Books

Keith Simpson's Summer Reading List Recommendations

16 Jul 2018 at 15:51

By Keith Simpson MP

What a contrast between the Commons and Lords. MPs have been grumbling about the paucity of legislation and votes and the Lords the very opposite. We endure a Parliament that is totally and utterly dominated by Brexit and the divisions and rivalries that ensue.

The summer holidays will be a welcome break as colleagues flee to far parts of the world to relax, recharge their little grey cells and perhaps undertake a little reading.

As usual this reading list is merely a personal, friendly guide of books published over the last year on politics, history and war.

Mrs Simpson has suggested that colleagues would prefer fiction to relax and the last thing they wanted were “heavy” books as I proposed. I look forward to reading her “chic list” next year.

Some of us will recall reading Norman Gash’s short biography of Lord Liverpool. Much caricatured as a reactionary Tory Prime Minister, he has been due for a new appraisal and this can be found in William Anthony Hay Lord Liverpool A Political Life (Boydell Press).

Lloyd George is our forgotten wartime Prime Minister, overshadowed in the Second World War by his former junior, Winston Churchill. There are many biographies of Lloyd George, but Richard Wilkinson has written a good introduction which attempts to create a balance between conflicting opinions in Lloyd George Statesman or Scoundrel (I.B. Tauris).

In Fighters and Quitters Great Political Resignations (Biteback), Theo Barclay looks at several modern ministers who had to resign from Stonehouse to Huhne and their attempts to retain office.

Not necessarily in the premier league of political books, nevertheless David Cohen has made a reasonable stab at re-examining the relationship between Churchill and Attlee that has been covered in many other books – Churchill & Attlee (Biteback).

The South African leader Jan Smuts went from Boer guerrilla leader to sitting in Churchill’s War Cabinet. This is examined by Richard Steyn in Churchill’s Confidant: Jan Smuts, Enemy to Lifelong Friend (Robinson).

Probably one of the best political books, published this year is Ayesha Hazarika and Tom Hamilton Punch and Judy Politics An Insider’s Guide to Prime Minister’s Questions (Biteback). Well researched, well written, a must for every MP and hack.
Andrew Gimson has provided a series of amusing and telling books on politics and his Gimson’s Prime Ministers Brief Lives from Walpole to May (Square Peg) is an amusing bluffer’s guide.

Our former colleague, the Labour MP and journalist Tom Harris has written a powerful and emotional account of the happenings in Ten Years In The Death of the Labour Party (Biteback).

In contrast another view is taken by Francis Beckett and Mark Seddon in Jeremy Corbyn and the Strange Rebirth of Labour England (Biteback)

Accounts of Margaret Thatcher are usually gleaned from the memoirs of politicians and journalists. Caroline Slocock was a civil servant, not a Conservative and a feminist who became a junior Private Secretary at No 10 under Thatcher. Despite everything she grew to admire Thatcher, and although her account drifts into her own views People Like Us Margaret Thatcher and Me (Biteback) is well worth a read.

A wonderfully gossipy but insightful account of the Thatcher years in the late 1980s is provided by a senior foreign office mandarin based upon his diaries – Patrick R H Wright Behind Diplomatic Lines Relations with Ministers (Biteback).

For many conservatives the “Queen across the Border” who they look to for leadership but at present is unavailable is the feisty and opinionated Ruth Davidson and Andrew Liddle has written a useful biography in Ruth Davidson And the Resurgence of the Scottish Tories (Biteback).

Iain Dale, the political pundit, broadcaster and former managing director of Biteback Publishing has teamed up with Jacqui Smith, former MP and Home Secretary, to edit two volumes of every female MP ever elected to the House of Commons Volume One The Honourable Ladies Profiles of Women MPs 1918-1997 (Biteback) contains biographies of 168 female MPs. A good browsing book for those attending Party Conferences.

The border lands between England and Scotland were wild and brutal before James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The Marches, or the debatable land have received much historical and literary attention and this year have been looked at in two books. Rory Stewart, Justice Minister and writer has written a personal account walking over much of what is his constituency and a tribute to his elderly father in The Marches Border Walks with My Father (Vintage) and Graham Robb does a more traditional account in The Debatable Land The Lost World Between Scotland and England (Picador).

Diarmaid MacCulloch has written extensively on Tudor history, religion and politics and in the autumn we look forward to his Thomas Cromwell A Life (Allen Lane) which will appeal to all those parliamentarians obsessed by the power and influence of the civil service.

Lady Antonia Fraser is well known as a prodigious authoress and now as a sprightly lady in her eighties has written a well researched and readable book The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Rights 1829 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

Amongst my parliamentarian colleagues there are old Etonians who write books – Kwarsi Kwarteng, Rory Stewart and Jesse Norman. Jesse Norman is very much at the philosophical end of the spectrum and published some time ago a biography of Edward Burke. Now he has written a revisionist biography of Adam Smith What He Thought and Why it Matters (Allen Lane) a must for the SNP.

James Pope-Hennessy was something of an upmarket hack writer who was murdered at home. He wrote the authorised biography of Queen Mary which was well received on publication. He kept notes on many of the interviews he carried out with Royal relatives, courtiers and friends and Hugo Vickers has edited them in The Quest for Queen Mary (Zuleika).

Edward VIII abdicated as king because he was determined to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Edward loved America from his youth and Americans were fascinated by him as Ted Powell shows in King Edward VIII: An American Life (OUP).

Christopher Andrew is a Cambridge historian who has dedicated his academic life to the study of intelligence. Inducted into the Security Service he wrote the authorised history. He has become convinced that those who operate within the intelligence and security agencies are ignorant of the history of intelligence. In The Secret World A History of Intelligence (Allen Lane) he attempts to correct that and shows how intelligence organisations have flourished and declined. At nine hundred and sixty pages this may be something for the kindle version.

It would be easy for the modern reader to conclude that women had no place in the world of early modern espionage, but Nadine Akkerman through extensive archival research demonstrates the role of women spies and agents. Her study Invisible Agents Women and Espionage in Seventeenth Century Britain (OUP) makes for a fascinating read.

In Enemies Within Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain (William Collins) Richard Davenport-Hines examines the extensive recruitment of spies and agents by the Soviet Union and how Blunt, Burgess, Cairncross, Maclean and Philby were used and the sheer extent of their activities.

Gill Bennett worked for the FCO and is the author of the excellent book Churchill’s Man of Mystery Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence (2009). Now she has written The Zinoviev Letter The Conspiracy that Never Dies (OUP) and how it became a symbol of dirty tricks and humiliated the first Labour government in 1924.

Donald Maclean was a star diplomat, and establishment insider and had access to diplomatic and military secrets in the 1930s and 1940s. He was also a Russian spy, driven by passionately held beliefs, whose betrayal and defection to Moscow with Guy Burgess shocked the establishment. Roland Philipps has written an excellent study in A Spy Named Orphan The Enigma of Donald Maclean (Bodley Head).

The old Soviet Union infiltrated hundreds of young men and women in to Western universities to acquire intelligence – such “sleepers” are still active today working for Putin’s Russia. Svetlana Lokhova looks in detail at the role of Stanislav Shumovsky who in 1931 enrolled as a student at the US MIT and helped to acquire the secrets of the Manhattan Project. Well worth a read is her The Spy Who Changed History The Untold Story of How the Soviet Union Won the Race for America’s Top Secrets (William Collins).

During the Second World War there were a minority of British people, former members of the BUF and Nazi sympathisers, who hoped for a German victory. In Agent Jack The True Story of M15s Secret Nazi Hunter (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) the journalist Robert Hutton looks at the role of one rather quiet but resourceful M15 agent at the heart of Operation Fifth Column.

The Times journalist Ben Macintyre has made a speciality of writing excellent books on spying and also Special Forces. In The Spy and the Traitor The Great Espionage Story of the Cold War (Viking) he shows how SIS recruited a senior KGB officer and were able to smuggle him out of the Soviet Union in 1985.

As the UK’s political and military power has been reduced since 1945 much has been made of our niche intelligence resources and the excellence of our Special Forces. Such covert action is examined by Rory Cormac in Disrupt and Deny Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy (OUP).

The question of how far a state should authorise its agents to go in seeking and using secret intelligence is one of the big unresolved issues of public policy for democracies today. This is examined in Principled Spying The Ethics of Secret Intelligence (OUP) by David Omand, former senior mandarin and director of GCHQ and Intelligence expert Mark Phythean.

Accounts of postwar Britain have been dominated by a theme of political, educational and industrial decline. Correlli Barnett’s books in the 1970s and 1980s lambasted trades unions and employers and became must reads for government ministers. Now David Edgerton’s The Rise and Fall of the British Nation A Twentieth Century History (Allen Lane) is a revisionist examination of the thesis of decline and provides a stimulating and alternative account.

Peter Heather published a serious book several years ago on The Fall of the Roman Empire which mainly covered the Western Empire. Now he has completed his study in Rome Resurgent War and Empire in the Age of Justinian (OUP).

Ron Chernow is a veteran American historian and biographer, and has achieved fame and fortune through the adaptation of his biography of Alexander Hamilton as a hit musical. His Grant (Head of Zeus) is a readable and magisterial biography of the General US Grant and his time in office as President. A warts and all book which leaves the reader admiring Grant as a soldier, politician and very humane man.

Translated from the German Pandora’s Box A History of the First World War (Harvard U.P) by Jörn Leonhard is a magisterial history of the war away from the usual Anglocentric accounts.

For much of the war on the Western Front 1914-1918 the British Army faced the Bavarians. Fortuitous for historians as most of the Prussian military archives were destroyed in bombing and fighting in 1945. A senior member of the Bavarian Royal Family held senior command appointments and Jonathan Boff has exploited the archives in Haig’s Enemy Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front (OUP).

The distinguished historian of Nazi Germany is Robert Gellately and his The Oxford Illustrated History of the Third Reich (OUP) draws heavily on recent research and challenges many old assumptions.

The study of slavery and Britain’s role in exploiting and then abolishing it has received much attention. In time for the Party Conferences is Christopher Petley White Fury A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution (OUP).

For those seeking a short, authorative and readable book on Ireland then look no further than John Gibney A Short History of Ireland 1500-2000 (Yale UP)

Understanding the Middle East in today’s context requires knowledge of its history and the role of the British, French, Russians and Americans during the Second World War. Reading Ashley Jackson Persian Gulf Command A History of the Second World War in Iran and Iraq (Yale UP) meets that requirement.

Jonathan Fenby is a journalist and historian and in Crucible Thirteen Months that Forged our World (Simon&Schuster) he writes a gripping account of the crucial year of 1947 and 1948.

The Bolshevik imprisonment of the Romanov Royal Family and attempts to negotiate their release is well worn historical subject. But Helen Rappaport in The Race to Save the Romanovs The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue Russia’s Imperial Family (Hutchinson) uses new evidence and offers new explanations.

Our old Liberal opponent Paddy Ashdown has written several good books on military operations during the Second World War. In time for the Party Conferences he has now written Nein! Standing Up to Hitler 1933-1945 (William Collins)

The distinguished military historian Anthony Beevor, author of books on Stalingrad and Berlin has now turned his pen to Arnhem The Battle for the Bridges (Viking) and B Montgomery and B Horrocks are firmly in the dock. He uses with special effect Dutch archives to show how they paid the price for Allied failure.

Your reviewer indulges himself in his fascination with Franklin D Roosevelt with two new books which look at important aspects of his policy. Sebastian Edwards American Default The Untold Story of FDR, the Supreme Court and the Battle Over Gold (Princeton UP) and Susan Dunn A Blueprint for War FDR and the Hundred Days that Mobilized America (Yale UP).

The Year 1983 saw the USA and the Soviet Union nearly coming to war and how miscalculation and paranoia dominated Soviet political and military thinking. This is ably covered by Taylor Downing 1983 The World at the Brink (Little Brown).

For the real political anorak and those colleagues who have yet to get a life apart from Brexit then look no further than Robert Saunders Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain (CUP) which is the very best account of the earlier referendum.

The great Israeli political survivor is Bibi, the current Prime Minister and supplicant to Donald Trump. Anshel Pfeffer has written the best account to his rise and fall and rise in Bibi The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu (C. Hurst & Co).

Three books have been published on the experience of the British suffragettes which are a good read. Jane Robinson Hearts and Minds The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote (Doubleday); Fern Riddell shows the more violent side of the movement in Death in Ten Minutes Kitty Marion : Activist, Arsonist, Suffragette (Hodder & Stoughton) and Patricia Fara shows the role of women in war time service in A Lab of One’s Own Science and Suffrage in the First World War (OUP).

Leon Werth was a Jewish writer who left Paris in 1940 and hid out in a village in the Jura Mountains. His account of life during the war is in Deposition A Secret Diary of Life in Vichy France (POUP).

John Julius Norwich, the son of Duff Cooper and Diana Cooper has been a prolific writer, and shortly before he died he published France A History from Gaul to De Gaulle (John Murray) which is a personal, anecdotal but a wonderful read.

Without doubt the biography of the year must be Julius Jackson A Certain Idea of France The Life of Charles de Gaulle (Allen Lane). A stimulating read with a balanced assessment which delves into the contrary character of Charles de Gaulle.

Jackson shows that the spirit of de Gaulle still pervades France and has been an influence on President Macron, the man who broke the old party system. Sophie Pedder has written a sympathetic biography Revolution Française Emmanuel Macron and the Quest to Reinvent a Nation (Bloomsbury Continuum).

Rupert Christiansen City of Light The Reinvention of Paris (Head of Zeus) is a fascinating account of the fifteen year project by Emperor Louis Napoleon to knock down the old cluttered streets of Paris and create the Paris we know today. This development was ruthlessly driven through by the incorruptible prefect of the Seine Department Baron Haussman.

Maureen Everson has lived on the French Riviera and has loved the development of new houses and estates from the 1920s and how it became a popular area for the fashionable to live and love. Riviera Dreaming Love and War on the Cote d’Azur (TB Tauris) is a work of nostalgia overtaken by mass development after the 1960.

T E Lawrence continues to fascinate historians, journalists and those who have travelled across the Middle East. Apart from his own writings there are numerous biographies of Lawrence of Arabia. In Behind the Lawrence Legend The Forgotten Few who Shaped the Arab Revolt (OUP) Philip Walker explores the role of Colonel Cyril Wilson and dozens of junior officers who carried out intelligence and diplomatic work and helped sustain Lawrence and his operations in Arabia. A fascinating and excellent read.

James Barr is a young author who published Setting the Desert on Fire T E Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916 – 1918 in 2008. He has now written Lords of the Desert Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East (Simon&Schuster) in which he explains Britain’s declining influence underpinned by the rivalry with the USA.

David Lough has written a ground breaking book No More Champagne Churchill and His Money (2016). In the autumn he will publish Darling Winston Forty Years of letters between Winston Churchill and his mother (Head of Zeus) which will be full of revelations about Churchill’s character.

In 1943 Doris Miles was appointed as a private nurse to Churchill who was stricken with pneumonia. During her time with Churchill she wrote regular letters to her husband serving with the Royal Navy. These letters were full of observations and comments about Churchill and his circle, and her daughter Jill Rose has edited them in Nursing Churchill Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill’s Nurse (Amberley).

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a much respected organisation that for one hundred years has maintained tens of thousands of graves and memorials to the dead of two World Wars. In the early autumn Catherine Lawson’s A Guide to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Third Millennium) is published and illustrates the history with extracts from the archives and explores the CWGC’s main sites.

Portugal is a popular holiday destination for British tourists and there has been a long and historic connection between our two countries. The capital Lisbon has survived earthquakes war and espionage and Barry Hutton has written a vivid history in Queen of the Sea A History of Lisbon (C Hurst & Co).

Enjoy the summer break and return in September to the Palace of Varieties for more hard pounding!

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ConHome Diary: Quite a Week...

13 Jul 2018 at 13:10

I am still trying to work out why the Prime Minister appointed Dominic Raab to succeed David Davis as Brexit Secretary. He’s a protégé of DD and succeeded me as his chief of staff back in 2006. If anything, he’s more hardline than David on Brexit matters – some call him an intellectual version of his former boss. There’s no doubt that he has a brilliant brain and as a lawyer can argue any case put in front of him. He will certainly be a different kind of interlocutor for Michel Barnier. He has little of Davis’s natural bonhomie, although is very capable of coming up with a stinging one liner, as the BBC’s Sarah Smith found out recently. In addition, you have to wonder why Theresa May keeps appointing senior cabinet ministers who she doesn’t actually like or get on with. Both Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab are people who wouldn’t feature on her dinner party list, and the feeling is mutual.
*
Why are Jacob Rees-Mogg’s four Trade Bill amendments seen as ‘treacherous’ when Dominic Grieve’s and Anna Soubry’s were seen through the prism of deeply held convictions? Double standards, methinks. Since when were MPs not allowed to put down amendments to Bills? It’s yet another example of Brexit motives being seen as dishonourable while Remain motives are seen as honourable. The fact is both sides are doing what they think is right.
*

It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. Apart from when David Davis resigns. As happened in 2008, my phone became red hot with TV and radio stations wanting my views. They all knew that he has been a friend for 30 years and I was his chief of staff in 2005. On Monday morning I was woken at a quarter to six by the dulcet tones of the Evening Standard’s comment editor, Julian Glover. 950 words by 10am please, was the message. I wasn’t going to be able to get to sleep so I got up and wrote it in my dressing gown with sleeping dogs either side of me on the couch. I’m sure most people spend hours writing political column. I polished it off in not much more than an hour. I’ve learned over the years that the quicker I write a column, the better it normally is. With me it has to be a stream of consciousness, with the vain hope that some sort of theme emerges. The difficulty I had on Monday was that the Telegraph came on the phone too and asked for 600 words. I managed to think of a different theme, but in the end the article was eclipsed by Boris Johnson’s resignation so it was only published on the website.
*
Talking of Boris Johnson’s resignation, I was interviewing David Davis in the LBC studio when I saw my producer crawling on the floor trying to hand me something. I assumed she was trying to tell me to wrap up, which given I’d only been going for about 8 minutes, I thought was a bit odd. As she reached me she handed me her phone with a Sky News alert that Boris had resigned. So I immediately put the news to David and he just sighed, while going on to say why he thought Boris didn’t need to resign. It was quite a moment.
*

The government keeps telling us that the Chequers accord is so good and when people understand what it means they will think so too. That must be why the Prime Minister hasn’t done a single interview about it since Friday.
*
Quote of the week is surely this one from Times columnist David Aaronovitch. Talking of Labour’s stance on Brexit he writes: “Labour’s emphasis changes depending upon who you talk to, and whatever any of them say, it will eventually be contradicted anyway by the strangely sinister shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, whose soft-voiced reassurances always put me in mind of Harold Shipman.” Burn.
*

Back in 1990 I watched the World Cup Semi Final between England and Germany in Nottingham. I was a financial journalist at the time and was covering an insurance brokers’ conference in Nottingham. All 800 of us cried along with Gazza, and after losing the penalty shootout we were totally distraught. Twenty-eight years later it was a rather different experience. I watched it in a meeting room at LBC along with three four LBC producers. Nigel Farage also popped in during the advert breaks of his show. It was all going so well in the first half, but in the second half we looked tired and listless. At the final whistle I didn’t feel at all emotional. I wonder if it’s the fact that at the age of 55 one tends to take this sort of thing in your stride, more than you do when you’re in your idealistic twenties. This has been a fantastic World Cup in so many ways, not just for England but for football all round. Maybe this will see the rebirth of interest in international football. Many friends of mine don’t really follow England any longer and concentrate on club football. I wonder whether the success of England in the World Cup will change all that. Finally, it would be churlish not to congratulate Russia on putting on a superb World Cup. Fantastic stadia, no sign of the hooliganism or racist chants most of us expected, and a real carnival atmosphere.

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ConHome Diary: A 'Betrayal of Cabinet Ministers Or a 'Schism'?

29 Jun 2018 at 14:04

So 100,000 people attended the anti Brexit march at the weekend, on the second anniversary of the momentous vote. Andrew Adonis tweeted a question: “Is this the day Brexit died?” You’ve got to laugh. The utter delusion of it all. Alison Pearson in the Telegraph this week: “They don’t want a people’s vote. They want a people like us vote.” Never a truer word spoken. Judging from what I saw it resembled a Waitrose customer outing. To think, though, that the poor souls thought it could compete with the 17.4 million of us who actually carried out what was surely the ultimate ‘meaningful vote’. Still, I’m sure it made them all feel a lot better.
*
On Wednesday on my show I found myself raging against all the cabinet ministers who seem to think it’s OK to make disloyal speeches, remarks and to slag off their own colleagues. I asked my listeners to come up with a collective noun for a group of cabinet ministers. My suggestion was a ‘Betrayal of Cabinet Ministers’. Other suggestions were ‘a sneak’, ‘a contortion’, ‘a rash’, ‘a conspiracy’, ‘a shambles’ and ‘a schism’. My personal favourite, though, was ‘a squabble of cabinet ministers’. Never a truer word spoken.
*

So Boris says ‘fuck business’, Jeremy Hunt backs him up but more politely. Greg Clark seems to encourage business to speak out against government policy on Brexit, Gavin Williamson tells MoD staff he made the PM so he can break her, the Chancellor continues to do his best to thwart whatever the government’s latest policy on Brexit is and Liz Truss takes a giant dump on Michael Gove, because she is so in tune ‘wiv da right’ innit. Shall I go on? And meanwhile Sajid Javid gets on with running the Home Office. Isn’t it funny to think that almost exactly a year ago Theresa May would have happily fired him from the cabinet because she felt he wasn’t doing his job and had his mind on leadership ambitions. Well, the latter is clearly still true, but at least he’s promoting his cause by actually doing his job. And doing it well. Perhaps his colleagues might care to think about that a bit before they do their next bit of grandstanding.
*
‘They’re going home, they’re going home, Germany’s going home…’. Schadenfreude has been an overused word these last couple of days.
*

At PMQs this week the LibDem leader Vince Cable (remember him?) called for a second referendum. Can he be by any chance related to the Vince Cable who, in late 2016 said the idea of a second referendum was “seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive”. I agree with the 2016 version of Vince Cable.
*
It is rumoured that at the Cabinet sleepover at Chequers next week is going to consider a proposal from Business Secretary Greg Clark that any EU citizen with a job to come to should be allowed to. That’s after Brexit. A.F.T.E.R B.R.E.X.I.T. Astonishing. He clearly also wants us to remain in the customs union and the single market. Greg is a friend of mine, but if he seriously thinks that anyone but devout remainers are going to stand for this, he is in for a surprise. My personal view is that freedom of movement was not a reason I voted for Brexit, but I am in the minority on that. My view is that a citizen of India or Argentina should have exactly the same right or opportunity to come to this country as a citizen of Italy or Portugal. And I think that’s what most reasonable people would think. No one is saying EU citizens will be unwelcome. The opposite is true. But they cannot be given priority over those of the rest of the world.
*

The Duke of Cambridge seemed to have relatively gaffe free trip to Israel and the West Bank. Although I did slightly wince when he was with President Abbas and referred to “our two countries”. I was expecting that to become a bit of an incident, but no one else seemed to notice. Probably for the best.

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Northbank Talent Management Signs Up A New Client - Me

26 Jun 2018 at 08:30

One of the things you never notice when you’re doing a job is what it takes out of you. When I left Biteback at the end of May I didn’t realise not only how much time it would free up, but also how much of a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I took very seriously the responsibilities I had to those who worked for me and to my principal shareholder. I’m not a natural numbers person so managing cashflow was always one of the things that took a lot out of me, and in the early days it was always a challenge. Publishing books is not a business for anyone interested in making a quick buck.

I don’t think anyone who’s never run a business understands the pressures on people who do. The present day narrative is that anyone who runs a business is just in it for themselves and wants to make the maximum amount of profit from those that they employ. It’s such a complete fallacy. What a pity it is that the few bad apples spoil the reputation of everyone else.

I’ve been thinking for some time what I should do with the rest of my working life. I know, sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Well, at 55 it’s probably wise! I’ve now been on the radio for eight years and I bloody love it. I did on day one. I do now. I’ve finally found something I think I have proved to be good at, and I hope I get the opportunity to continue doing it for years to come.

But in the last year I’ve started to do more TV too and enjoyed it much more than I used to. Maybe it’s because I’ve become more relaxed about it and know that I can give a reasonable answer to anything that’s thrown at me. When I got nervous about my first appearance on BBC1’s Question Time someone said to me they couldn’t understand it. After all, I spoke for three hours a day on subjects I often knew nothing about and no one seems to notice, so why should I be flummoxed by Question Time. Fair point, I thought. For the last year I’ve been doing CNNTalk, which generally concentrates on discussions about big global issues. Again a challenge, but in 14 months I honestly don’t think we’ve done a duff show. Perhaps that’s down to my fellow panellists Ayesha Hazarika and Liam Halligan, more than me! In recent weeks I’ve also been a panellist on The Wright Stuff a few times and have started doing some early morning slots on Good Morning Britain with Jacqui Smith and Ayesha Hazarika. I’d like to do more TV, maybe a bit of presenting and documentary making. Having said that, I have no desire to be a TV star. None at all. Like anyone who appears on the media, I have an ego, but I do not crave fame. I never have. However, I’d like to do things on TV I know I would enjoy and would stand a fighting chance of being good at. At my age I am beyond accepting everything I’m offered. What’s the point of doing something you aren’t comfortable with just for the fleeting glory of appearing on TV? There isn’t any point. So if I ever show any sign of going on Love Island, feel free to issue me with a reality check!

I’d also like to write a book, although I’m not quite sure what on yet. I always wanted to write the authorised biography of Cecil Parkinson, but maybe I ought to look at something more likely to sell a few copies. I did start a political thriller once, but the market for them is pretty limited. There’s always gay porn fiction, I suppose…

A few weekends ago I was invited to chair a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan. I rather enjoyed it and would like to do more of that sort of thing, as well as take part in panels. I used to do a bit of after dinner speaking but given I don’t finish on the radio until 7pm. But given what I know other broadcasters do, I think there are huge opportunities here.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I have decided to sign up with Northbank Talent Management, who will act as my literary, broadcast and public speaking agency. I’ve never had a high opinion of agents, in whatever field. There are a few good ones, but an awful lot of charlatans. Northbank is a new agency started by Diane Banks, who I dealt with at Biteback, and backed by serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson – the man behind Pizza Express and Patisserie Valerie as well as former chairman of Channel 4. Diane has built a very impressive team and client list in a very short time. I went to a meeting with her and two colleagues determined not to agree to anything, but I was so taken by their ideas and what they thought they could do for me that I have signed up and am incredibly excited by the prospect of working with them.

I’ve made clear that my first priorities will remain LBC and CNN and nothing I do should interfere with my work for them. But there’s no doubt that my work on CNN has boosted my LBC audience, as has all the TV I’ve been doing. I know that, because of the emails and tweets I get.

Anyway, that’s my news.

Visit the Northbank Talent Management website

@Northbanktalent

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Extra NHS Spending: Where's the Money Coming From?

24 Jun 2018 at 09:34

I’m not a great fan of unfunded spending promises. I am, after all a fiscal conservative. So, I had thought, were leading members of the government. The chancellor likes to remind us of his fiscal rectitude so Christ alone knows what Jeremy Hunt has on him. Somehow, he was persuaded to go along with a £20 billion promise for the NHS. Now, imagine this scenario. Imagine Jeremy Corbyn had told us he wanted to spend £20 billion on something but wouldn’t tell us how he would fund it for another five months. We’d laugh in his face and utter inanities about a magic money tree.

Secondly, what about the timing of this announcement? Why do it on 16/17 June when the 70th birthday of the NHS isn’t until the beginning of July? Was it a diversionary tactic to take the Sunday papers’ attention away from the Brexit meaningful vote amendment? Surely things hadn’t got that bad?

Thirdly, since when did the Health Service ever get better just by throwing money at it? Admittedly the government has asked Simon Stephens for a ten year plan, but he’ll no doubt say he needs even more money. Given the failures of the NHS under his stewardship I’d rather someone else was in charge of producing this plan. Here’s a radical idea. How about an actual politician taking responsibility for this plan rather than an official? I know the modern trend is to sub-contract this sort of things to officials – look at what Theresa May has done with the Brexit negotiations. In theory David Davis is in charge, but you could be forgiven for thinking that Olly Robbins was. Even now.

The whole NHS announcement was slightly dominated by the prime minister’s insistence that it will be funded in part by a Brexit dividend. It is true that there will indeed be a Brexit dividend, but that’s not going to become apparent until after the transition period, and let’s face it, the £9-10 billion will have many competing bids. What this also means is that the chancellor has been able to rather over-gleefully inform his cabinet colleagues that there is no spare money for anything else. Nothing for education. Nothing for defence. Nothing for anyone.

The next few months are going to be dominated by speculation about how the chancellor will raise the extra money that has been promised to the NHS. A blanket income tax rise is out of the question. I suspect it is the better off that are going to cop it again. The most likely measure is to slam more on national insurance. It will be employers who end up paying the largest share, mark my words. In addition I suspect the upper earnings limit on national insurance will be extended or abolished. In the 1970s and 1980s we used to talk about ‘incentives’. Some people in government need reminding about the true meaning of that word.

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Books

Book Review: No Nonsense by Joey Barton

23 Jun 2018 at 11:52

I read a lot of football biographies and autobiographies. And I mean, a lot. Many of them I don’t finish because they’re totally fake. They’re usually ghosted by someone who clearly hasn’t taken the trouble to get inside the head of his subject. On rare occasions as a reader I forget that the book has been ghosted. This is one of them.

This book is the real Joey Barton – and I mean that in a good way. Joey Barton has a reputation as a bit of a thug – someone who thought nothing of stabbing a cigarette into the eye of an opponent. In this book you get warts and all. But it’s far more than a mea culpa, it’s an attempt to explain who Joey Barton is – the good the bad and the sometimes very ugly. It’s also a book of what might have been. Barton played at the top levels but given his skill and strength he should have been an England regular. In the end he only played once for England. Criminal.

There’s a lot about his damaged childhood. While his childhood can go some way to explaining his attitudinal difficulties of his adult years, it doesn’t go the whole way. It was a childhood brimming with violent episodes in which he had to grow up way before he should have done. The streets of Liverpool were not an easy place to be for a boy growing up in the 1980s. He wasn’t helped by the escapades of his father, although his ‘hard nut’ reputation was certainly burnished by learning at the feet of a man who was filled with anger. Father Barton was a bit part lower league footballer who never fulfilled his undoubted potential.

Joey was determined to make it as a professional footballer even though he had several rejections in his teenage years, most notably from his boyhood club, Everton. It was Manchester City where he got his big breakthrough. He showed the determination to succeed which later developed into an ability to bounce back from the most terrible situations, many of which were completely his own fault, but some of which were not. In the book he doesn’t make excuses, he invites the reader to form their own judgement.

There’s quite a lot about Joey’s views on life, liberty and the universe, some of which is rather overwritten. He’s clearly got strong views on a multitude of issues, which was the reason he came to be invited onto Question Time a few years ago. They’re often well thought out, even if the reader disagrees with him, but there’s probably a bit too much of this in what is essentially a football autobiography. I found myself skipping a few pages when it got too much.

Possibly the most enjoyable chapters are those when Joey is at Marseille and QPR. It’s when the reader starts to think that he would possibly make a very good manager. Well, this season we’ll find out as he’s been appointed manager at Fleetwood Town in League 1. It’s his first step back into football following his long ban for betting offences. That episode happened after the book was published, although maybe it features in the paperback.

I’m going to adopt Fleetwood Town as one of the teams I now look out for. I guess that proves that I very much enjoyed the book and find Joey Barton a fascinating character.

No Nonsense by Joey Barton is published by Simon & Schuster. Buy it HERE

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Diary

ConHome Diary: The Shame of the DCMS Select Committee & Why Brexiteer Ministers Need to Evangelise

15 Jun 2018 at 14:29

Philip Lee’s resignation came as a bolt out of the blue, according to many learned commentators this week. Well, on this issue maybe, but several people have told me of his unhappiness at being overlooked for promotion to the Cabinet. I think most politicians are only ever a couple of steps from resignation, but few have the balls to ever go through with it. If they do, they will have gone through utter contortions on the way to reaching the decision. I may not agree with Philip Lee’s resignation, but I respect his reasons, even if I think he has drawn the wrong conclusions. It has been disappointing to see some people trashing Philip’s reputation over the last few days. I suppose we all have to appreciate that all politics is tribal, and when someone does something to damage the tribe, others are going to react accordingly, but even so, some of it has been pretty distasteful.
One thing I would say, though. If an MP is going to make a major decision like resignation, the first thing you do is ring your constituency chairman and explain why you’re doing it. He/she can then ring round the key officers and members and get them onside. The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reported on Tuesday morning that the chairman of Bracknell Conservatives found out about his MP’s resignation through social media. Understandably, he was a tad miffed.
Older readers may remember that I was up against Philip Lee for the Bracknell selection in the autumn of 2009. There were seven of us in the final with Philip, Rory Stewart and me contesting the final three. At that point I knew it was curtains for me. I realised that if they wanted a risky choice they’d go for Rory and if they wanted a safe local choice they’d pick Philip. I knew I couldn’t come through the middle. I still get people who were at the selection meeting telling me that they voted for me! I often wonder what might have been…
*
I am a big fan of select committees. When they are well chaired and MPs are on top of their briefs, they do a superb job of holding the Executive to account and they are capable of shining light into some very murky corners indeed. Sadly, the DCMS Select Committee displayed none of these attributes when they interviewed Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore from Leave.eu. It was a shambles of a hearing and brought the whole select committee system into disrepute. Banks and Wigmore, who had legitimate questions to answer about all sorts of things escaped, not only totally unscathed but arguably with their reputations enhanced. It takes a particular brand of incompetence to allow that to happen. Of the 11 members of the committee, only 7 turned up. Given the MPs who were absent will have known this was a high profile witness session one wonders what other urgent business they may have had. One MP turned, Rebecca Pow (no, me neither), turned up late and when she started asking her questions she started talking about the Electoral Commission, something the chairman had instructed his colleagues not to do due to ongoing legal cases. Not a single one of the MPs laid a glove on Banks or Wigmore. Indeed, it was the other way around. I do hope Damian Collins has watched back the entire three hours, ideally while he was sitting next to Nicky Morgan. She might have then given him a few tips about how to do it properly. Meanwhile, the rest of the committee should resign in embarrassment and let someone else have a go. Their replacements couldn’t possibly do a worse job.
*

For the first time I really fear that the government is about to deliver something they will call Brexit, but to any normal observer, it won’t look like Brexit at all. Remainers in Parliament look as if they are to deliver an almost fatal blow to a clean Brexit by wresting back control of the saga from the government. It looks to me as if we are going to head for the softest of soft Brexits, where we abide by many of the most pernicious rules of the EU, pay into the coffers but have no say in what happens. Of course, this has been the agenda of Olly Robbins, the PM’s chief Brexit adviser, all along. And when you hear a Remain supporting MP say: “Of course we respect the result of the referendum, but…” we all know full well that their agenda is not to make a success of Brexit, it is to frustrate it and ideally put a stop to it. At least Andrew Adonis had the balls to admit it. The rest won’t. But that’s their agenda. And for the first time I now wonder whether they might not succeed. Andrew Lilico wrote a superb article for CAP X on Wednesday in which he essentially said that if we’re not going to get a Brexit worth the name, and it’s a half way house, that would be the worst of all worlds – worse than remaining a member of the EU. I tend to agree. But we’re in this position for several reasons. Number 1 is that the Prime Minister didn’t get a majority in the election which totally undermined David Davis’s negotiating position. It all went downhill from there, not that things had bene particularly impressive prior to that. But we are also in this position because all the leading Brexiteers seem to have given up on explaining why Brexit is not only a good idea and why Britain can make a success of it. They have been lamentable at countering the Remain propaganda about various issues, but in particular about Northern Ireland and the Customs Union. Boris has a had a go on occasion but usually fucks it up due his inability to do it while retaining a semblance of loyalty. Where are the others? It can’t all be left to Iain Duncan Smith or Jacob Rees Mogg. Every single Brexit supporting minister and MP needs to get out there and sell the product. The Remainers have their tails up. They’re setting the agenda. If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. I have lost count of the number of people who have called into my radio show, texted, emailed or tweeted me to tell me that if Brexit isn’t implemented they not only won’t vote Conservative, they won’t bother voting ever again. I really fear for our democracy. I don’t want a Donald Trump figure to emerge here, but that’s where we are heading. People will not forgive a whole class of politicians who betray them by not respecting the referendum result. There will be a fierce backlash if that happens. And if that happens, I know who to blame. And so do you.

  • Last week I wrote a piece about the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and the fact that he had only recently started attending board meetings of Transport for the North. I wrote that he could have attended all the meetings since his election last May but had chosen not to do so. While in theory this is true, in fact, Deputy Mayor Sir Richard Leese was the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) representative on the TfN board until late March. The GMCA meeting on 29 March agreed that Andy Burnham would in future be the GMCA representative and since then he has attended every meeting and teleconference. I’m happy to clarify.

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WATCH: CNN Talk - Is Brexit Doomed?

13 Jun 2018 at 14:09

This is today’s 30 minute CNN Talk in which Liam Halligan, Ayesha Hazarika and I discuss the latest state of Brexit, following yesterday’s votes in the House of Commons.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: One Year On...

8 Jun 2018 at 15:33

Today marks the first anniversary of the 2017 general election result. I think we all remember the sense of astonishment we all felt as it became clear that Theresa May’s majority was disappearing down the swannee. Looking back on the last twelve months, it is difficult to do so with any sense that it has been a year of achievement. Number Ten can point to wins at the December and March EU summits, but they appear to be proving rather illusional given the current state of the Brexit talks. In domestic policy terms, again, there seems to have been little sense of activity or dynamism. Some parts of the media try to imply that this is the most right-wing government in history, yet in many areas like health and business, the narrative seems to be that ‘nanny’ knows best. Five cabinet ministers have resigned. The rail system seems to be in a permanent sense of chaos. Violent crime is mushrooming. I could go on. And yet all the polls show the Conservatives are a few points ahead of Labour. In any normal political circumstance Labour would be 10-20 points ahead. Peak Corbyn. Indeed. And yet few people in the Labour Party appear to recognise this as a problem for them. Unfortunately, it also engenders a sense of complacency among some Conservatives, almost as if being able to govern is some sort of divine right. Conservatives cannot just rely on Labour to lose the next election by themselves, even though it’s perfectly possible that might happen. There has to be a vision. The Prime Minister displayed that vision on the steps of Downing Street on the day she became Prime Minister. She needs to rediscover that sense of domestic policy mission and be able to communicate it, not just to her MPs, but to the country at large.
*
After twenty years the Cabinet has finally agreed that a third runway at Heathrow should be built. I’ve been following this story since around 1993 (25 years ago!) when I organised a big conference on runway capacity in the South East. The arguments haven’t changed a lot in that time, to be honest. Personally, I wish the government had had the same vision as Boris Johnson and decided to build a brand new, state of the art airport somewhere in the south east. Boris wanted to build it in the middle of the Thames Estuary, but despite it having many attractions it was never really treated very seriously by Sir Howard Davies’s Airports Commission. But imagine this as a scenario. Theresa May isn’t Prime Minister any longer and Boris succeeds her. Can we imagine a scenario at his first cabinet meeting where he announces he’s withdrawing the Heathrow expansion plan, and asks the cabinet for their support in proceeding with plans to build Boris Island? What japes!
*

PMQs this week was a painful experience for Tory MPs to watch, as yet again the PM floundered on Brexit, which ought to be a subject on which she should wipe the parliamentary floor with Corbyn. But for the third time in a row she failed to do it, and Corbyn managed to ask questions to which she had no answer. You could almost feel the sense of deflation on the Tory benches. It could be argued that there are things that the PM can’t say in public for fear of undermining the government’s position but the tactic of answering a question from Corbyn by changing the subject and asking him a question back is not one which looks good to the watching public.
*

As the train timetable debacle on Northern Rail unfolded riding to the rescue of customers was Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham. In calling for the Transport Secretary and Northern to be sacked, he somehow failed to mention that the franchise is managed jointly between TfN and DfT. Laughably, Burnham is on TFN’s board. Despite his influential position, sources report that until recently he had failed to attend a single board meeting. No wonder he is happy to grandstand. Perhaps sending an open letter to the chairman of TFN this week was another opportunity for him to blame someone else rather than to fix the problem he should have seen in advance and been resolving himself – but if you don’t attend board meetings I suppose it’s difficult to be on top of the subject. I don’t think it’s unkind to say that given Andy Burnham is advocating that he is given additional powers to run the railways in and around Greater Manchester, he has rather undermined his case.

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Books

The Top 25 Books I Published at Politico's & Biteback

2 Jun 2018 at 23:15

Last week I announced I was leaving Biteback Publishing, the company I founded back in 2009. It marked an end to twenty years in publishing. Back in 1998 I started Politico’s Publishing, having spotted that there was a real gap in the political publishing market. My colleagues Sean Magee and John Schwartz and I published some brilliant books, but I made a very big mistake in 2003 by selling it to Methuen. I thought I had taken it as far as I could and the list would benefit from being part of a bigger company. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Within two months I knew I had done the wrong thing and I left the company. The new owners ran it into the ground and within a short time it ceased to exist in any meaningful way. It is now totally defunct.

Five years later I started Total Politics Magazine and within a year we had decided to revive the art of political publishing. There was a gap in the market and I decided to fill it. Again. And so Biteback Publishing was formed. Since then we have published more than 600 books. I don’t know how many we published at Politico’s in the five years I owned it, but it must have been around 100.

I’ve worked with some brilliant people over the years at Politico’s and Biteback. James Stephens has been with me from day 1 at Biteback and I truly couldn’t have done it without him. Hollie Teague and Olivia Beattie have been fantastic managing editors. They both send me cards when I announced I was leaving with the most lovely sentiments, which I have to admit brought more than a tear to my eye. I’m also very proud that we have given jobs to many people who started with us as interns and after getting a grounding with us have gone on to achieve great things in the publishing industry. Nam Kwan Cho is the best cover designer in the business, and on the PR and marketing side Suzanne Sangster (now at Head of Zeus) and Katy Scholes (now travelling the world after a successful stint at Sky News) were brilliant to work with. I’ll never forget their outstanding work in creating and running the Political Book Awards. Isabelle Ralphs, who currently handles the press side at Biteback is a star in the making and really stepped up to the plate at a difficult time. Andy McNab is inheriting a talented team.

So, to get to the point, given it’s unlikely I will ever return to publishing books, I’ve decided to choose the best 20 books I have ever published. These aren’t necessarily the best selling ones, or even the best, but they are books which I got a huge satisfaction out of publishing and many would not have made it onto the bookshelves without me taking them on, seeing as virtually all the large publishers have dumbed down to such an extent that they ignore political books nowadays…

Coalition by David Laws

Biteback, 2016
When David Laws approached me about this book, it took me a nanosecond to say yes. His previous book on the Coalition negotiations back in 2010 was one of the first books I published, and it sold very well indeed. One reason why I was so quick to say yes was because David told me he would have full access to Nick Clegg’s diaries. He was obviously keen to get the LibDem version of the coalition out there before anyone else did, and he knew we could publish quickly. The book came out only 10 months after the coalition ended. It got rave reviews and sold well in both hardback and paperback, which is a rarity nowadays. Last autumn I also published his Coalition Diaries, and next year he’s got a biography of Lord Kitchener coming out with Biteback. And he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with.

Power Trip by Damian McBride

Biteback, 2013
Bearing in mind my history with Damian (I was one of those smeared in ‘Smeargate’ in 2009) many thought it was deeply ironic I published Damian’s story. But I chased him for around 18 months before pen was put to paper on the contract. Damian was an absolute model author. He delivered the cleanest manuscript we had ever received. It almost didn’t need an edit. It has so far proved to be our second best selling book ever, selling more than 25,000 copies.

Here Today Gone Tomorrow by John Nott

Politico’s, 2002
John Nott hadn’t been seen in politics for more or less twenty years but when he approached me to publish his memoirs I was very keen indeed. He proved to be a difficult negotiator on the contract and I remember spending two hours going through it with him line by line. At the end I said to him: “You do realise I haven’t agreed to a single change, don’t you?” “Yes,” he said, “but it’s been good fun, hasn’t it?” I realised he really missed the cut and thrust of politics and business. It was a very honest book and very odd in some ways in that the first chapter was all about his ancestor taking part in the Afghan Wars of the 19th century, and the last was all about his views on supermarkets. But it sold very well, and despite being a cantankerous old bugger, he was a pleasure to deal with.

Fourth Among Equals by Bill Rodgers

Politico’s, 2000
We had a lot of trouble over the title of this book. Bill Rodgers was the least well known of the so-called Gang of Four who launched the SDP, but Bill is a very proud man and took a bit of convincing. It remains one of the best political autobiographies I have ever published and as an author he was a delight to deal with.

Getting out Alive by Roger Mosey

Biteback, 2015
This book was published in July 2015 and I’d class this as one of the most elegantly written books I’ve published. Roger has held virtually every senior post there is to hold at the BBC without actually becoming DG. Given his career path I am astonished that he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. I’d have thought 30 years in the higher echelons in BBC management would have turned him into an egotistical narcissist, but not a bit of it. He hasn’t sought to diss the BBC at all, but despite that this book is a real page turner for anyone who has worked in the media.

The Alastair Campbell Diaries

Biteback, 2016 & 2017
Random Hous epublished the initial four volumes of the Campbell diaries, but they seemed to lose interest. I read every one of them and thought they were fantastic. I had got to know Alastair over the years, mainly through my LBC show, and I had told him I’d happily publish the diaries if ever Random House didn’t want to continue. When that moment came I instantly signed up the next four volumes. Volume 5 and 6 have now been published, with Volume 7 coming out this autumn, covering the Brown years. Alastair is an absolute pleasure to publish. He’s a perfectionist and knows how to sell books. Some authors think their job is over the moment they deliver the manuscript. Alastair knows the most important bit is yet to come.

Tory Pride & Prejudice by Michael McManus

Biteback, 2011
This history of homosexuality and the Conservative Party remains one of the best books I have published. I wanted to call it QUEER BLUE WATER but Michael wouldn’t have it, and I have a policy of never forcing a title on an author, although this is the closest I have come to it! When I read the manuscript for the first time I rang Michael and told him: “Even if this book never sells a single copy, you should be very proud of writing it.” Its sales figures were very disappointing, but I stick to the view that this book is a fantastic piece of work, which anyone interested in gender politics or the modern history of the Tory Party should read.

Clean Brexit by Liam Halligan & Gerard Lyons

Biteback, 2017
Liam Halligan approached me at the beginning of 2017 with an idea for a co-authored short paperback on how Brexit could be achieved cleanly and quickly. His idea was to write 50,000 words to be published on the first anniversary of Brexit in June 2017. Well, it quickly became a much larger project as Liam and Gerry really got into it. It quicly transformed itself from a short £8.99 paperback into a £20 140,000 word long hardback. But it was the right thing to do. It’s the best researched and best written book on Brexit on the market. Even Remain supporters have acknowledged what an important book it is.

Breaking the Code by Gyles Brandreth

Biteback, 2014
I remain of the view that this was the best political book of the 1990s and that’s why I republished it last year in hardback, with a couple of up to date chapters. Even as a £25 hardback reprint it did amazingly well so we then brought out a paperback version this year. Gyles has a brilliant way with words, and these diaries are massively indiscreet and brilliantly written. If you want to understand the Major government, this is a book you simply have to read.

Second Term by Simon Walters

Politico’s Publishing, 2001
I love reading novels with a Westminster based plot, which is why I agreed to publish this book. I don’t really normally publish political fiction because it is a very difficult genre to sell into bookshops and it’s easy to catch a financial cold. But this book was so good – and prophetic as it turned out – I took a big risk with it. In the end it sold out in hardback (2000 copies, which is great for hardback fiction) and Simon went on to get a five figure advance from a publisher which sadly soon went out of business – mainly because they kept paying five figure advances!

Betting the House by Tim Ross & Tom McTague

Biteback, 2017
Tim Ross wrote a superb account of the 2015 Tory election win called WHY THE TORIES WON. When the 2017 election was called we were delighted he decided to team up with Tom McTague. We were determined to beat Tim Shipman and get this book out first. In the end though, it didn’t appear until early November despite the serialisation occuring in mid Septemer. They kept getting new information, which meant that at Biteback Towers we were tearing our hair out. But that’s often the case with instant books. Anyway, the end product spoke for itself, and I still believe this was one of the best books of 2017.

You Alone May Live by Mary Blewitt

Biteback, 2010
Back in 2007 I went to Rwanda to report on a Conservative Party social action project. Before I went I met Mary Blewitt, originally from Rwanda but now living in London. Many members of her family had been killed in the 1994 genocide. She accompanied us to Kigali and her story really affected me. In an interview with her we both broke down. Hers was one of the first books I published at Biteback, and although sales were disappointing, her story is incredibly powerful and it is a book I am proud to have published.

When my Husband Does the Dishes by Kerry Sackville

Biteback, 2011
I met Kerri Sackville on a trip to Australia in June 2011 when I interviewed her at 4 in the morning when I was broadcasting my show live back to the UK. She made a real impression on me and her book, which was a bestseller in Australia was brilliantly funny. I signed a two book deal with her, for what was a massive amount of money for us at the time. Sadly neither book did the business for us, but I remain of the view that they deserved to do much better. Somehow the British media just didn’t want to support the book, which is all about the life of a woman with two young children and a husband who does the dishes only when he’s after a bit of rumpy pumpy. One of the lowlights of my publishing career was when Mumsnet demanded £5000 to run an interview with Kerry on their website. They were told where they could stick it.

Prime Minister Portillo & Other Things That Never Happened ed Duncan Brack & Iain Dale

Politico’s Publishing, 2003
I’ve always loved counterfactual history so in 2003 Duncan Brack and I commissioned fifteen or so writers to write a series of essays on political events that might have turned out differently. I wrote the title chapter and wrote it as fiction, rather than an alternate history. The book did reasonably well and it was followed by President Gore and Prime Minister Boris. In mid 2016 we published a sequel ‘Prime Minister Corbyn and Other Things That Never Happened’.

Out in the Army by James Wharton

Biteback, 2013
James Wharton was a soldier in the British army, and he was gay. I met James at a function in London and he told me he was writing a book. I was like a rat at a trap and was delighted when he signed up with Biteback. It’s a warts and all story, very moving at very emotional. There’s little doubt that James played a big role in encouraging the upper echelons of the army to think seriously about gay equality and his subsequent celebrity is a mark of the importance of him blazing a trail for others.

Jim Bleat for Prime Minister by Margaret Woodhouse

Politico’s Publishing, 2001
I signed this book up at the 2000 Frankfurt Book Fair from a New Zealand author. She uses the story a sheep to explain politics to young readers. I thought it was a brilliant way of doing it, but sadly British bookshops just couldn’t see it, and nor could schools. We recorded a CD with politicians reading different chapters (including John Redwood, whose ‘baaing’ was magnificent.

Exceeding my Brief by Barbara Hosking

Biteback, 2017
It’s this kind of book which I am most going to miss. Back in the middle of 2017 one of my other authors, Martin Stanley emailed me to put me in touch with a 91 year old former civil servant, who had written her autobiography. Despite my initial sceptism Martin was insistent that she’d have a fantastic tale to tell, not least because she had recently outed herself as a Lesbian. So off I toddled to meet her at her Westminster flat. She had only uttered a few sentences before I knew Martin was right. Her book is truly captivating and tells the story of an incredibly poor childhood in Cornwall, moving to London and getting a job with the Labour Party in the 1950s and then moving into the civil service and working for Harold Wilson and Ted Heath. The book is in its second reprint, and the look on Barbara’s face at the launch was on its own worth publishing it.

Hate by Matthew Collins

Biteback, 2011
Matthew Collins used to a self-confessed racist. He even took part in a violent racist attack. But he then saw the light and renounced his previously held views and became an evangelist for anti-racism views. When he came to see me to suggest the book I was in two minds as to whether it would work, but work it did. His story is very rough and ready. I think in the original manuscript there were 94 ‘fucks’ and 10 ‘cunts’. I insisted they all stayed. Indeed, until I had met Matthew I had never called an author a ‘cunt’ – well not to their faces anyway. His reaction demonstrated to me we were going to get on. And we did. It’s a really important book for anyone wanting to understand and combat racism.

Journeyman by Ben Smith

Biteback, 2015
This book topped the Amazon football charts for three weeks, and it’s one of Biteback’s all time bestsellers. Ben Smith was a lower league footballer who playd for more than a dozen clubs. He approached us saying he wanted to tell his story, which would be an antidote to all the celebrity footballer books. It was certainly that, mainly because he tells how it really is as a lower league footballer. He promised me it would sell at least 10,000 copies. I didn’t believe him, but it’s actually now sold more than 15,000.

Stand Up for Your Manhood by Peter Lloyd

Biteback, 2014
I’ve always thought it was about time someone wrote a book defending men, masculinity and all that goes with it. This is that book. It’s not an anti-feminist book, and it’s not anti-women but what it is is pro men. It’s also very funny. It looks at all sorts of issues men have to cope with and it’s a book that ought to be required reading for any woman wanting to understand men. But then again, so few do!!! Controversial! Peter Lloyd is now editing a new ‘Male’ section of MailOnline. All power to his elbow!

The Welfare State We’re in by James Bartholomew

Politico’s Publishing, 2004
I commissioned this book in my final days at Politico’s and it remains a book I am really proud to say that without me it probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day. It’s sold very well and we’ve now reissued it at Biteback. To question the very essence of the welfare state is considered almost beyond the pale in this country but in this book James Bartholomew cites the evidence which he says proves that many aspects of the welfare state have merely accentuated society’s problems rather than helped solve them. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions no one could deny that this is a hugely important book.

When One Door closes by Peter Sissons

Biteback, 2012
Peter Sissons has always been a bit of a broadcasting hero of mine so when he came to me asking me to publish his memoirs I was very keen. I was even keener after I read the draft manuscript as I knew it would create many waves in the media sector. Peter has had a stellar career as a news reporter and news reader. He also has very strong views about how the news sector works, or often doesn’t. He made some very critical comments about the BBC and how it works, and how its news judgement can be defective and at times biased. He knew he would get it in the neck from liberal traditionalists and sure enough, that’s what happened. But they all knew he was right, even if they couldn’t admit it.

Project Fear by Joe Pike

Biteback, 2015
All publishers dream of discovering talented new authors who are brilliant writers, and I feel this is what has happened with Joe Pike. Joe interned at Total Politics and I then worked with him at LBC. He’s now a political reporter for ITV . He approached me with an idea for a retrospective book on the Scottish referendum. To be honest I wasn’t keen and almost turned it down outright, but in the end I asked him to send a couple of sample chapters. They were brilliant. Joe writes non fiction as if it were dramatic fiction. He really knows how to tell a story and his sources were fabulous. This is without a shadow of a doubt the best book I published in 2015.

Call me Dave by Michael Ashcroft & Isabel Oakeshott

Biteback, 2015
For reasons I needn’t explain, this book attracted more publicity and sales than any other in my 17 years of publishing. The four weeks following its newspaper serialisation were somewhat surreal. I was attacked from all sides for publishing a book with a couple of single sourced stories. I mean, the crime. Journalists who should have known better didn’t seem to understand the difference between a book and a newspaper article. Most biographies contain countless stories that are not double sourced, but it seemed this book was always going to be judged in a different light to others.

In My Own Time by Jeremy Thorpe

Politico’s Publishing, 1999
In late 1998 I got a call from someone who said he was Jeremy Thorpe.‘Yeah, right,’ I thought. He was barely audible and spoke in a whisper. Anyway, it did turn out to be the former Liberal leader, a man my mother considered a bit of a hero until the trial of 1979. Thorpe hadn’t ever written a book and had been a bit of a recluse for 25 years. He invited me to his home in Orme Square and we discussed his idea for a book. Truth be told, the book wasn’t that good or revelatory, but the fact he wrote it was news in itself. It also put Politico’s Publishing on the map. John and I became friends with Marion and Jeremy and the six months I spent working with him on the book were fascinating. Despite his advancing Parkinsons Jeremy had lost none of his interest in politics and we had some fascinating conversations. I still treasure those memories.

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