Category Archives: Books

Roy was right – and so was Nick

Nick Clegg’s excellent book, Politics: Between the Extremes, released in September, provides a useful perspective on the new parameters which seem to define British politics. As became clear in 2016, politics is not just a battle between right and left or statist versus anti-statist perspectives any more, but between open versus closed economies and Brexit versus Remain.

But I think Clegg’s analysis would have benefited from exploring more deeply how old and therefore un-random these changes are.  Specifically, Clegg’s Twelfth Chapter Was Roy Right? suggests Roy Jenkins– who died in 2003 and in the 1980s was the leading political and intellectual force behind the SDP and Lib Dems– would not have agreed with his view of cross-party cooperation, or that the only division in politics is between left and right.

There is, in fact, plenty of evidence to suggest that Jenkins would have shared Clegg’s analysis. Indeed, I think Jenkins would have likely been his strongest supporter in the Coalition years and would have spoken against the criticisms made of Clegg, implicitly in his name, principally by Lord Oakeshott, Jenkins’ former Special Adviser, who see the Liberal Democrats as effectively a subsidiary of the wider left.

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Book review – Jeremy Paxman: A Life in Questions

Santa kindly got me this book. I have just finished it – which for me counts as “speed reading”. (I once spent an entire year reading “To kill a mocking bird“).

Jeremy Paxman’s memoirs, “A Life in Questions” is an excellent read – it presents a journalist of great integrity, an interesting life story which is, in turns, fascinating, gripping and, sometimes, hilarious.

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Book review – Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews

Books and films about the last second of President John F Kennedy’s life have been plentiful. “Jack Kennedy – Elusive hero” by Chris Matthews is a very engaging book which focusses on the great politician’s life before that last second.

Chris Matthews is a very well-known US TV broadcaster. He prefaces this book in a personal context – explaining his great admiration for JFK. The book does an excellent job in answering the key question which John F Kennedy himself described as the pivotal one for biographies: “What was he like?”

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What really is “Kafkaesque”?

Kafka statue Prague
I’d heard the word “Kafkaesque” being bandied around for years, but only had a vague idea what it meant.

So, upon recently renewing my local library card, I was emboldened to take out their copy of “The Trial” to try to find out what “Kafkaesque” really means – or should mean. (Often words, which are misused, metamorphisise officially to their misused meaning. “Literally” is now accepted as often meaning “used for emphasis while not being literally true”.)

A friend commented: “Ahah! Starting with the light reads, eh?”

In fact, I was greatly impressed by the attractive narrative style of Franz Kafka. There are two horrendously violent incidents in the book. Apart from that, the story proceeds in a very charming and engaging way. The narrator and the subject seem to be intertwined.

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Book review: Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw by Greg Hurst

I had a chance to read this recently updated book while on holiday in West Africa. It is a remarkably fine volume. Painstakingly researched and impeccably sourced, it offers a skillfully balanced portrait of a remarkable and inspiring man. As the title suggests, the author does not hold back on the human frailties of its subject but these are, nevertheless, presented as part of a rounded, fair and endearing commentary. I feel this book helps us to inch forward a little further in understanding the rather enigmatic Charles Kennedy, while deconstructing a few myths along the way.

I’ll pick out a few parts of the book which particularly caught my attention:

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Book review: ‘This Boy’ by Alan Johnson

this boyWhile this is a very late review, hopefully it will persuade anyone left in the political community, who has not read Alan Johnson’s “This Boy”, to read it.

I tend to read at a snail’s pace and also have a habit of (accidentally) reading volumes of memoirs back to front chronologically. I read both Alan Clark’s and Chris Mullin’s volumes backwards. I read and reviewed Alan Johnson’s later work “Please Mister Postman” last summer. Just before Christmas I was kindly loaned “This Boy”.

The book is a remarkably detailed, harrowing account of a one-parent (and then no-parent) family living in 1950s/60s London in grinding, distressing poverty as the parent suffers increasingly failing health. Abandoned by her husband, Johnson’s mother, Lily, works all the hours God sends, and struggles bravely to bring up her children, Linda and Alan. Living in appalling slum conditions, they manage to survive through various trials and hardships. Linda emerges as a great confidante of her mother and a strong pseudo-parent for Alan as she grows into a young adult.

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Tim’s new chief of staff and a hangover after a late spring evening drinking with friends

It’s not what you think.

Tim Farron recently introduced his new Chief of Staff, Ben Williams, on these pages:

Ben was the standout candidate and brings a wealth of experience at all levels of the party from council campaigner to Head of Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office and latterly a Special Adviser. Everyone who has worked with him knows his skills and how brilliantly he works under pressure. There were many points over our years in government when I saw Ben, at first hand, make sure the government kept delivering liberal policies under tremendous pressures. He is exactly what our party needs – someone who can help me to help our party grow and thrive.

Ben Williams also has, according to self-publishing website Lulu.com, “always harboured a secret passion for writing.”

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Vince Cable’s “After the Storm – The World Economy & Britain’s Economic Future”

after the stormWider in scope and more ambitious in its reach, “After the Storm” is the acclaimed sequel to “The Storm” published after the financial crisis of 2008.  Having spent the last 5 years as Business Secretary within the Coalition Government (2010-2015), Vince has the added clout of first-hand experience introducing economic policies that have steered us out of the storm, not least an industrial strategy.

His professed motivation for penning a sequel were to update readers on the state of Britain’s economy in “a climate of guarded optimism,” and to share his insights, no longer bound by collective responsibility as Secretary of State at the Department of Business Innovation and Science.  Whilst the US and UK are expected to record 3% growth this year, Vince’s previous analysis of the underlying weaknesses still apply, such as UK’s over reliance on the banking sector and on the housing market for recovery and growth.

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Leaders good and bad

As we’re now seeing with Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, political debate often revolves around the characters of party leaders. Elections are portrayed as contests between leaders, voters are often asked to say which leader they will be voting for – even though they can’t, unless they happen to live in a leader’s constituency – and the media, during elections, party conferences and day-to-day politics, generally focus on the leader, sometimes, in small parties, to the exclusion of all other figures. Within their parties, even in relatively democratic institutions like the Liberal Democrats, the leader exercises considerable influence over party policy and strategy.

British Leaders jackets.indd

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A great holiday read from the cheeky chappie of politics

alan johnson bookPlease Mister Postman by Alan Johnson is a great book to take on holiday with you, if you haven’t already read it. It’s now available in paperback, published by Corgi Books for a cover price of £8.99, although you can get it for less.

There are two types of memoirs by politicians: boring self-justification and interesting, good reads. Johnson’s writings are firmly in the second category, along there with Alan Clark, Chris Mullin and Paddy Ashdown (“A Fortunate Life”). Very often the early days of a politician are the most interesting – as was the case with John Major’s auto-biography.

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Inside story of the coalition to come in book form from David Laws

Biteback publishing have announced that David Laws will be writing a book for them on the inside story of the coalition:

Iain Dale, MD of Biteback Publishing, has acquired world rights to Coalition, the inside story of the Cameron-Clegg Coalition by David Laws, the former senior Liberal Democrat MP, and author of the bestselling 22 Days in May: The Birth of the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition (Biteback, 2010).

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Unlocking Liberalism: Life After the Coalition

unlocking liberalismA source of inspiration and optimism for Liberal Democrats and an important chapter in the body of Liberal Democrat Discourse. A book that could help provide the road for the party to take in 2015 and beyond.

On average there are over 200,000 books published every year in the United Kingdom and nobody can read them all! But if you’re a Liberal Democrat, or are interested in knowing more about how we think, the book whose title I have mentioned above could be the one book from 2014 that you may have missed and should not miss any longer!

It is a wonderful collection of essays predominantly by distinguished Scottish Liberal Democrat members, written just before the Independence Referendum, but published only after the result! Whatever else that referendum may have or not achieved, it certainly has sharpened political thinking and this book is one result of that process.

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Deserving of more than a footnote: George Watson and The Unservile State

The Unservile StateThe announcement that the Cambridge academic George Watson had left the Liberal Democrats £950,000 in his will was one of the most surprising political stories of 2014.

George Watson was a distinguished literary scholar and a lifelong Liberal. After working for the European Commission as a translator and interpreter during the 1950s he became a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1961 and remained there until he retired in 1990. As a scholar, he was known for serious bibliographical work, spirited polemics, and a traditional approach to literary criticism. He also made two forays into electoral politics, contesting Cheltenham in 1959 and Leicester in the 1979 European Election.

Watson is perhaps best remembered by Liberal Democrats, however, as the editor of The Unservile State – a 1957 volume billed as ‘the first full-scale study of the attitudes and policies of contemporary British Liberalism since the famous Yellow Book’ of 1928.

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Book review: Michael Bloch’s “Jeremy Thorpe”

jeremy thorpe book coverThe publication of this book was reportedly delayed until after the death of its subject. Some might have expected, therefore, a ‘hatchet job’. (In fact, the delay was at the insistence of Jeremy Thorpe, who co-operated with the author to the extent of meeting him around twenty times to discuss his life). Instead, it seems a balanced, comprehensive, fair, even (in its concluding chapter) affectionate, portrait of its subject.

Nevertheless, the book pulls no punches in relating the events before, during and after the famous Old Bailey trial at which Thorpe and his fellow defendants were unanimously acquitted by a jury. It presents an apparently honest and complete account of Jeremy Thorpe, including some astute observations as to his character, such as his tendency towards fantasy and need for danger.

The Norman Scott thread and the trial for conspiracy to murder takes up about a fifth of the book. Bloch lays out, in sometimes mesmerizing detail, the labyrinthine unravelling of the story.

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And the top book read by Lib Dem MPs this summer was…

capital pikettyPolling firm ComRes has published its annual list of the books MPs have been reading this year, based on a survey of 154 MPs weighted by party and region to be representative of the House of Commons.

Here’s what Lib Dem MPs have taken to the beach with them…

2014
1. Capital in the 21st Century – Thomas Piketty
2. When Britain Burned the White House – Peter Snow

(And here’s what they took last year…

2013
1. What Has Nature Ever Done For Us – Tony Juniper)

Piketty’s tome polled strongly with MPs of all three main parties; though Margaret Thatcher (who topped last year’s list) wasn’t far behind:

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My pick of 15 top books to read this summer

reading summer - photo by hans van der bergThe newspapers are awash with summer best-reads at the moment, as well-known writers pick the books to relax with by the pool. You know the kind of thing: “It’s at this time of year I typically embark on re-reading Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, translating it into Russian (which I’m learning to relax as I prepare for my Grade 8 piano exam) from our rustic cottage in Tuscany.” Or, alternatively: “Here’s a book written by my mate.”

Always eager to copy a …

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Eddie Clein on ‘Falling off the Fence’, his memoir of six decades in Liverpool politics

falling off the fence eddie cleinEddie Clein, a long-standing former Lib Dem councillor and former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, has recently published his memoirs of his six decades’ involvement in the city’s politics – from his first win in 1969 through to his final defeat in 2012, aged 77. Here Eddie tells LDV a little more about his life and what the book covers…

As a key player in Liverpool’s Liberal Democrat administration (1998-2010), I thought it was important to place on record some of the party’s achievements and some of the

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Ukip examined: who they are, what they stand for, and what it all means for British politics

revolt on the right ukipI’ve just finished reading Revolt on the Right, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin’s fascinating book analysing the rise of Ukip and what makes the party and its voters tick. Mark Pack has already written a very good review for LibDemVoice here. Here’s my take on some of its key insights.

Who votes for Ukip? The ‘left behind’

For a start, it debunks the myth that Ukip is a party of disaffected, well-to-do, shire-Tories obsessed by Europe and upset by David Cameron’s mild social liberalism on same-sex marriage. Yes, there are some Ukip voters like that, but they tend to be its peripheral voters, the ones most likely to give the Tories a kick in the Euros next month then return to their traditional True Blue ways in time for the general election. Ukip’s core vote in reality is made up of what the authors define as ‘left behind’ voters, overwhelmingly comprising older white working class males with no formal educational qualifications.

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Jeremy Browne, South Korea and ‘Race Plan’

jeremy browne_Reform_Race_plan_coverIs Jeremy Browne really a secret lover of state intervention and a sceptic of free markets, believing in big state spending, government economic planning and regular intervention in the market? For all of the veneer of free marketeering in his book Race Plan, not to mention his choice of Reform as the publisher, it’s a question that comes to mind because in-between praising specific free market, small state policies, Browne regularly praises the results of governments such as the Chinese and the South Koreans, who are anything but.

It’s his praise of South Korea that is the most intriguing, for China can simply be put to one side as dramatic but its own unique case (though, as Stephen Tall has said, it is still an odd example for Jeremy Browne to trumpet).

South Korea is, as Browne rightly points out, seen by many developing countries as the one to emulate, transforming itself from a poor dictatorship to a wealthy democracy with globally successful industries in less than half of one person’s life time.

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‘The Welsh Liberals’: new book published this month

welsh liberalsPublished this month: The Welsh Liberals: The History of the Liberal and Liberal Democrat parties in Wales.

Despite being Wales’ oldest political party this is the first published history of the Welsh Liberal Party or its successor, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Party.

The Welsh Liberals: The History of the Liberal and Liberal Democrat parties in Wales charts the highs and lows of an extraordinary party.

This comprehensive study includes over 40 interviews with senior figures from within the Welsh Liberal Party, the Welsh SDP and Welsh Liberal Democrat Party.

You can order it from …

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Jeremy Browne’s ‘Race Plan’. I’ve read it, so here’s my review…

Jeremy Browne bookThree points to make right from the start about Jeremy Browne’s new book, Race Plan.

First, it’s a wholly Good Thing that a Lib Dem MP is choosing to think aloud, to set out clearly his views. Nick Clegg having decided that he did, after all, like one of the Beecroft recommendations and decided to fire-at-will his home office minister, Jeremy could have slunk away, tail between his legs, to nurse his bitterness. He’s chosen a rather more constructive outlet for his disappointment. By which I mean this book, rather than his short-lived, C.19th-throwback, gap year beard.

Secondly, there is a fundamental problem with the central conceit of this book: that Britain is in a global race, and that if we don’t get fitter, we’ll be overtaken by or competitors in the coming Asian Century, fall behind, and become poorer.

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Book Review: Money for Everyone

A Citizen’s Income Convincingly Argued

In ‘Money for Everyone’, Malcolm Torry delivers a blockbuster argument in favour of a Citizen’s Income to wholly or partially replace current benefits. His book is well-researched, well-informed, well-written, and is articulate and readable. His main argument is that, given widespread acceptance of a benefits scheme of some sort, then a Citizen’s Income is by far the best option. Specifically it avoids the disincentives of very high marginal deduction rates of current benefits which create the familiar unemployment and poverty traps. According to Torry, a Citizen’s Income would incentivise employment, training, new business formation, women’s …

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A Sunday afternoon read – Rosie Wallace: The Sisters

Earlier this year, I talked to Rosie Wallace about her first two novels which I’d devoured in a couple of days over last Christmas.

Her third novel is still a work in progress but the Scotsman featured her short story The Sisters as part of its The Write Stuff series. Here’s a snippet:

The younger one has always been a chatterer. Silence is a vacuum to be filled with whatever thoughts are passing through her mind. As she wraps a china lamp base in old newspaper, she explains how her daughter could have been a doctor if the physics teacher

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FREE: Extract of Paddy

Aurum Press, the publishers of Paddy Ashdown’s bestselling autobiography A Fortunate Life, have released a chapter of the book for free download.

It’s called 1983 – The Winning of Yeovil, and as I wrote in 2009:

MP also stands for Military Precision, so it’s no surprise that Paddy Ashdown’s campaign to become MP for Yeovil was long on discipline and short on creature comforts.

If you haven’t packed a book for the train to Conference yet, 1983 – The Winning of Yeovil is vital reading for all Liberal Democrat campaigners. And as is typical of the Chair of the Party’s …

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Book review: Liberal Democrats do God

liberaldemocratsdogodMainstream Christianity often does battle with mainstream liberal values, be that over women in the church, LGBT rights or contraception and abortion. So when I learned that there was a Liberal Democrat Christian Forum and they’d embarked on a new publication entitled “Liberal Democrats do God” my interest was piqued.

At £6.67 on Amazon, I was somewhat surprised when it arrived at its rather lightweight look and feel. At just 70-80 pages, this is no War and Peace.

My first impression of the book upon opening was the number of high profile writers from Tim Farron, Duncan Hames, to Baroness Brinton and Sir Alan Beith … an  undoubted breadth and range of Lib Dem opinion and experience.

The books is split into two sections, the first “Why should we do God?”  covers essays by John Pugh MP, Tm Farron MP, Greg Mulholland MP and Sir Andrew Stunnell MP. All seek to explain why they hold their respective faiths and how they interlink with liberalism.

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Book review: ‘People Power’ by Dan Jellinek

peoplepowerDan Jellinek’s book ‘People Power‘, which was published last month, is subtitled ‘A user’s guide to democracy’, and in it he comprehensively outlines the principles and practice of democracy in the UK.

This is not a book for political nerds, although even they may find some new nuggets of information within. Instead he is writing for members of the general public who may be curious to know how our political institutions work. Does that sound like someone you know?

The title, of course, encapsulates the power of the vote at election time, which he describes as ‘the heartbeat of democracy’, but Jellinek is also deeply interested in participatory democracy and explains how citizens can make their voices heard between elections.

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Book Review “The Lost Continent”

European Union flags - Some rights reserved by tristam sparksOn my holidays earlier this year, I read “The Lost Continent” by Gavin Hewitt, the BBC News’s Europe Editor, about the causes, effects and response to the European financial crisis, with its outlying crises in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

It was a great read and I heartily recommend it to any of you, especially those going on holiday as it both rewards in-depth attention and travel makes a good backdrop to its change of focus between different countries. I find …

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Our pick of the 17 top books to read this summer

2011-10-06 12.38.58 SpainThe newspapers are awash with summer best-reads at the moment, as well-known writers pick the books to relax with by the pool. You know the kind of thing: “It’s at this time of year I typically embark on re-reading Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, translating it into Russian (which I’m learning to relax as I prepare for my Grade 8 piano exam) from our rustic cottage in Tuscany.” Or, alternatively: “Here’s a book written by my mate.”

Always eager to copy a trite-and-tested and formula, here’s …

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The Green Book – new directions for Liberals in government

green-bookYesterday saw the launch of a book project that I’ve been working on with colleagues over the last year. Between us, we persuaded 27 authors to put pen to paper and say what should be in a programme for government, one that’s fit for the world we live in today. Some 70 people from business, NGOs, academia, think-tanks and political parties joined us in Westminster for the launch.

Our choice of the title “Green Book” is a very conscious nod towards the Orange Book of a decade ago and indeed Lloyd George’s Yellow Book – really authored by John Maynard Keynes – 85 years ago. Last week I wrote how times have changed since then.

Each author has a specific point of view but all were united in saying we can’t go on as we are, both as a country and as a party. As editors, we were clear that the LibDems are now a party of national government; we need a programme to put before the voters that’s frank about the challenges Britain faces: the first industrialised nation that has largely exhausted its natural resources and now has to compete for energy, food and raw materials with the burgeoning economies of India, Brazil and China.

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Yellow, orange, green… time for new book, and a different approach

Back in 1928, publication of The Yellow Book – the report of a party inquiry “Britain’s Industrial Future” – provided the basis for Lloyd George’s 1929 general election programme “We can conquer unemployment!”. It put the party firmly in the camp of an interventionist economic strategy, with John Maynard Keynes as its intellectual lodestar. With the Great Depression ranging, the party firmly rejected laisser-faire liberalism.

Come 2004 and the Orange Book -subtitled Reclaiming Liberalism and edited by David Laws and Paul Marshall – challenged what some were calling nanny-state liberalism. It promoted choice and competition and argued that the Liberal Democrats …

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