Posts tagged ‘Margaret Thatcher’

January 19, 2014

Margaret Thatcher & Tony Benn

by Andre

Tony Benn A BLAZE OF AUTUMN SUNSHINE - THE LAST DIARIESCharles Moore MARGARET THATCHER THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY vol 1Thatcher and Benn were both born in 1925 into separate strata of the class system, and ended up on opposite sides of post-war politics. On the right and the left, they each achieved an enduring political legacy, which ensures these contrasting volumes should avoid the remainder shop of doom, where most politicians end up. Charles Moore’s official guide to the grocer’s daughter from Grantham is a masterpiece of biography; sympathetic yet revealing about her failures, foibles and triumphs. His account of the Falklands War is like a labyrinthine thriller: the US diplomatic manoeuvring, the hapless chicanery of the Argentinian junta and the internal cabinet divisions, all going on while British troops wanted to prosecute a war before winter arrived in the South Atlantic.

Her failings included a lack of strategic vision and abysmal man-management – it was always men – that ultimately led to her downfall. She also had no discernible sense of humour and needed the jokes in her speeches to be explained. Thatcher cut a lonely figure early on, surrounded by patrician Tory Wets, but was sustained by a coterie of admirers and the blimpish, boozy Denis Thatcher. This curious cast of true believers makes for a surprisingly funny biography, especially the footnote revealing the amorous efforts of one of the PM’s fans.

Following Thatcher’s death, Tony Benn writes with admiration from across the political divide in The Last Diaries, describing her as a “signpost not a weather vane”. The former Viscount Stansgate comes across as a steadfast figure himself: marching against war in his eighties, attending picket lines and railing against Tony Blair. As his health fails, his powers as a diarist wane a little: Hazel Blears didn’t actually go on TV with “a large mock-up of a cheque” to announce she was paying back her expenses, although it’s a pleasingly surreal image. Amidst the name-dropping (Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Natasha Kaplinsky) his curiosity about ordinary lives shines through. And while his arguments may have been defeated at the ballot box, Benn’s career is not the forgettable failure of so many politicians. His volumes of diaries will be read, studied and enjoyed for many years to come.

Advertisements
December 15, 2013

Books of the Year 2013

by Andre

Books_of_2013We’ve expanded our trawl of the literary pages for the books of 2013 to come up with a definitive list of the 10 favourites (click on the image for a clearer view of the books – all available at the Riverside, of course). Here’s our top 10 poll of polls based on the books with the most nominations from critics and fellow authors in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, The Spectator, Financial Times, New York Times, Metro, The Independent, Daily Mail and Sunday Times.

1 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
“…a deliciously compellingly dazzling jewel about beauty, fate and life.” – Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard

2 Margaret Thatcher – The Authorised Biography: Volume 1 – Not For Turning
“…an exceptional political biography with dozens of incidental pleasures — it is full of Dickensian walk-on parts and deliciously redolent of its period.” – Philip Hensher, Spectator

3 Tenth of December by George Saunders
“The stories are clever and moving, and the title story is the best piece of fiction I’ve read this year.” – Roddy Doyle, Guardian

4 The Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
“…an extraordinary story of literary accomplishment, passionate war-mongering and sexual incorrigibility.” – John Preston, Spectator

5 The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
“I read… The Luminaries three times in my capacity as Man Booker judge, and each time round it yielded new riches.” – Robert Macfarlane, Guardian

6 Love, Nina: Despatches From Family Life by Nina Stibbe
“…no book this year made me laugh more.” – John Lanchester, Guardian

7 Harvest by Jim Crace
“…easily the best-written novel of the year.” – Philip Hensher, Spectator

8 Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee
“…charts a life that travelled the full 360 degrees on the wheel of fortune.” – Helen Simpson, Guardian

9 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
“…her most challenging, complex and compelling novel yet.” – Ian Rankin, Guardian

10 Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin by Damian McBride
“Bankrupt of morals and bankrupt of style, it is a nonpareil of peevishness, and self-delusion shines from it like a Christmas star.” – Hilary Mantel, Guardian

Several of these titles were, in fact, level pegging but at the top The Goldfinch did just edge out Charles Moore’s richly rewarding – and surprisingly funny – account of Thatcher up until the 1982 Falklands victory. The P-Fitz biography did well to make the top 10 as it was only released in November. Stoner by John Williams got plenty of picks as a favourite of 2013, even though it first appeared in 1965. And bubbling under: The Circle by Dave Eggers, The Childhood of Jesus by J M Coetzee and All That Is by James Salter (“no question, the best novel I read this year,” said Richard Ford of the senior American author).

November 17, 2013

Live From Downing Street: Nick Robinson

by Andre

Updated paperback out now – £8.99

Nick Robinson LIVE FROM DOWNING STREETThe BBC political editor is one of TV’s most familiar faces – and one of the most annoying if you accept Alastair Campbell’s assessment of Nick Robinson (“a jerk”). Well, I’d rather read Robinson’s engaging, witty history and insightful memoir than Campbell’s obsessive, late-night scribbling. It’s not an autobiography but it does begin – after a perfectly worthy, BBC-style introduction – with a revealing chapter on his youthful fascination with current affairs (Today presenter Brian Redhead was a neighbour) and his dogged research as BBC producer for a Dimbleby. Even when he switches to reporting, Robinson still seems to write a lot of memos and happily describes himself as a “pointy head” in contrast to BBC Rottweiler interviewers (Paxman, Humphrys, Neil).

Nevertheless, he’s a tenacious reporter who was bloodied early in the Blair years when, he claims, Mandelson tried to get him sacked, as well as being – for the most part – a staunch defender of his trade. While he acknowledges the soundbite culture’s gone too far, he reminds us of Draconian restrictions on reporting parliament from the 1600s to the 1950s. Politicians wouldn’t even deign to be interviewed. (In 1955, Clement Attlee was asked if there was “anything else you’d care to say about the coming election?” His answer in full: “No.”)

Robinson draws perfect sketches of the political pas de deux between each prime minister and the Beeb. Churchill loathed the BBC, which had (wrongly) denied him a platform in the 1930s; Wilson was a paranoiac who preferred ITV; Thatcher was positively hostile. He gets angry about propaganda during the Falklands War and regrets his failure to give Robin Cook’s opposition to the Iraq war airtime when employed by ITV (Robinson avoided the Blair-BBC death duel). Of course, this impartial correspondent’s candour becomes cloudier the closer he gets to the present but his profound questions about the future shape of British broadcasting make this essential reading for students of politics and the media.

October 17, 2013

Morrissey: Autobiography

by Andre

Penguin Classics paperback out now – £8.99

Morrissey AUTOBIOGRAPHYWe’ve had a lot of big titles out this month including Stephen King, William Boyd’s Bond and the new Bridget Jones. But Steven Patrick Morrissey is shaping up to be the biggest of the bunch. Even before it was out, the media was awash with commentators opining on the fact his autobiography was being published as a Penguin Classic alongside Homer, Tolstoy and Oscar Wilde. “I don’t see why not,” said the former Smiths singer, when asked in 2011 if Penguin would meet his demand for the book to be issued as a distinctive black classic.

It’s too early to anoint it as a classic, but dipping into this much-anticipated volume on publication day has been an utter joy: a terse encounter with a lady at the Stretford Jobcentre who wants him to clean canal banks; the 50 pence purchase of a New York Dolls single in Rumbelows; the history teacher who “sniffs out burgeoning transexuality” as the teenage Morrissey dyes his hair and declares his allegiance to Roxy Music (at least until he discovers that Bryan Ferry dines on veal). Media reports have already picked up on his hilarious mocking of Judge John Weeks as “the pride of the pipsqueakery” (the judge described Moz as “devious” during the 1996 Smiths royalties case). Yes, there’s going to be some score settling but the first part is a droll, beautifully written memoir of his Seventies childhood. If his account of The Smiths is as good as his early years, this may surpass Bob Dylan’s Chronicles as the finest musician’s autobiography of recent years.