it. However, it reads credibly and remarkably engaging for a diplomatic memoir. One of the most accessible insights into one of the most interesting times. Purchase here.

Next week, we'll be continuing our author-specific recommends sections as we look at books by Peter Oborne.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Author Profile: Peter Riddell

Peter Riddell

True politicos are weird people. Not only do they enjoy the prospect of BBC Parliament showing hour-after-hour of 1983 election coverage, but will do almost anything in politics simply for its own sake - even long into retirement. All of us who are, to put it rudely, weird enough to fall into this category are in good company. Amongst us are many famous faces, and amongst them is former Times Political commentator The Rt. Hon. Peter Riddell.

The two most significant gigs in the career of Peter Riddell have been big ones. From 1989 to 1991 he was U.S. Editor and Washington Bureau Chief for the Financial Times, observing the end of the Cold War from the Washington perspective. From there, he went to The Times where his contributions to the political debate were numerous and almost always insightful. Throughout this latter period, his voice was a familiar one to all of us who listen to Radio 4's Week in Westminster or ever turn on the Daily Politics.

Yet Peter's engagement in politics goes much beyond his journalistic career. In 1996, he got involved in the Hansard Society, which aims to make clear the work of Parliament and the role of representative democracy. He now chairs this organisation (and his latest book is full of facts from their annual reports on engagement with politics). More recently, he was made a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Government, one of the most important think tanks in the UK (and worth looking into).

Peter Riddell is a true politico. His engagement with politicians and political academics alike is of great service to his continued comments on the current state of politics and increasingly his interest in the structures of politics beyond the day-to-day debates. His departure from the Times in 2010 ought to be regretted - his continuing contribution to the world of political books ought to be welcomed.

Those lucky enough to be behind The Times paywall can read Peter's old work here.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

TPR Recommends... Peter Riddell

Peter Riddell has been a benchmark figure in the British commentariat for decades. Known to most of us as the political editor of The Times until his retirement after the General Election of 2010, his insights have generally been both pithy and insightful. Indeed, whereas many political commentators (genuinely naming no names) have been inclined to enter into the most absurd hyperbole, Riddell has often been much more grounded in a nuanced political world. So it gives me great pleasure to recommend two of his books, and one more to commemorate his career.

Far too often, when TPR is searching Amazon for images of some of his favourite political books for this site, they appear out-of-print. Such is the case with the stand-out book of Peter's career, 'Hug them Close'. Focusing on the Anglo-American "special/essential relationship" (delete as per your view of Britain's role in the world and/or dependence on American power) this highly engaging book from the former Washington D.C. correspondent for the Financial Times is a must-read. Set in the context of the Blair years, what it tells us about the British-American dynamics ring true in the new age of Cameron-Obama relations. Purchase here.

Over time, I hope, the top tier of my bookshelf will feature The Times Guides to the House of Commons that reflects the entire duration of my interest in politics. This is the must-own book for everybody who thinks or comments on the practicalities of politics in any detail. Never watch an unknown backbencher rise to his feet in the House of Commons again without knowing their vital statistics (constituency, majority, career background...) with this well-researched volume covering the last General Election of Riddell's career. Purchase here.

And finally... our current book of the moment, In Defence of Politicians (in spite of themselves). It no doubt tells us something about the nature of this book that Peter Riddell waited until the end of his thirty years of covering politics as the God-father of the Westminster village before writing this book. Part memoir, part general analysis of the way we do politics, this is a lasting testament to a great journalistic career. Visit us on Sunday for our in-depth review but in the meantime read along and purchase the book here.

Next time, TPR Recommends... The American cast in the War on Terror. All of the must-read books on the figures who shaped the American foreign policy we have now simply come to call 'The Bush Doctrine'. Arriving Thursday.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Next Week's Sunday Review

After a decade and a half of cash-for-questions, cash-for-peerages, the perceived betrayal of the War in Iraq, the expenses scandal and now Hacking-gate, the case in defence of politicians is rarely made. However, like many politicos, TPR believes that the process of politics itself - and inevitably, the people who form that process - are not only essential but grossly under-rated. Therefore, as Parliament comes to a close for its Summer Recess, we'll be reviewing a book likely to make our MPs spend the summer feeling a little more vindicated about their representative duties - Peter Riddell's 'In Defence of Politicians (in spite of themselves)'.

You can purchase the book hereto read along with us and, as ever, our in-depth review will be published on Sunday.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Sunday Review: Ed

Brothers at Arms
The opening chapter of this book could easily — and happily — be the synopsis of a great Second World War novel. “Ralph, the Jewish protagonist, walks sixty miles with his father to catch the last ferry from Belgium to England in order to escape the encroaching Nazis. His wife remains in Belgium while he begins to carve out a new life in England. Tension grows as his new home successively turns down his applications for citizenship. Eventually, when granted indefinite leave to remain, he becomes the most prominent Marxist academic in the country and makes Britain his home with his wife and young family.” Such is the drama in the life of Ralph Miliband. Against this backdrop, the precocious yet predictable lives of his sons could only disappoint.
Soon, this book’s real protagonist enters the main stage. Inevitably, given the proximity of their birth and the similarity of their progress through education and the Labour ranks, his appearances are matched constantly by his elder brother, David (in whose shadow, one feels throughout this book, Ed had always felt). Their careers began in earnest at London’s Haverstock School, before David and later Ed attended Corpus Christi, Oxford to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). Their mechanical careers — as if the output of a social democratic factory — matched each other almost perfectly. Later, David studied for a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a direction Ed would also follow when he spent a year at Harvard. Both returned from America and made their way through the world of Westminster’s Special Advisors (SpAds) and into the House of Commons before sitting together at Gordon Brown’s Cabinet.
On the basis of the preceding paragraph, one could skip the majority of this book. Not that these pages shouldn’t be there – I dare say the formative years of Mili-E and Mili-D, as many came to refer to them during the leadership contest, are important to understanding the men today. But this story is predictable, building up to the inevitable conflict that finally materialised in the summer of 2010.
The commentary does little to ameliorate the inevitability of much of the initial pages of this book. That which we receive comes on the backs of the numerous interviews this book’s authors, Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre, conducted with the figures who have shaped the brothers’ lives. However, while the input of broadly unknown figures may be of interest to some, their contributions are largely fruitless when forming a holistic image of the brothers. After all, so many of the figures that shaped their lives are a consequence of their father’s left-wing contacts and few of them are well known, even in the political world. Those that are well known, on the other hand, hold obvious bias. The noble task of interviewing so many people does this book little service. A more factual account, while inevitably slimmer and less well articulated, could have permitted the reader to form his own opinions.
Using the bedrock of facts as the basis for opinion, some aspects of Ed’s rise to the top and the people he has taken with him can teach us a lot, especially about his approach to building a political team. When Ed was seconded from Harriet Harman’s office to work for Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, he worked alongside Ed Balls (the current Shadow Chancellor), Yvette Cooper (Balls’ wife and currently Shadow Home Secretary) and Douglas Alexander (Ed’s Shadow Foreign Secretary). Between the four of them, they shadow the four key offices of state. This could suggest one or both of two things: First, if Ed views anything as family, it is his political clique rather than his brother; second, Ed has failed to transcend the Blair-Brown divide beyond which he claimed he could take Labour. Rarely has such a ridiculous claim been made as his statement to move beyond New Labour — Ed and his team are not moving beyond the divides of 1994-2010, they are simply evidence of Team Brown’s victory.
Where this book really does come into its own is with the leadership election that created the “dysfunctional relationship” that persists between the two brothers. The key point of contention in this section, which throws into question so much about the character of Ed, is when he decided to run for the leadership of the Labour Party. According to Ed, when David announced that he would stand the day after Gordon Brown resigned as Prime Minister, he had yet to make up his mind whether to run. Though yet to make up his mind, he had already sought the support of former cabinet colleagues Hilary Benn and Peter Hain. And he had clearly been giving significant thought to the matter when he sought the advice of Lord Kinnock in January 2010 and the support of an adviser in Brown’s team in the dying days of his government. On top of Ed’s apparent misleading statement about the timing of his decision, the question of whether Ed ever drove to David’s house to tell him he was running has also been a point of dispute between the two. David continues to deny that any such meeting ever took place. Why would David lie? And why, for that matter, would Ed? There are some things that only brothers know — this is one of them — but there are some things we can all infer from such controversies.
On the back of this review, many people may feel that the act of political fratricide that Ed committed against his elder brother is intolerable and renders him unfit for Prime Minister. There may be something to this — we must all be left asking what we think of a man whose brotherly bonds seemingly mean so little to him. But what shines through this book is that we ought never to have doubted the ability of the younger Miliband to win against his brother and we certainly never should have felt that David was the obvious successor to Brown. In this context, the fratricide is less one-directional. But the lasting point of this book, written by two Labour-supporting members of the British commentariat, is a moderately convincing case for this man to lead the Labour Party and the country (at least, relative to Labour’s other figures). However, the credibility gap between their portrayal and the man we see on our television screens — the awkward man, winning on the backs of the unions, promoting his old friends, repeating phrases over and over again, and rarely laying a punch on Prime Minister David Cameron during Prime Ministers’ Questions — is not Prime Minister material. If this book is right, then ‘Prime Minister Miliband’ is a long way off.
You can purchase 'Ed' here.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Coming up this week...

We're at the end of the third full week in the life of The Political Reader blog - having fun? I do hope so...

Here's what we've got coming up this week:
  • Tomorrow (Sunday) we'll be publishing our forth in-depth Sunday Review. This week, the book we'll be focusing on is 'Ed' by James Macintyre and Mehdi Hasan. The first book dedicated to the new Labour leader, this ought to give us an interesting insight into what the future has in store.
  • Monday sees the announcement of our next Sunday Review title. Next week's is a fairly snappy read by a familiar face in the world of British politics. Former Times Political Editor is your clue for this week... got it yet?
  • By the time Tuesday comes around, TPR will have prepared another Recommends section. For this edition, we'll be recommending some author-specific titles focusing on the author of this week's Sunday Review.
  • Wednesday sees the return of the no-longer-controversial Author Profile when we'll be looking in-depth at the prestigious career of the author of this week's Sunday Review title.
  • On Thursday the TPR Recommends section returns as we set our sights once again on some of the best books in a field. In advance of tomorrow's focus on the broader divide between Islam and the West that has manifested itself para-militarily in the War on Terror, we'll be considering the best books than understand the key figures involved in those wars - the vultures and hawks of the political and academic neo-conservative movement.
  • Friday sees the return of TPR's Short Reads. This week, we'll be looking at 'The Word and the Bomb by Hanif Kureishi. Described as "a collection of Kureishi's most controversial and though-provoking writing on the gulf between fundamentalist Islam and Western values" it should hopefully spark up significant debate on the seminal cultural divide of this Century.
  • And finally, on Saturday we do this all again and prepare for the week ahead in the world of The Political Reader.
As it's summer, TPR will leave you with a not-so-political recommendation of some fiction books. TPR has recently become a fan of the writings of Christopher Isherwood. A British author, born in Cheshire, who later became a naturalized American citizen, Isherwood wrote the famous stories of Sally Bowles which formed the basis of Cabaret and also A Single Man on which the 2009 film with Colin Firth was based. And for a political edge, he would later be seen as a key figure in the gay rights movement in America before his death in 1986. For a break from the political, check out some of his works here.  

Friday, 22 July 2011

TPR Recommends... George W. Bush's Elections

In TPR's fairly short life, few politicians have been as polarising as President George W. Bush. Reviled by those who opposed the episodes which have come to define his eight years in office (namely the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) yet still seen as under-rated by many who valued his vision for the world and will to see it through, he remains controversial to this day. And outside of today's political debates, who can deny the lasting controversy of his 2000 election victory (which went to the U.S. Supreme Court and many still feel was stolen by the Republicans) and his divisive 2004 re-election. So, here to re-live the memories of the elections of George W. Bush, here are TPR's pick of some of the best books in and out of print.

This book describes itself as "not a journalistic account of campaigning and media strategy but a reflective assessment of the strangest election in modern American history." Exactly what such an election requires and, truth be told, what the world of political books requires in a market saturated with journalistic tell-alls by the darlings of the political circuit using their unparalleled closeness to the candidates to cash-in on a book. If this book does what it claims, one to cherish. Yet, as ever, the proof is in the pages. Purchase here.

TPR is a little disappointed to see this book is no longer in print. However, David Frum's account of George W. Bush's early days in the White House is a thoroughly engaging book. If virtue is to be found in content, then the events of 9/11 make this account of life in the White House at the time gripping. Beyond that, we find the case for George W. Bush elegantly made from the perspective of 2003. David Frum is, especially for those interested in Canadian politics, a wonk to watch. Purchase here.

Written by the Newsweek team who followed the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, this book (also sadly out-of-print yet still available from certain sellers) is a must-read for those who are willing to settle for a less insightful analysis in favour of a narrative re-run of the rollercoaster campaign that secured Bush's place in history as a two-term President and Senator John F. Kerry's place as a political side-liner. Purchase here.

Anybody who has ever themselves searched on a book site for "Bush" "Election 2000" or "Election 2004" will have been met with an unprecedented number of conspiracy theory-touting books claiming that Bush stole either the first or the second election - or both. I have done my best to avoid these. Yet if you know of one that is well written and insightful (and doesn't simply attribute the perculiarities of the U.S. judicial system to a Bush family conspiracy) do drop me an email.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Author Profile: James Macintyre and Medhi Hasan

This Sunday, TPR will be reviewing the first book to be released about the new leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband. Given the Labour Party's reluctance to depose failing leaders (as Mr Miliband has been perceived until the last few weeks' scandal unraveled), this is an important book - the first attempt to fully understand the man who will likely lead the Labour Party into the next General Election. So, in light of this, here is a brief teaser for this Sunday's Review - brief biographies of its two authors.**

James Macintyre

Truth be told, TPR's heart sank when he saw Macintyre was one of the joint authors of this book. Whilst he has had a fairly illustrious career (working at The Independent and New Statesman) much of his work has been of grave disappointment. Beyond his style, which I do not find favourable, he could easily be portrayed as part of the media arm of the Labour Party and consequently biased to a journalistically embarrassing point. After all, who can forget his predictions of a Labour majority in the 2010 General Election (here) or when he had the New Statesman sued by accusing the Conservatives of institutional and Dan Hannan of personal racism (here). Oh, and his speculation of a Diane Abbott win in the Labour leadership election (here).

None of this was cause for encouragement, and TPR entered this book from a cautious angle. Indeed, it has certainly been a risk for Biteback to publish this work from an unpublished figure. Let's simply hope for all sakes that this rumoured-to-be controversial biography (not as true as the rumours suggest) doesn't find itself in the pitfalls of his previous work.

Mehdi Hasan

Until Macintyre recently left the New Statesman to be Politics Editor for Prospect magazine, Mehdi Hasan was one of his "speccie" colleagues. Also a clear supported and passionate critic of the Labour and Conservative Parties respectively, one would inevitably approach this book wondering if these Labourites have it in them to criticise the man who will likely lead Labour into 2015. 

A graduate of Christ Church, Oxford, at which he studied PPE (demonstrating the Oxford PPE-ers don't only dominate the House, but Fleet Street too), Hasan begins his approach to this book from a somewhat worrying status himself (indeed, on occasions his Labourism has seemed to undermine the clarity and strength of his arguments (for example criticising David Cameron's speech on the basis of its supporters and not his substance - here). Yet he is himself a prominent figure with plenty of experience - and he is without question one of the more articulate figures in Britain's current leftist commentariat.

TPR has high hopes for this book. As an avid follower of politics whose interest is unlikely to wane before 2015, this is the beginning of a nation-wide engagement to understand potential Prime Minister Mili-E. On Sunday, we'll be considering the book itself. However, a cautious note is worth raising on its authors. If we are to thoroughly understand Ed, we need some more books from a more diverse range of opinion, and quick (yet feel free to take more than the six months this book took to write).

**As many of you will recall, last week TPR has a dispute with author Peter Hitchens over just such a brief biography. As previously (when Mr Hitchens, despite his dramatic protests, could not find a single factual inaccuracy) I have researched this biography. If anything is incorrect, I would only be too delighted to correct it. However, nobody ought come to a review site and not expect opinion, so I make no apologies for the personal opinions that I express about either of these two authors. They are a consequence of my analysis of their work. As ever, any protestors can drop me an email.

TPR Recommends... The French Revolution

For TPR, few events in history quite match the excitement and the philosophical majesty of the French Revolution. Indeed, TPR is likely one of the many fans of this period of history who have a tendency to over-romanticise the bloody events of the 1790s and the tyranny of Napoleon in the 1800s. However, with so much of the political consensus we know today inspiring the French Revolution (Montesquieu) or formed in reaction to it (Burke), it's certainly a topic worth knowing about.

The seminal book on this topic is by British historian Simon Schama. Here he offers one the definitive account of the French Revolution. More than likely too heavy to take on the beach for your summer holidays, and too dense to be read whilst taking notes, this is a book that best sits on the side of the desk for digesting chapter-by-chapter for the broadest narrative and some interesting analysis. Purchase here.

Politicians just ain't as good as they used to be. Ever feel this way? Maximillian Robespierre will compound and challenge your view all at the same time. Potentially the most interesting revolutionary figure (whose time of dominance of the Committee for Public Safety brought in the 'Reign of Terror') his time of authority went from the aforementioned bloodiness of the terror to the bizarre attempt to create his own pagan religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being. To think it all ended with an attempted suicide (in which he managed only to shatter his own jaw with a pistol) before he was guillotined without trial. Purchase here.

Edmund Burke was the founder of modern conservative ideology (which would later be applied to the party, the founding of which in its modern form is attributed to Robert Peel). It is fitting, therefore, that he wrote a book about the management of change. Few times were so fitting for such a book to be written - France was in revolution, America had revolted and formed an independent nation and the industrial revolution had brought about significant change in Britain itself. Reflections on the Revolution in France remains a classic of British political philosophy. Purchase here.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Next Week's Sunday Review

Many of you will have guessed it from our 'Coming up this week...' post, but for those of you who didn't our next Sunday Review will be of 'Ed' by James McIntyre and Mendhi Hasan. Described as the seminal book on the man at the top of the Labour Party (a description always made easier when there is only one title currently available) this ought to be an interesting attempt to try and understand the man who will likely lead the Labour Party into the next election. A Michael Foot, or Tony Blair waiting to come to fruition? TPR suspects neither, in reality, but we'll find out a lot more about the man, and this book, on Sunday.

You can purchase 'Ed' here.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sunday Review: The Abolition of Britain

An Image of Britain Unlikely to Return

(Hitchens, P. 2008. The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana. London: Continuum.)

Chapter fourteen opens with the words “smoking and buggery can both kill you.” Chapter eight, which discusses single parent families, is called “A real bastard.” And in Chapter fifteen, he accuses those who supported then and continue to support now the abolition of the death penalty of being “prepared to accept the death of innocent people… rather than allow something they believed to be a morally repulsive punishment to continue.” On the face of it, these are the tell-tale signs of over-dramatized language being used to attract attention through controversy. This is the big frustration of reading ‘The Abolition of Britain’; Peter Hitchens has his sights set on controversy at the expense of rational argument so that you have to fight through the over-inflated language and the poorly conceived arguments to get at what is a valuable contribution to the political debate. On this basis, this book could be written off as drivel but deep inside are some valuable points to make us stop, think and reflect upon the changes in British society in the past forty years.

For example, many of us care deeply about whether or not there ought to be a core body of knowledge at the centre of the history specification in secondary schools. The plight of single parent mothers in this country, who inevitably suffer worse economic conditions on average than a married couple, is something that really ought to be highlighted more – and many legitimately believe that the best way to ameliorate their situation is to encourage marriage. Others regret the demise of Christianity in Britain, some the perceived sexual promiscuity of the modern nation and many the decline in a sense of pride about being British. Whilst you may not agree with all of these points, there is certainly room in contemporary British political debate for them and plurality demands that their case is persuasively made. Yet Peter Hitchens, perhaps the most prominent flag-bearer for such views, is doing such very great harm to these very views he wishes to encourage.

The most blatant demonstration of this is the book’s relentless idealising of the past whilst demonizing the present. Peter Hitchens always denies that this is what he is doing. However, when he says so he is lying to himself and to his readers. In chapter one  Hitchens describes a girl from 1997 being transported to 1965, who would, he suggests, “feel entirely safe as she travelled late at night on the London Underground” and would wonder “what has happened to taste and education in the lost years between [1965 and 1997?]” Later, he even goes on to say that these changes, which nobody really asked for, “brought about misery, decadence and ignorance” from “one of the happiest, fairest and kindest societies which has ever existed…” Demonstrably, Hitchens is idealising the past and demonizing the future to a hyperbolic degree and few people are ever willing to believe that they are living in such a bankrupt age as he describes.

To believe that the past is better than today is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, many who oppose the individualism and consumerism of the 1980s and long for a return to stable working-class mining communities (as Owen Jones did in last week’s Sunday Review) may be inclined to sympathise. However, this view is problematised when a moral element, claiming eternality and universality, is added to such considerations. Peter Hitchens take this conceptualisation of Britain at an idealised time and implies than the prominence of Christianity, the lack of contraception and the social and legal disapproval of homosexuality were moral issues and virtuous positions. However, the way in which he does this shows minimal care for the moral principle itself. For example, Hitchens speaks in great detail of the beauty and majesty of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. One would be hard pushed to deny that this seminal book in the development of Western Christianity was of central importance and is written in way that the more sentimental, at least, would call beautiful. However, what Hitchens fails to comprehend is that for Christians the Bible is about the word of God being shared and understood. Therefore, why cherish a version which is an inaccurate translation of the word of God when more accurate, not to mention more readable, translations are available? The answer is very clear; Hitchens is not concerned with the principle at hand - the position of Christianity in the UK - so much as clinging on to the remnants of an age we have moved beyond.

Out of this fixation with the past comes a series of what many of us (no doubt labelled the “liberal elite” by Hitchens) would consider bigotries. For example, Hitchens cleverly veils controversial statements by quoting people who said them at the time the debate was taking place, usually the 1960s. However, at no stage does Hitchens criticise those who, for example, opposed the legalisation of homosexuality in the 1960s. Of Hitchens rare personal comments in this section, he only takes time to praise them for the accuracy of their prophecies about what it would do to society. On the basis of pseudo-morality Hitchens is encouraging the prejudices of old where in reality many, including evangelical Christians, are now unwilling to hypocritically criticise their fellow “miserable sinners” in such terms.

Together these culminate in Hitchens’ conceptualisation of “Britain,” although to define such an old nation in such historically narrow terms is beyond absurd. However, if we indulge Hitchens for a period and accept his definition of Britain, it certainly could be said that the Britain of old, the one that he pines for, has been abolished. Indeed, we are no longer homophobic as we were, tolerance is now a normative term (the idea, for example, of D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ being freely published no longer causes horror) and Britain is no longer a country that speaks proudly of having conquered a quarter of the world – at times brutally. This is not the abolition of a nation – it is the evolving of a nation and, by many accounts, the ameliorating of it. The Britain of old has been abolished – but with any dynamic nation that goes without saying – and a Britain more at ease with itself and its citizens has taken its place. On Hitchens’s terms, we ought to be glad “Britain” has been abolished – at least if you value tolerance of minorities and freedom of speech.

Peter Hitchens speaks of a new liberal elite, detached from the public, who imposed all of these cultural changes upon people. There is something worth exploring in this analysis of the masses relationship with their political elite – but the new elite is not as hegemonic or authoritarian as he implies in this book. After all, if they were authoritarian (as much as those Peter seems to support when they tried to prevent ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ being published in 1960) they would never have allowed this book to be published. I, for one, am glad that is was. However, those who share a number of Peter Hitchens’ views ought to regret its publication. Its author and its style does their case no credit and if they ever want to succeed and reclaim some of the Britain that was once theirs, they need to find a new advocate.

You can purchase ‘The Abolition of Britain’ here.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Coming up this week...

And so another week of TPR comes to an end. However, what have we got coming up in the next week? Well...
  • Tomorrow we have the centrepiece of TPR's week with our Sunday Review. This week, we're reviewing The Abolition of Britain by Peter Hitchens. Based on the exchange of opinions TPR and Peter Hitchens have had this week, this could be a controversial one...
  • Monday sees the announcement of our next feature title coming under scrutiny as a Sunday Review. Be sure to find out which seminal book on a current politician we'll be reading then order your copy and join in the debate!
  • On Tuesday, TPR's favourite section makes a re-appearance as we recommend the must-read books if you want to understand a certain political topic. As promised on Friday, we'll be declaring liberty, equality and fraternity this week with our choices of the best of the French Revolution.
  • Hoping for a less controversial return, on Wednesday we'll be running another brief biography of the authors (2) behind our Sunday Review. Guessed who it is yet?
  • On Thursday we'll be looking once again at an essay/article and drawing out some of the key points from it. Last week, we looked at an article on the American right from Prospect Magazine, this week we'll be getting a little bit more academic as we focus on a human rights essay from New Left Review.
  • And on Friday the weekdays come to a close with another TPR Recommends in which we look to more memorable history and look at the elections of 2000 and 2004 which saw President Bush's four and eight year terms in the White House decided and American history for that decade defined.
  • By the time Saturday comes around, we'll be doing this all over again and telling you what to expect over the next week on TPR. As last week, however, when TPR found himself in a little bit of controversy with Peter Hitchens, expect an extra post or two so be sure to bookmark the site and follow us on Twitter to keep up-to-date on all the latest.
Looking forward to what we've got coming up? Some of these bore you to tears? Drop TPR an email and let me know!

Friday, 15 July 2011

TPR Recommends... Lady Thatcher

For some of us, the 1980s were over before we were even born. For others, the realities of Lady Thatcher's time in office formed their day-to-day experiences for over a decade. Either way, few debates about the fundamentals of party politics in Britain can take place without the name of Margaret Thatcher making an appearance and dividing opinion even today. Her legacy has become ameliorated by her biggest fans and her three administrations have borne the brunt of criticism form many who have gone on to criticise her policies and new consensus. So here, TPR recommends some of the best books out their for understanding Margaret Thatcher's time in office, her legacy and her place in history.

Thatcher came to power after what was a tragic decade for Britain, including the ongoing industrial strife of the Heath and Callaghan governments, the three day electricity week and Britain's emergency loan from the IMF. The winter before Margaret Thatcher came to office, known as the "winter of discontent", set the scene of a stagnant nation and a government ready to be defeated in a vote of no confidence. In this book by Andy Beckett we have a lively and engaging perspective on the 1970s and the years that preceded Thatcher's Premiership. Worth remembering, as we've never known anything like it since she won in 1979... Purchase here.

This book of snappy essays from key figures such as Norman Tebbit, Malcolm Rifkind, George P. Shultz and Milton Friedman does, as you may expect, portray the Thatcher years as revolutionary in a rather positive light. However, its chapters on Britain's place in the world, inflation, unemployment, propoerty rights and privitization give a fascinating insight into the motivations behind her policies by some of its staunchest supporters. At times, holding nerve throughout the 1980s must have been tough. This book helps us understand why the nerve was held and why the support went on. Purchase here.

From a more critical stance in every respect, this work by Richard Vinen seeks to do away with something we've already touched upon in this post - the legacy of Thatcher and how the mythical status of the Lady and her governments have resulted in a chasm between the modern-day perception and the reality. Written for a generation of people who may not have been alive - and more than likely were not able to vote - when Britain's only female Prime Minister came to office, it seeks to re-assert the facts of her times in office and judge them as a consequence of the 1970s and 1980s, striking a blow to those who see her as a guidebook for all future governments in all situations. Purchase here.

And finally... we take a look outside of the UK and look at Margaret Thatcher's role in broader history and also her legacy on the world stage. This work by John O'Sullivan, former editor of the National Review and Times, draws upon his knowledge of three of the central figures at the end of the Cold War and the role they played in welcoming in the post-Soviet age. It is perhaps especially timely, now that the other foci of this work have passed away (Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan), to focus on how Lady Thatcher's legacy will evolve as part of this trio. Purchase here.

Next time, we'll be considering some of the best books about the event in politics that has obsessed many politicos with a historic focus and gives us such political terms as "left" and "right". The glories if 1789-1815 will reveal themselves as TPR recommends the best books on the French Revolution.