Tag Archives: reviews

Review: Inside the Foreign Office, Part 1

“More than fifty shades of diplomacy.”

So says Britain’s Ambassador talking about the nuances of international relations in a BBC documentary about the Foreign Office, the first part of which was shown last week.

It opens just after the 2017 election, with Boris addressing the assembled ranks in the Foreign Office. Typically, he talks about the fate of the Conservative Party in front of impartial civil servants.

He talked about wanting to go to Tehran – and we all know how his dealings with the Iranians ended up for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The Permanent Secretary, Sir Simon MacDonald, talked about the nature of diplomacy, describing how 17th century ambassador Sir Henry Wootton “Am ambassador is an honest man sent aboard to ie for the benefit of his country.” MacDonald pointed out the triple entendre –  lying meant lazing about and sleeping around as well as not telling the truth. His modern take was that the art of diplomacy is “letting other people have your way”

Sir Simon talked about the changing status of UK – how we were the biggest, most important power before World War 1. It’s all changed since then.

We’re now in second group of countries not able to do much by themselves. So, clearly, it’s really sensible for us to be leaving an enormous collaboration of nations.

We then went to our UN mission in New York where aides were prepping Boris for talks with the Russians who had requested aid to rebuild Syria – which they have helped destroy. They discussed  various ways of how they could use that request to get rid of Assad and ensuing humanitarian access.

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When Laura Bates taught Nick Clegg a few things…

If I had known, 30 years ago, that there would be an annual Book Festival in Edinburgh in the last half of August, I’d have put my wedding back a week or two. My lack of foresight means that I’ll be away on a celebratory holiday when both Jo Swinson and Chelsea Clinton are speaking there. Jo is on 22nd August at 18:45 (buy tickets here) and her book, Equal Power, was on sale in the bookshop yesterday.

The tents in Charlotte Square have been my spiritual home in August for some time so yesterday it was great to be there on the first day, especially as Edinburgh Gin seemed to be taking their responsibilities as sponsors very seriously with several new gin bars around the place. For the record, their seaside gin is ok, but not as good as Isle of Harris, which has definitely cornered the market in things that taste like the sea.

I saw Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, talk about her new book, Misogynation, which aims to join the dots to highlight the systemic nature of sexism throughout our society. She told some shocking stories – highlighting, for example, evidence that there is the equivalent of one rape every day of term in a UK school.

A lot of the conversation centred around harassment of women in school, online and on the street. She talked about innovative ways of dealing with it. One man, for example, who had recently come to realise the effect of persistent street harassment on his female friends who were having to deal with it, couldn’t work out how to intervene when he saw a woman being crudely catcalled by men on a building site. When they called “Get your t**s out, love” he had a brainwave – and lifted up his t-shirt to make the point that they would never say that sort of thing to him so it wasn’t alright to say it to her.

She also told of a visit to a school where the girls got wind of a plot by the boys to be disruptive and generally unpleasant during her talk. So they left class a few minutes’ early and arranged themselves in every second seat in the hall. So every boy was sitting between two girls so it wasn’t so comfortable for them to heckle. In fact, they actually engaged with the talk.

One of the consequences of the Everyday Sexism project and the hundreds of thousands of examples it has collected over the years is that it has helped to shope policy. The examples of sexual harassment in schools has, finally, forced a change to more inclusive sex education in England – although the devils that will inevitably be in the detail of that are not yet apparent.

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Review: Cabaret of dangerous ideas – What does sex sell?

There are definite advantages to living near Edinburgh and working in the city, one of them being an overload of culture or what passes for it during August. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is eclectic and bold, pushing just about every type of boundary you can imagine.I haven’t quite got over meeting walking genitalia on George IV Bridge a few years ago.

The Fringe kicked off yesterday and I took in my first show which was part of the annual Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas series. Twice a day until 26th August, academics will present an idea and lead a discussion about it.

Last night’s show was all about advertising and the use of sex to sell products.

Sexy’ themes have been used in advertising for decades, based on the notion that ‘sex sells’. From yoghurt ads to shampoo, from perfume to fast food – these ads are ubiquitous and pasted in mainstream media. Researcher Kat Rezai (Edinburgh Napier University) broadens this debate to ask: what do ‘sexy’ ads really sell? Does it sell that ‘sexy’ product, or does it sell specific behaviours?

Kat Rezai took us through some beautifully improvised re-enactments of famous adverts which are designed to show men in powerful roles and women in passive roles. They ranged from the humorous to the tacky to the downright disturbing, with fashion labels like Dolce and Gabanna’s controversial depictions of violence against women.

It was an enjoyable hour, but, if I’m honest, it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know already, but then I am interested in this stuff. I was hoping it might advance my knowledge a bit more of how this stuff works in the digital age. When I was growing up, there was one telly and you all watched the same adverts at the same time. Not any more. You can have all the members of a household watching completely different tailored ads base on their Google searches.

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Review: Read Towards a Liberal Future by David Howarth and Bernard Greaves

In his conference speech, Vince Cable talked about having a party “fizzing with ideas.” But to be able to present a liberal vision with liberal ideas, you have to have a clear understanding of liberal values and of how they should be applied in every area of our lives. In Towards a Liberal Future, David Howarth and Bernard Greaves set out their view of what liberalism is all about. They look at how the party has failed to practice and communicate its core values and set out how we can fix this. I’m very excited to say that they have allowed us to share their book with you here.

The authors have a long history in the Party. It’s nearly 40 years since Bernard Greaves co-wrote “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics” and 10 years since he co-wrote “The Theory and Practice of Community Economics.” David Howarth is a former Liberal Democrat MP and Councillor who has returned to the academic life since he stepped down from Parliament. More recently, he’s developed the idea of Core Vote Strategy with Mark Pack and it’s no surprise that that plays a part in the book’s strategy for our recovery.

Vince seems to take the implied criticism in their analysis of how we got to where we are on the chin in his foreword to the book:

It starts from the proposition that the party has ‘lost its way’ producing an incoherent mixture of ‘local champions and national pragmatists’ (the latter, presumably including me, being the people who went into Coalition).

It seeks to revive the party’s long term vision and, in my view, does so brilliantly.

The authors don’t merely blame the coalition for our demise. That, they argued, started with the concentration purely on winning local elections without a national over-arching vision.

From where it all went wrong, Howarth and Greaves take us through a definition of liberal values and some examples of how we could translate them into various policy areas. 

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What makes Vince Cable angry?

Journal of Liberal History cover Sept 2016I know when my Journal of Liberal History arrives that it will contain interesting, well researched, evidence based assessments and accounts of Liberal Democrat, Liberal and SDP activities.

The Conference issue of this quarterly publication has just arrived and it looks at the record of the Liberal Democrats in coalition. Unlike last year’s Conference issue, which looked at the coalition as a whole, this takes a detailed look at individual policy areas. Economic policy, social security, health and social care, education, constitutional reform, home affairs and climate and energy come under the microscope.

Each policy area has 3 or 4 articles. First an analytical piece giving an overview of each area is then reviewed by a former minister or minsters and a more critical party member.  Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone, Norman Lamb, Chris Huhne, Sir Vince Cable, Paul Burstow, David Laws, Jenny Willott, Ed Davey, William Wallace and Norman Baker all contribute.

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Review: Nate Silver at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Nate SilverNate Silver grabbed the headlines  last year when he correctly predicted the outcome of the US presidential election in all 50 states when other commentators were expecting a dead heat. Since then, he has sold his fivethirtyeight blog to ESPN and will continue to edit it, expanding it to become, he hopes, the “go to point for data driven journalists.” It will also give him the chance to  do political punditry for ABC News.

He came to the Edinburgh Book Festival earlier this week to talk about his book The …

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AD LIB preview – August 2013: bringing communities together, campaigning success and bringing up children in Parliament

AD LiB August 2013It’s been a few months since I’ve reviewed an AD LIB. Partly that’s because I’ve never got round to doing it, although there was one month, June, I think it was, when I almost spontaneously combusted while reading it on a train. If the dominance of articles about men wasn’t bad enough, the photographs were even worse. I counted something like 26 photographs of men to 10 containing any women at all.

And then there was the recipe. A whole crayfish and a whole lobster? Do they think we’re …

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Review: April’s AD LIB goes high tech and has Paddy, campaign success and Conference confessions

So, finally, I get around to reading April’s AD LIB which has a very clear agenda: getting us out on the doorsteps or on the phones talking to people. This month’s edition of the Party’s new monthly magazine is also available in digital form to all members. I have it open on my iPad, iPhone and PC as I write. It’s a bit fiddly on the phone, and it took me a while to work out how to find my way around. On the iPad it really is a thing of beauty but a bit erratic to negotiate …

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Rosie Wallace talks to Liberal Democrat Voice about her books

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael’s Twitter account is always good for a laugh. At least, I hope he was joking here…

Rosie WallaceIt was from Alistair’s Twitter that I discovered that we have an accomplished and talented author in the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Rosie Wallace has written two novels, set in the same small town, about its parliamentarians and their families. She should know …

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Paddy Ashdown talks about his new book “A brilliant little operation”

I had to stifle a giggle as Paddy Ashdown strode on to the stage at the Edinburgh Book Festival and said:

What are you lot doing here at ten in the morning?

There was a certain irony at this coming from the man who notoriously held meetings at the crack of dawn when he was party leader.

The morning after his “why the world will never be the same again” talk, he was back to tell us about his new book, “A brilliant little operation”, about the founding raid of the Special Boat Service, the special forces unit where he would later serve. …

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