Sunday, May 15, 2011

The British General Election of 2010 ed. Philip Cowley and Denis Cavanagh

There has been a slew of books about the momentous events of the 2010 General Election, but the Nuffield originated survey, of which this is the latest, remains the most comprehensive and probably insightful. Cowley is a new authorial partner for the veteran Denis Kavanagh, and they cover pretty well everything you could possibly want to know about the 2010 election, including the state of the parties beforehand ( a chapter one each), the media dimension, including the television debates, and of course those 'Five Days in May' which saw the establishment of the Coalition. It also has an exhaustive survey of the election results part-authored by the ever reliable Professor John Curtice, so until the next election, this is the definitive election book.

The End of the Party by Andrew Rawnsley

The sequel to the Observer journalist's "Servants of the People", this is the book that blew the lid off the dysfunctional relationship at the heart of government between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. In many ways the definitive account of the last two terms of New Labour, it is long but immensely readable and, for the careful politics student, contains some excellent material on the nature of prime ministerial power and the operation of Number 10.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Blair Years by Alistair Campbell

Loath though I am to recommend anybody putting money in Campbell's coffers, there's no getting around the fact that this book is a gripping insider's view of one of the most extraordinary Downing Street set-ups in modern times. Campbell was at the heart of the Blair revolution in government (although not, as he often claims, an architect of New Labour itself), and the jobbing journalist turned spin supremo puts his hack skills to good use in these diaries. Whether or not Campbell really should have been devoting time each day to producing a memoir that was intended as an extra little retirement nest-egg is another matter, but AC was never a stickler for ethics, unless they were someone else's, and he saw political advantage in them. The man's a grotesque part of our political history, but the book is fascinating. Grit your teeth and buy it or, better still, find someone who already has done and borrow their's!

British Politics: A Very Short Introduction by Anthony Wright

If you want one primer for the standard AS-level British politics course, then this must be it. Brilliantly and concisely written, Wright combines his authority as a former university lecturer on politics with his subsequent career as a respected backbench Labour MP to give a genuinely objective insider's account of the British political system. Within every student's budget, and a must-read.

The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne

Conservative journalist Peter Oborne produces a very accessible book about the current state of our political rulers. He uses well observed and pacy accounts to show that most of the political leadership come from a narrowly defined group of people who have never done anything outside politics. He identifies the cosy relationship between the media and political classes, suggesting they are in fact all one caste, and argues that their insulation in the Westminster village makes them less responsive to the popular will than has been the case for many years. At a time when we have two brothers and a married couple in the cabinet, and a brother-sister team in Gordon Brown's inner counsels (Douglas and Wendy Alexander, although both may have blotted their copy-books a little now), to say nothing of the arrival of most of the New Labour elite at the Sky Political Editor's wedding not long ago, this would seem to be a very timely book.

Pretty Straight Guys by Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a very readable left-wing journalist, and this book represents a real blast from the left against the New Labour party - and government - created by Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson. The title is from a comment by Blair, that he considered himself to be a "pretty straight sort of guy", and the book uses it as an ironic hook on which to hang its argument throughout its 300-odd pages with very little let-up. If you thought Tony Blair was a well-meaning, sincere sort of guy with a decent project to change Britain, this left-wing iconoclast will disabuse you of the notion. Much of the criticism of Blair comes, of course, from the right, so it is refreshing to read an unashamedly left-wing attack; a reminder that the Left hasn't been abandoned by all its adherents in Britain just yet.

A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr

Any good politics student should have a grasp of recent history, and this account by the BBC's former political editor, Andrew Marr, gives an engaging, liberal minded account of Britain since 1945. He covers culture and society as well as politics, revealing some interesting musical tastes along the way! It's a substantial book, but well worth the read.

The Political Brain by Drew Westen

This fascinating book about how the 'political brain' works came out in 2007, and was particularly aimed at showing the Democratic Party in America how it could win back the White House. By the time you read this, thanks to Barack Obama, they may already have done so, but the central thesis of this interesting book remains important - that the belief that reason will determine how people think and vote about politics is a misnomer; it is the emotional reactions of the brain that often come to the fore, even in the face of overwhelming, reasoned evidence that points in the opposite direction. Not for nothing has Bill Clinton, that most emotional of political campaigners, described this as one of the most important books he has read.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Rebels: How Blair Mislaid His Majority

As Gordon Brown struggles his way through the premiership, we forget that Tony Blair suffered serious set-backs in his final years as prime minister. Despite having a huge Commons majority, he lost four key votes, and camce close to losing several others. Philip Cowley is a political academic whose snappy, readable analysis of this extraordinary turnaround challenges the often held view that the modern House of Commons is simply lobby-fodder for the party leaders.

The Political Animal: An Anatomy by Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman is of course a noted, and caustic, political interviewer, regularly terrorizing politicians on Newsnight and offering up great political theatre for the viewer. His book is characteristically full of strongly held opinions, and while he finds politicians an odd species, he doesn't dislike them. Indeed, he is at times very positive about them, although he raises plenty of questions about the nature of the British political system that breeds them. This is an excellent general read, even if some political academics (Philip Cowley for instance) hate it. As the journalist-interviewer, after all, Paxman almost operates as a sort of unelected tribune of the people in his quest to get answers from our representatives.

The Prime Minister by Peter Hennessy

Probably the best single volume available on the UK's premier political office. Peter Hennessy is a veteran chronicler of Whitehall politics, highly regarded both in academia and the politically active world, and his substantial book really gets under the skin of the position of prime minister. The first half is a detailed assesment of the office, the second is a series of chapter length profiles of the holders of the office since 1945.