Thirty Minutes of Fame

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The British are great ones for writing about people who might have made better prime ministers than the ones we actually got. In recent years, there have been times when it seemed that Larry, the Downing Street cat, might have been an improvement on the incumbent. Historians have tended to focus on Iain Macleod and […]

The View from the Ivory Towers

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Simon McDonald is a former Foreign Office mandarin who nowadays heads a Cambridge college. He was ambassador to Israel and Germany, with a stint advising Gordon Brown on foreign policy in between. In 2015 he became permanent secretary at the Foreign Office and head of the diplomatic service. But it is not as a bureaucratic […]

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Iron Lady vs Grey Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The youngest member of Margaret Thatcher’s first shadow cabinet, Norman Fowler served in her government for eleven years before entering The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations by becoming the first minister to declare he was leaving politics ‘to spend more time with my family’. He was tempted back into front-line politics, however, by John Major, […]

Purple Hearts & Coronets

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Marcia Falkender never told her own story. She almost never gave interviews. She never even made a speech, despite spending more than forty years in the House of Lords. She did write two books about her time as Harold Wilson’s political secretary, a job she did from 1956 until well after his dramatic resignation as […]

Holy Man of Westminster

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As an MP for forty storm-tossed years, Frank Field was often an elusive and exasperating public figure. So it is wholly appropriate that he has now written an elusive and exasperating book. Billed by the author as a ‘political memoir’, it is no such thing, at least in the sense that most people would understand […]

Up the (Peaceful) Rebels

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The leader of Sinn Féin since 2018, Mary Lou McDonald has achieved for the party a respectability in Irish politics that it never had before. She might conceivably be the next Taoiseach or the powerbroker with whom other parties will have to negotiate a coalition if they want a share of government in Dublin. This […]

Better Dead than Red

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In his near half-century as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J Edgar Hoover made the organisation the domestic anchor of American global power, synchronising the crusades against fascism and communism abroad with the preservation of order and hierarchy at home. Beverly Gage, in the first biography of Hoover in nearly three decades, has […]

Fruits of the Union

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Simon Kuper’s thesis is that the United Kingdom is being run by a coterie of Oxford-educated friends who were at university at roughly the same time as he was. Many arrived from Eton. They were trained in the debates held at the Oxford Union and the elections held by the university Conservative Association, where dirty […]

Treasury Island

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There is no more powerful or unpopular government department in the UK than Her Majesty’s Treasury. Whereas some countries divide the roles of finance ministry (raising revenue from taxation and controlling public spending) and economics ministry (seeking to deliver economic growth), the UK locates both responsibilities in one institution. This means that there is a

What the Butler Saw

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Tina Brown has edited magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, including Tatler, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. She turned two of them around and made them profitable. She was at the forefront of the digital revolution in journalism at a news aggregator, the Daily Beast. She is also the author of a previous book on the royal family, The Diana Chronicles. The Palace Papers

Going Their Separate Ways

Posted on by David Gelber

One afternoon in mid-July 2000, I got a call from Alex Salmond, whose biography I was then working on. An hour or so earlier, to the surprise of pundits and political friends and foes, he had stepped down as leader of the Scottish National Party. He invited me to his office at the Scottish Parliament […]

Loitering with Intent

Posted on by David Gelber

On becoming a political journalist decades ago, I was handed a plum-coloured booklet explaining that the Lobby, a select group of correspondents with access to the Members’ Lobby in the Palace of Westminster, frequently invited ministers to give information and answer questions. ‘Members are under an obligation to keep secret the fact that such meetings […]

The Galba Question

Posted on by David Gelber

You have to say right away that Steve Richards is very fair to politicians. It is an admirably unfashionable habit among political commentators. Some scribblers nowadays would concoct an affair between David Attenborough and the Queen if either secular saint were to show an inclination to vote Labour. All the same, a writer can go too far. In his ten essays on prime ministers we never had, Richards devotes

All Burke’s Children

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For more than two centuries, conservatism has been one of the world’s most influential political philosophies. It has a rich history and is rooted in concepts such as tradition, order, liberty, capitalism and individual freedom. Like most political ideologies, it has witnessed dramatic periods of growth, development and evolution. Yet no two conservatives think exactly […]

The Camerons Who Knew Me

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The public-spirited citizen may already have heard faint rumblings about Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife, despite her best efforts to avoid publicity. Astonishment and some disapproval have been voiced about both its contents and Lady Swire’s decision to cash in on decidedly private conversations with close friends like Sam and Dave (Swire-speak for […]

Prime Minister’s Pet

Posted on by David Gelber

Max Beaverbrook was widely disliked during his lifetime as a newspaper owner and backstairs politician who used the Daily Express to further his own interests. Charles Williams’s biography doesn’t make him any more likeable, but it does give a full account of a remarkable 20th-century career. It’s hard not to admire the young Max Aitken’s […]

Money Talk

Posted on by David Gelber

The economic journalist William Keegan is no mere hack: he has had not only readers in high places, but friends too. His career has taken him from the Financial Times, with interludes at the Daily Mail and the Bank of England, to The Observer, where he has been from 1977 to the present. His work […]

Blessed is the Peacemaker

Posted on by David Gelber

Make a little room on your library shelf for this essential book on American diplomacy. Both memoir and history, it belongs right up there with other works by Acheson and Kennan, Kissinger and Shultz. Bill Burns, who is now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was for thirty-three years a Foreign Service officer, […]

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