The summer reading guide

Written by Keith Simpson on 23 June 2011 in Culture
Keith Simpson picks the best reads for the summer break

This has been a bumper year for books on politics, with diaries, memoirs, political theory and governance all making an appearance. One year on from the general election and formation of the coalition government, there are new books of analysis and reflection.

Des Wilson (journalist, writer, campaigner for social justice and activist in progressive politics) was, 30 years ago, a name to be taken reasonably seriously. In Memoirs of a Minor Public Figure (Quartet Books, £25), he describes the formation of the Lib Dems, and how the party has developed.

Earl Ferrers, still a very active member of the House of Lords, was a minister in every Conservative government from Macmillan to Major. His delightful memoir Whatever Next? (Biteback, £25), concerning his forebears, family, national service and career in farming, business and politics, is more Downton Abbey than Westminster. But it’s a gem.

Political Communication in Britain: The Leader’s Debates, the Campaign and the Media in the 2010 General Election (Palgrave Macmillan, £19.99), edited by Dominic Wring, Roger Mortimore and Simon Atkinson consists of 20 different articles and concludes that it was still the ‘old media’ rather than the ‘new media’ that dominated the campaign.

How to Use Politicians to Get What You Want (Biteback, £12.99) by Scott Colvin is a ‘bluffer’s guide’ to help consumers, pressure groups, residents or just frustrated individuals use their local and national politicians to assert their rights as consumers and citizens. Highly subversive.

Moral principles and arguments often fall foul of political expediency or realities. Judi Atkins’s Justifying New Labour Policy (Palgrave Macmillan, £57.50) – at a shock-horror price – analyses the ideas, language and policy of New Labour in the area of the New Deal, the Human Rights Act, its anti-social agenda, and the Iraq war of 2003.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was never going to be New Labour ‘lobby-fodder’. A bon viveur, writer, journalist and lawyer, he was one of the leading members of the awkward squad on Labour backbenchers from 1997 to 2010. His Off-Message: The Complete Antidote to Political Humbug (Profile Books, £16.99), is in the finest tradition of the much-recycled anecdotes once refined by Julian Critchley MP.

Explaining Cameron’s Coalition (Biteback, £25) by Robert Worcester, Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines and Mark Gill is an analysis of the 2010 election. The authors look at the mindset of the electorate in 2010, assess the party leaders’ strategies, and seek to explain why the Lib Dem vote declined in the final week and how Labour maintained a comparatively high share of the final vote in the face of gloomy predictions.

An initial academic assessment of the coalition government, relating implementation to policy objectives, is brought together by Simon Lee and Matt Beech in The Cameron-Clegg Government: Coalition Politics in an Age of Austerity (Palgrave Macmillan, £19.99). Every area of domestic, foreign and security policy is evaluated, as well as the impact of the coalition on the main political parties.

Peter Riddell, veteran Times journalist and now adorning the Institute for Government, has written many books about politicians and politics. His In Defence of Politicians (In Spite of Themselves) (Biteback, £9.99) is just that, a case for the defence of a much-maligned profession, including a series of recommendations for rehabilitating the political class in the eyes of voters.

Francis Fukuyama, the distinguished historian and writer, has made a good recovery since his analysis of the end of history following the collapse of communism. Now, in The Origins of Political Order: From Prehistoric Times to the French Revolution (Profile Books, £25), he displays great mastery of his subject in explaining the origins of our political world and its institutions.

These days, it’s unusual for a senior Foreign Office mandarin not to publish his memoirs criticising the government of his day and the FCO. Sherard Cowper-Coles was an articulate, opinionated and flamboyant mandarin who left the service rather abruptly last year. As a former ambassador in Afghanistan, and then the UK special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has some trenchant views about UK and US policy and the need to talk to the Taliban. All is outlined in Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign (HarperPress, £25).

Mark Malloch-Brown had considerable experience working at the highest levels of the UN before becoming a minister of state at the FCO in the Brown government. In The Unfinished Global Revolution: The Limits of Nations and the Pursuit of a New Politics (Allen Lane, £25), he argues that, over the past few decades, domestic problems such as unemployment and the environment have grown international roots. Individual governments are failing to meet the challenges, and gaps are plugged by NGOs and the private sector. Malloch-Brown proposes we embrace international organisations and values to meet these global challenges.

RAW Rhodes is professor of government at the University of Tasmania. He has long had an interest in government and bureaucracy, and the implementation of policy. Everyday Life in British Government (OUP, £25) builds on the author’s earlier work Beyond Westminster and Whitehall (1988) and Understanding Governance (1997). He was granted access to Whitehall departments and interviewed and observed ministers and senior civil servants. Vernon Bogdanor, former tutor to the PM, and consultant to the Royal Family, is now the doyen of constitutional historians.

In The Coalition and the Constitution (Hart Publishing, £20), he poses the question – arising from the thesis that we may have seen the end of single-party government – of whether the British constitution is equipped to deal with coalitions. He examines the wide-ranging proposals for constitutional reform, which were in the coalition agreement. However, some of these have been, or could be, overtaken by political events, most notably the AV defeat and the challenge to the Lords’ reform by the Lords themselves.

Hitting the bookshelves in the middle of August will be A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-1999 (Profile Books, £25), Chris Mullin’s third volume of diaries. Following the success of his earlier published remembrances, A View from the Foothills and Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005-2010, these latest diaries will cover the lead-up to the 1997 election and the early years of the first Blair government.

In the same genre is Settling The Bill: The Memoirs of Bill Dugdale (Endeavour, £20). Sir William Dugdale, uncle by marriage to David Cameron, lived life to the full, from experiences as a young wartime Guards officer to riding in the Grand National and flying light aircraft around the world. But he was also a serious player in local government, the water industry and football. Easy to caricature, but a memoir that resonates with an earlier tradition of what constitutes the big society.

The latest political philosopher-king to take Westminster by storm is American journalist David Brooks, a man favoured by President Obama. In his latest book, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens (Short Books, £14.99), Brooks argues that people are driven more by their unconscious instincts than by rational thought, and are profoundly influenced by social norms. For some old unreconstructed sociologists, this might sound familiar.

Tim Wu is a policy wonk, a professor at Columbia University and a serious player in Silicon Valley. The future of the internet, who owns it, the balance between freedom and regulation is very apposite today. In The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Atlantic, £19.99), Wu looks at the development of information technologies, and the observable stages before their destruction.

Like a literary juggernaut, the latest volume in the vast industrial output known as The Alastair Campbell Diaries relentlessly overwhelms the unsuspecting reader. Power and Responsibility: 1999-2001 (Hutchinson, £25) covers the conflict in Kosovo to the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the second Labour landslide victory. At 800 pages, it is potentially exhaustive – and exhausting.

In Pakistan: A Hard Country (Allen Lane, £30), a counter-intuitive book based on interviews conducted in the country and personal observations, Anatol Lieven argues that Pakistan is not on the brink and about to be taken over by the Islamists. Indeed, he argues that the question should be not why Islamist political movements are so strong in Pakistan today, but why they are so weak. Provocative.

In New British Fascism: Rise of the British National Party (Routledge, £26.99), Matthew J Goodwin examines the development of the BNP, its successes and failure to breakthrough to the big-time. The author has based his study on extensive interviews with BNP members.

Tags: Alastair Campbell, Anatol Lieven, Biteback, Books, Chris Mullin, Earl ferrers, Issue 37, Judi Atkins, Matthew Goodwin, Peter riddell, Sherard Cowper-Coles, Summer reading, Tim Wu, Vernon bogdanor, William Dugdale

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