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Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 18, 2011 5:08 am

Off Message: The Complete Antidote to Political Humbug by Bob Marshall-Andrews – review

The MP for Medway was rebel-in-chief for 13 suffocating years of Labour rule. Now he gets it all off his chest…

John Kampfner The Observer, Sunday 12 June 2011

He opposed the Iraq war. He defended civil liberties. He railed against spin. He has a disarming turn of phrase. To use the vernacular he so abhors: what's not to like about Bob Marshall-Andrews?


Off Message by Bob Marshall-Andrews

The answer, if you were Tony Blair and his acolytes, is: everything. The MP for Medway from 1997-2010 was their public enemy number one. A QC, a man who enjoyed fine wine, who would not be corralled by text or pager, Marshall-Andrews revelled in rebellion. He has now put pen to paper, excoriating the many vices of New Labour in a book that is passionate, whimsical and highly entertaining.

Almost from the outset, Marshall-Andrews decided he could not abide his leader. Blair, he concluded while watching him perform at the 1996 party conference – the last before his landslide election victory – was "dangerously delusional". The massed ranks of delegates had descended into a state of "semi-tumescence… as they digested the hitherto unknown and unsuspected fact that it was Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jehoshaphat and Co who had founded the Labour party, and not Keir Hardie".

Within months of entering parliament, the author was describing Blair as the worst prime minister for 150 years. He saw much of the 1997 intake, particularly some of the new female MPs, as empty careerists. Some of the northern MPs were possessed of a sense of class war, possibly as a substitute for any ideological principle.

The assault on human rights was perplexing but also predictable. Marshall-Andrews charts the relentless legislation, which began even before the events of 9/11 with the Terrorism Act 2000. He describes how he reminded MPs that under one of the bills it would be an offence to carry any literature that suggested intent to cause a terrorist act. This might include Baden Powell's bible, Scouting for Boys, as it teaches young men to create camouflage.

It was only very late on that backbenchers summoned the courage to challenge further incursions on freedom. The author recalls rousing speeches by colleagues such as Brian Sedgemore and Barbara Follett, who likened pre-trial detention to apartheid South Africa. For reasons that I cannot quite fathom, beyond wishful thinking, Marshall-Andrews admits how optimistic he felt in 2007 that Gordon Brown would stem the authoritarian tide. Shortly after, he realised there was little to differentiate the two leaders. "In Brown, the rigid, often gloomy self-flagellation of the Manse can clearly be observed. Blair's piety, from which his repressive instincts flow, is both more nauseating and more dangerous."

At the start of each parliament, Marshall-Andrews was punished with an ever smaller Commons office. Had he continued he would have found himself "in some form of modern oubliette, with my research staff suspended below it." By the time he left in 2010 – he thought he would lose in 2005 – he was as distant from the Labour party as he could be. His abiding friendships seemed to be with Conservatives. He shared with David Davis (who famously forced a by-election in 2008 on the issue of civil liberties) "an aversion to New Labour home secretaries and their zealous attack on the principles of British constitutional freedoms". He also lavishes praise on Tories such as Sir Peter Tapsell and Ann Widdecombe, while pondering the roots of Boris Johnson's sex appeal.

It was because New Labour was so ideologically empty that its protagonists acted like thugs. Their abiding mission was to win power, and they would do whatever it took to achieve it. The author's conclusions are not dissimilar to mine or those of others who have dissected those years. Yet I would have liked to have read more about his positive vision. How would he have succeeded where so many others have failed in reconciling a radical left vision with the need to win over the floating voter? Condemnation only gets you so far. The question many might ask is why Marshall-Andrews bothered to associate himself for so long with a party for which he had such disdain.

I have one other gripe, which is more generic to British publishing – sloppiness. Call me a pedant, but why is Alistair (sic) Campbell consistently misspelt, and why do we read of David Davies (sic) in a picture caption?

Still, this is as refreshing an account as there is of a suffocating political era. Marshall-Andrews was not dependent on patronage. As a result he retained an inquiring mind. Back in 1996 I had a gossipy conversation with Peter Mandelson. He was telling me how one Labour MP would never get far. His problem, he said, was that "he thinks too much". He should realise that members were expected to do as they were told. Mandelson was not referring to Marshall-Andrews but he might as well have been. Thankfully he ignored the instruction and parliament was the richer for it.


John Kampfner is author of Blair's Wars and Freedom for Sale.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 25, 2011 4:44 pm

Why does it come as no great surprise to learn that Tony Blair is a Tolkien fan? Rolling Eyes

**********************************************************************************

Tony Blair's top reads: Tolkien, Trotsky and Treasure Island

Former prime minister's Desert Island book choice shows he's a lover of baddies, wizard collaborators and political outcasts

Patrick Wintour, political editor guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 June 2011 19.56 BST


Tony Blair chose Lord of the Rings as one of his Desert Island books. Photograph: Handout/Getty Images

Tony Blair is a lover of baddies, wizard collaborators, religious prophets, political outcasts and obsessives, according to a list of his favourite nine books in the world.

Selecting his Desert Island books, the architect of New Labour chooses – somewhat bizarrely – Isaac Deutscher's three-volume, largely sympathetic biography of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, a man finally killed by his methodical and brutal political rival, Stalin.

He also selects Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, plus biographies of Jesus and Muhammad among his list of most cherished reads in an article in We Love This Book, the new sister magazine of the Bookseller.

He said he had been drawn to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a book he is currently reading with son Leo. "Long John Silver is not a plain simple baddie, but a man capable certainly of badness but also of a certain code of honour."

Blair said he is also drawn to the dark moral dilemmas faced by characters in The Lord of the Rings.

"It has its share of wizards who become collaborators, good people who fall from grace, and those who are in some sense redeemed. For the scale and majesty of the invention, the details of the imaginary world created by Tolkien and the rich and deep themes of good and evil, nothing compares to it."

The former prime minister admits that his choice of Deutscher's Trotsky biography might seem odd given his own politics, but says it was the first political book he read and the one that got him interested in politics.

"Trotskyism and its fight with the official Soviet-style left defined student politics in the 1960s and 1970s, and no one who lived through that period can forget it."

Trotsky, he says, was driven by instincts that were more moral than scientific.

He also chooses Emile Zola's Germinal, saying he read it in the original to improve his French. He writes: "What makes the book remarkable is the vivid description of not just the life of the miner, but also of the mine itself – a bestial place of misery of many, for the profit of a few."

He describes Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott as a work of genius and a classic love story centring on a love triangle of Ivanhoe, Saxon Princess Rowena and beautiful Rebecca. "Read it and see if, like me, you are sure he should have defied convention and eloped with Rebecca," Blair writes.

In perhaps his most obscure selection he chooses Shoemaker of Dreams by Salvatore Ferragamo, the autobiography of a man fixated on creating the perfect shoe. He was given the book on holiday by Ferragamo's widow and describes it as a as a gem. "Now, what I know about fashion could be written on the heel of a shoe. But I know something of motivation, determination and ambition bordering on obsession."

He also chooses three religious books: Jesus was a Jew by Arnold G Fruchtenbaum, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf and Jon Rothschild, and Muhammad by Martin Lings.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 25, 2011 5:43 pm

Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre – review

The younger Miliband has his doubters as Labour leader, but underestimate him at your peril

Sunder Katwala guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 June 2011 10.59 BST


Ed Miliband at home in London. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

New Labour was never the most bookish of political cultures. Yet books had a curiously important role in this hyper-pragmatic era, albeit with the emphasis less on social democratic treatises than on the political book as weapon of factional destruction. The fighting phases of the Blair-Brown feud were usually triggered by the revelation of secrets, slights and betrayals to the authors of the latest political blockbuster, as press serialisations offered an almost highbrow route to aerial supremacy in the fierce contest for the news cycle.


Ed: The Milibands and the making of a Labour leader by Mehdi Hasan, James Macintyre

These battles of the books changed political outcomes – mostly because cunning plans backfired. Paul Routledge's hostile Brownite biography of Peter Mandelson removed its subject from the Cabinet but sacrificed the political life of Brown's press spokesman, Charlie Whelan, in the fallout. Ed Balls's extensive briefing for Robert Peston's book on Brown was intended to coincide with the arrival of a new premier in number 10, but once Blair changed his mind about when to quit, its killer quotes about the breakdown of trust threw into doubt whether Gordon would succeed at all.

If it had not been for Mandelson and Blair's publishing schedules last autumn, David Miliband would have won, not lost, Labour's knife-edge leadership contest. Mandelson and Blair's dominance of the political news just as Labour members received ballot papers fatally damaged the candidate whom they hoped to help, persuading enough undecided voters that it was time for everyone to move on.

Perhaps it is fitting that Ed Miliband, the beneficiary then, faced his first party leadership crisis as this first biography of the new opposition leader reopened the fraternal wounds of his election victory over his brother David. Political journalists Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre are by instinct sympathetic to their main subject. But they take care to do a straight reporting job, painstakingly comparing the accounts of sources from all sides to unpack the history of what they call the "fratricide" of Miliband v Miliband.

They tell the tale of the rise of empathetic Ed. He is quietly understated, as he follows his brother first to Oxford, then to Westminster, and has to play second fiddle to Ed Balls in the brains trust of the Brown Treasury. Almost nobody finds a bad word to say about him. Even ex-girlfriends, the local candidate he defeats for his Doncaster seat, and Blairites who nickname him "the ambassador from planet fuck" (as the only non-sweary member of the rival gang) seem to like him. The brothers' career choice breaks entirely with the politics of their father, academic Ralph Miliband, who was famous for his deep Marxist pessimism about how Labour Parliamentary's presence led inevitably to betrayal. Yet Ed believes his moderate radicalism keeps faith with the left's values.

Personal charm helps him clinch the party leadership too. Front-runners have a massive advantage in an electoral college system that gives as much power to 250 MPs as to 170,000 party members. David Miliband ran a classic "inevitability" campaign, telling career politicians that their career prospects depended on backing the winner. Yet Ed Miliband did much more to pursue every MP one-to-one in the Commons' bars and tearooms, winning the whole leadership election by the equivalent of six second preferences from MPs. (Ed flops badly with influential backbencher Jon Cruddas, though, who can't forgive him for finding the gritty British film Fish Tank too depressing to watch.)

The empathy fails with his sibling. Neither Miliband anticipates the emotional fallout of campaigning against each other: David, because he didn't take his younger brother's candidacy seriously enough until too late; Ed, because he would have been happy to have served under his brother, so he failed to anticipate how much harder it could prove for David to lose. Ed says he "felt an understandably strange mixture of euphoria for himself and disappointment for his brother" upon being told he had won. The book argues that those emotions have yet to be reconciled.

Yet the "fratricide" charge that Hasan and Macintyre level is unfair. This was an election for a vacancy, not a leadership coup. Everybody in Westminster now says the lesson of the Brown assumption of power in 2007 is that elections are healthier than coronations. Curiously, it is often those who argue that a Blair-Brown contest would have proved healthy in 1994 who resent Ed Miliband standing in 2010.

Put aside primogeniture: both brothers had to decide whether to stand against a sibling. Informed Labour observers had thought Ed Miliband had a decent chance of being the next leader ever since David Miliband's hesistant semi-putsch against Gordon Brown fizzled out in 2008.

The Labour leadership contest symbolised the narrowness of the political class, with our enormously effective affirmative action schemes for special advisers. But Miliband v Miliband can also be seen as a wider British story of mobility and hope, as the sons of refugees from Nazi Europe rose to the top at Westminster. Although the psychological scars of a hard-fought democratic election will take a while to fully heal, they are not matters of life and death. David, defeated, has maintained a public dignity, albeit not helped by chatter from anonymous "friends" in the press.

That Ed sometimes feels like an in-depth Sunday magazine profile stretched to book length is reinforced by the publisher including reports and pictures of Ed's wedding to Justine Thornton less than a month ago. The pacy reportage can squeeze out analytical perspective. Forensic scrutiny is applied to the question of whether Ed decided to run for leader on the Tuesday or the Wednesday after the general election, perhaps leaving a 24-hour gap before he went to tell his brother. The authors skim over how his political thinking has evolved over six years in Parliament, particularly the way that Ed's front-seat view of the unhappy Brown premiership persuaded him to abandon the era of tactical triangulation and the one-more-heave politics of what he calls "New Labour nostalgia".

Ultimately, Ed ran because he disagreed with his brother over the politics of Labour's defeat and how to win next time. The book doesn't really dig into this, or try to predict what direction Ed will take his party in. Still, it is the party leader's job, not his biographers', to tell us that.

Ed Miliband's chances of making a second edition necessary by becoming prime minister are much underestimated. Michael Ashcroft's recent assessment, after an enormous polling exercise, that Ed "could get close to 40% [of the vote] without needing to get out of bed" should have sent shudders through Downing Street. The steady rise of empathetic Ed may have a good deal further to go.


Sunder Katwala is general secretary of the Fabian Society.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sat Jul 02, 2011 10:40 pm

Alastair Campbell diaries: Secret war between Tony Blair and Prince Charles

In his new volume of diaries, Campbell reveals the tensions between the two over GM food, hunting and foot and mouth

Alastair Campbell guardian.co.uk, Friday 1 July 2011 23.04 BST


Prince Charles, the Queen Mother and Tony Blair at Buckingham Palace for the prince’s 50th birthday celebrations in 1998. Photograph: Rex Features


1999

31 May Prince Charles's office sent through the article he was doing for the Mail tomorrow on GM food, which would be a huge hit. He was basically saying we didn't need this stuff at all, and would no doubt have all the pressure groups out saying how marvellous he was. I tried to contact TB but he was playing tennis. I formulated a line that they had sent us the article, we have been calling for a sensible, rational debate and it should be seen in that context. When I finally got round to reading the article in full, it was dreadful. It could easily have been written by the Mail. It was clearly going to lead the news tomorrow and I would have to pretend that we were totally unbothered by it. Re-reading it, I felt that it was over the top and it might backfire on Charles. There was a sense of it being gratuitously anti-science from someone whose locus in the debate wasn't clear.


1 June TB called early and his view [of Prince Charles's GM article] was the same, but he said I mustn't engage in any way that suggests we are being critical. But in the end this country is going to have to decide whether we are serious, or whether we want a whole new area of science and technology to be taken away from us to let the rest of the world take it over. He was pretty wound up about it, said it was a straightforward anti-science position, the same argument that says if God intended us to fly he would have given us wings. It certainly had a feel of grandstanding. It was also, I said, a cheap shot because it was an issue on which Charles said he was open-minded, but in fact had a settled opinion, and he knew we couldn't actually answer back. Through the day [Sir] Stephen Lamport [private secretary to Prince Charles] was asking John Sawers what the informal view was. I gave John our emollient words to fax over but said he may as well make clear the informal view was not at all favourable.

The briefing went fine, though needless to say there was more interest in GM foods and they could see I was determined not to give them any sense of division. They pointed out, rightly, that if Friends of the Earth had said the same thing, we would attack it. There you go. TB saw the Queen and seemingly didn't push too hard re Charles but he was very pissed off, especially once it became clear from their briefings that they were emphasising he had thought through the consequences.


2 June Cologne On arrival we went straight to the PES [Party of European Socialists] dinner, TB still fulminating about Charles, having just read a clearly briefed account in the Independent.


5 June There was a story doing the rounds that Prince Charles had said Cherie was against GM. When I mentioned it to TB, he said maybe there was an upside in that at least it showed her to be on the side of the argument most people seemed to be on. I felt it showed he couldn't even persuade his wife. It was also a bad story for Charles.


7 June CB [Cherie Blair] was furious with Prince Charles re the IoS story, which was clearly briefed, and said she wasn't going to reply to his recent missive on the subject.


18 October I had lunch with Geoff Crawford [press secretary to the Queen] at Shepherd's. He was not exactly oozing with confidence re the future of the royals, and they were clearly still worried about the longer-term problems and what to do about Charles's team freelancing, running a media operation separate from and sometimes at the expense of hers, etc. He asked me what I thought they should do, and whether TB might raise some of these things. I said I'm sure he would if they felt it right, but he was always very cagey re his discussions with her. Geoff was due to return to Australia next year and seemed happy to be doing so.

He said the Queen had valued the work I did post-Diana's death. But he said some of the hangers-on had been very edgy about it. Also [Prince] Andrew blamed me/No 10 for some of the stories re Fergie/remarriage.


22 October The other problem this morning was Prince Charles's people clearly briefed that he had deliberately snubbed one of the Jiang Zemin [then Chinese president] banquets. The TB/Charles strain was developing alongside the Buck House/St James's Palace tensions.

23 October For all the hoo-ha over the Chinese visit, he [TB] felt in the end we had taken the right position, and stuck to it and it would benefit us with the Chinese, as well as the public. He felt [Prince] Charles had been silly.


31 October TB met the Prince of Wales after he took Prince William hunting.

While publicly we stayed supportive, TB said Charles had to understand there were limits to the extent to which they could play politics with him. He said it was 90 minutes of pretty hard talk, not just about hunting.


1 November Charles had given TB a long paper on hunting and why it was good for the environment. He had also set out his views on GM – "I cannot stay silent" – and on China – "I feel very strongly about it". He said he was going to say nothing about us doing away with the hereditary peerage. TB said he bought the line that because we were modernising, that meant we were determined to do away with all traditions but he had to understand that some traditions that did not change and evolve would die. It all had the feel of a deliberate strategy, to win and strengthen media support by putting himself at arm's length from TB and a lot of the changes we were making. He was arguing for example how hereditary peers have so much to offer, or, a bit menacingly, saying "We don't really want to be like the continentals, now do we?"

I talked Charles up in the briefings but some of the journalists thought Charles was overreaching himself. TB felt he had been really stung by the forces of conservatism speech. He said they felt much more vulnerable than in reality they are. We know they still have the power to "keep us in our place" but they don't always see it like that.

He had asked him whether he really thought we should have nothing to do with Jiang Zemin. He didn't really have an answer.


25 November Fiona [Millar, partner] and I went out for dinner at Winfield House [residence of the American ambassador]. At dinner itself, I was next to Andrew Lloyd Webber's wife [Madeleine], and near [Sir] Angus Ogilvy [husband of the Queen's cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent].

Ogilvy was [the Lord Chamberlain Lord] Airlie's brother and we had a good chat about the week of Diana's death. Interestingly, he asked me if I thought [Prince] Charles could marry Camilla [Parker Bowles] and still be king, and what steps they needed to take in PR terms to get there. Fiona said if it required help from the government, Charles ought to stop briefing private conversations.

2001
5 March FMD [foot and mouth disease] was still raging and TB had had about a six-page letter from Prince Charles full of Daily Telegraph-speak suggesting it was all down to closed abattoirs, lack of understanding of the countryside, etc. TB said this is likely to be down to one farmer who didn't boil pigswill and should be prosecuted but Charles can't resist jumping on the bandwagon as though I caused it.


16 March FMD was big, bad, more and more difficult. Prince Charles was getting a very good press for his intervention which was actually deeply unhelpful. TB said he knew exactly what he was doing. He also asked whether Charles had ever considered help when 6,000 jobs were lost at Corus [steel manufacturer]. He said this was all about screwing us and trying to get up the message that we weren't generous enough to the farmers.


4 July I left with Fiona and Anji [Hunter, driector of government relations] for David Frost's party, usually pretty stunning turnout. [Sir Angus] Ogilvy took me aside at one point and asked me straight out what advice I would give to the royals at the moment. He said I want you to be honest – do you think they're in trouble? I said I thought while the Queen was there, no, but post her and the Queen Mum, things might change fast. I suspected not, but I felt they needed a more connecting strategy. That didn't mean slimmed down and bicycling dukes and the usual bollocks, but just a sense of them moving more into the modern world, less extravagant and wasteful, more rooted. I felt Charles prided himself on his old-fashionedness but he needed a different dimension.


24 July TB had a long session with Prince Charles on rural issues, and came back with the view he was well-meaning but misguided, and once they got into argument, not so well-meaning.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:40 pm

The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Volume 3 – review

Alastair Campbell drove the home secretary to distraction, but he was always worth listening to

Jack Straw guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 July 2011 10.55 BST


Alastair Campbell with Tony Blair in Inverness in 2001. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

John Colville, Winston Churchill's private secretary, went riding at the height of the second world war; his boss went off to the cinema. Harold Macmillan, when prime minister, decamped to Scotland for weeks each August to go grouse shooting. The only communication was a single landline, and the occasional private secretary travelling on the overnight train with a red box of official papers. The foreign secretary's private office used simply to shut up shop for a week in August. A "Closed" notice was hung on the door. All callers were referred to the "resident clerks".


Diaries Volume Three: Power and Responsibility by Alastair Campbell

The central issue raised by this, the third volume of Alastair Campbell's diaries, Power and Responsibility, is how any British government can operate effectively in the now merciless, never-resting media cycle. In a self-critical passage in his introduction, Campbell writes: "Media pressures are all to be tactical, to respond to the agenda of others. That should force policy-makers to be more strategic. I'm not sure we always did that . . . Getting the balance right between the urgent and the important is not easy."

Campbell certainly had the intellectual capacity and the imagination to handle both the tactical and the strategic. At his best – which was most of the time – he was brilliant. Nor was he ever the sinister, Svengali-like manipulator that too many in the press sought to portray him as. As home secretary during most of the period covered by these diaries (May 1999, the Kosovo war, to 11 September 2001), in the thick of many of the touchstone issues of the day, I could be driven to distraction by Campbell – and, as his diaries record, he by me.

But I engaged with him, as most sensible members of Tony Blair's cabinet did, because he was always (and remains) for the party, of the party, because he had Blair's ear, but above all because he was always worth listening to. He had a more acute sense of how the British media operated than anyone I have ever met.

Campbell, like Blair, was constantly preoccupied with the knowledge that Labour had been elected with a proper majority just twice before in its history – in 1945 and 1966 – and on both occasions had gone down to defeat at the following election through the absence of a sustaining strategy and an ability to manage the media.

Campbell had a Manichaean single-mindedness and the most extraordinary energy. After working similar hours to him, I would read a book and go to sleep. Campbell, who was ever accompanied by a thick A4 daybook in which he constantly scribbled his contemporaneous record of the day's events, would then write up his diaries at length, fail to sleep properly, and then rise early to deal with the next day's events.

Campbell's problems with the media, which intensified during the period covered by these diaries, were a product of the very qualities that made him so indispensable. He was everywhere. The reporters who dealt with him became as obsessed with him as he was with their product. He became the story. As the Conservatives under William Hague, and their allies in the press, became increasingly frustrated by their inability to do any lasting damage to Blair and his first-term government, they turned on Campbell. Thus "spin" became a metaphor for everything the dispossessed Conservatives really disliked about us – that we were in power, they were not, and had no serious possibility of regaining it for some years.

Until I read these diaries, I had forgotten how many difficulties there were that a better-led Conservative party – one led from the centre, not the right – could have exploited. Central to these was the interminable struggle, the unresolved conflict between the two founders of New Labour, Blair and Gordon Brown. This was not just about personality and power. As Campbell records in great detail, there were some profoundly important policy issues too, above all whether the UK should join the euro. From today's perspective it seems quaint that anyone could seriously have considered that it would have been in Britain's interests to join the single currency. With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been a disaster. Even had our entry been endorsed in a referendum, its adverse effects would have hobbled the party that recommended it for a generation. A dozen years ago, however, the perspective was very different. Thus the argument between the enthusiast Blair and the sceptic Brown ground on, wasting time and energy on a project which I thought could never fly.

This is a serious work, lightened occasionally by hilarious episodes. Campbell records bumping into the Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, "raging about hunting. 'How would you feel if we got back into power and passed a law banning Burnley fucking Football Club?'" I wish I'd thought of that.

Churchill and Macmillan could enjoy a little more leisure than any PM today because departmental ministers were, in the main, left to get on with their jobs. Even in the mid-70s Harold Wilson could parry a difficult question about an aspect of, say, Home Office policy with "I refer the honourable member to the secretary of state". Not now. An inevitable consequence of all-hours' media is that those in the centre – in Downing Street – are dragged into all manner of departmental stories. In any organisation there will be tension between those in the headquarters and those down the line. But the tensions are compounded in government by the constant demands from the centre on those running individual departments for instantaneous answers to sometimes near-intractable problems.

Campbell's, and Blair's, frustrations with the Home Office, and me, come out in the diaries. The feeling was mutual. When Blair surprised us all by announcing, via a line written by Campbell, that drunken yobs would be marched off to cash machines to pay on-the-spot fines, Campbell records that this had all "been pretty last-minute because the Home Office had been so useless". We weren't. It was an unworkable wheeze. There are limits to how far it is possible to push water uphill with one's bare hands.

That frustration emerges, in spades, over the fuel crisis that erupted without warning in September 2000. "On the train north TB spoke to Jack and said that we had to get the oil moving out of the blockaded refineries", Campbell writes. I recall thinking how helpful it was to have had that injunction of the blindingly obvious. If only the word was the act. What did he and his boss think we were trying to do (and in the end succeeded in doing) as we worked round the clock to get the tankers moving, from a standing start with no contingency plans of any kind for handling a fuel crisis, and not even a readily accessible map of where the refineries were?

As the government entered the run-up to the 2001 election, the pressures, even on a man with such an appetite for work, began to tell. Campbell records in poignant, sometimes toe-curling detail, the huge toll that his job was taking on his personal relationships. No man, however good, could survive such burdens. So, for what turned out to be just three months after the June 2001 election, Campbell did draw in his horns. But 9/11 – the final day of this volume – changed everything.

The big question, which Campbell asks but does not answer in his introduction, is whether it will ever be possible to secure a better balance between the tactical and the strategic in an age of instant communications. It will be difficult to achieve, but Campbell's latest volume is instructive as both an example to follow and a sign of the pitfalls to avoid.

Colville's magisterial diaries, published as The Fringes of Power, cover 16 years, from 1939-55, but are 20 pages shorter than Campbell's, which cover just two and a half years. This latest volume is an important historical record, but my comradely advice to him and his editor is to cut the paperback version by half. The current volume is a good read, but requires too much dedication.

Jack Straw MP was home secretary 1997-2001.

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:48 am

Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre - review

Are Ed Miliband's Machiavellian virtues enough?

John Gray guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 July 2011 22.55 BST


Ed Miliband on an election visit to Kirkby in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, in May this year. Photograph: David Jones/PA

"It is my rejection of New Labour nostalgia that makes me the modernising candidate at this election." Appearing in a Fabian Society essay during his campaign for the Labour leadership, this sentence by Ed Miliband epitomises what is distinctive about him as a politician as well as his greatest challenge as Labour leader. It was, as Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre note, a provocative statement. "Labour needed to change its economic and political-reform agenda and own up to its massive, strategic errors on foreign policy." It was not simply an acknowledgment of the need for change, however. Ed's declaration also served to weaken his main rival in the leadership race, fixing his elder brother in a Blair-era time-warp from which he has yet to emerge.


Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre

As an exercise in political tactics it was masterly, sealing his claim on the leadership. But while the leadership contender defined Labour's problem, the new Labour leader has so far done little to redefine the party. At a point when the Blairite market state is in deep trouble, Ed Miliband offers not much more than a softer and at the same time more mechanical version of the New Labour project. His stance on public-sector strikes – distancing his party from the unions while urging talks with the government – continues the policy of triangulation that Blair adopted from Bill Clinton. Ed was rightly sceptical about the Iraq war, but backing Cameron's Libyan adventure as a noble example of liberal intervention hardly suggests new thinking on foreign policy. The scandals engulfing the Murdoch empire have presented him with a marvellous opportunity, and he has been quick to act and has appeared tougher than before. Yet bold as he may be as a tactician, Ed Miliband is turning out to be a very conservative strategist.

Exhaustively researched and written with unflagging energy, Hasan and Macintyre's biography of this most enigmatic of recent British political leaders has at times the flavour of a political thriller. It seems that while the book was being written there may have been some tension between the two, and certainly it was written at some speed. But the authors had access to sources that later, more academic writers will struggle to match, and this may prove to be the definitive account of the formative years and rise to power of the new Labour leader. Much has been written on how far the Miliband brothers were influenced by their father Ralph, a Jewish refugee from nazism who left Belgium with his father on the last boat to England in May 1940 and became the most brilliant Marxist theorist of his generation. Both of the brothers saw Ralph as their "lodestar", but if he shaped them intellectually it seems to have been more by communicating a powerful sense of the importance of politics than by affecting the direction of their political thinking. In Ed's case, his mother Marion – a passionate activist – seems to have been a greater influence.

Ralph regarded both the Labour party and the Communist party as radically flawed vehicles for the socialist transformation whose eventual arrival he seems never to have doubted. To a degree this attitude mirrored the times: Ralph produced his most influential work in the late 1960s and the 70s, when capitalism in Britain was going through a major crisis. Even some of its most ardent supporters on what would become the Thatcherite right doubted that the market economy would survive. But when Ed and his brother entered politics in the early 90s it was not capitalism that had been seen off by history. The communist collapse and globalisation had consigned socialism to the memory hole, while the New Labour project of marrying social democratic values with an American-style free market was already taking shape. At several points in their story Hasan and Macintyre puzzle why Miliband did not become an academic political theorist, as some of his teachers and friends believed he might. There can be no doubt that (despite not getting a first at Oxford) he had the necessary abilities. But there is nothing particularly mysterious in his choice of career. While the authors are unable to pinpoint the moment when he decided to go into politics, they make clear that Ed has always been extremely ambitious. Plainly, academic life would have been too much of a backwater. With Labour retooling itself as a party of power, the action and excitement were in politics.

Like Blair, who for a time was viewed by sections of the press as an affable but ineffectual leader – who now remembers the supreme manipulator being mocked as "Bambi"? – Ed has been portrayed as a woolly ideas person not terribly interested in power. The truth seems to be almost the reverse. More than any new directions in policy thinking, it is his decisiveness in securing his position that shines out from these pages. One of Ed's first acts as leader was to get rid of Nick Brown, the party's chief whip, one of Gordon's most trusted enforcers and deeply disliked by the Blairites. His later decision to scrap elections for the shadow cabinet testifies to the same determination to assert his authority. Reflecting the fact that when he became leader he had few friends on the front bench, these are shrewd moves; more surprisingly, they have been generally welcomed as a sign that the new leader will not be the prisoner of any faction in the party. Ed's impressive coolness under fire needs no documenting. What may be less obvious is the extent to which he has shown himself to have some of the qualities that Machiavelli admired in a leader – courage, freedom from sentimentality and an instinctive sense of where power lies.

Whether these Machiavellian virtues will be enough to bring the party back to power remains to be seen. Ed's supporters often describe him as playing a long game, and in normal times his blend of caution and steely determination would be a potent mix. But these are not normal times. The Thatcher settlement – to which Ed defers along with most of the rest of the political class – has collapsed. Wisely, Ed has not joined Blue Labour's march into the dim patriarchal past. But he has yet to offer a way forward. Pious waffle about a new British social contract will not sway voters.

He is also dangerously exposed to events. Labour's weak showing in Scotland reveals what could be a massive vulnerability. Alex Salmond, the most consistently able operator in British politics, will not demand a referendum until there is a realistic chance of winning one. Even maximal devolution could trigger a redistribution of seats at Westminster that would leave Labour beached on the margins of politics.

Europe poses another danger. A Greek default has been staved off, but not for long. European structures are up against two of the most powerful forces of the age – the global bond market and popular will. There is no way the Greek people will accept an austerity programme that renders democracy meaningless and condemns them to decades of poverty. Sooner rather than later, the political class will fragment and new leaders will emerge who will demand that the country exit the euro. In the short to medium term that will be an acutely painful process for Greece, but the impact on the eurozone and the EU will be more damaging and more permanent. A second financial crisis will follow as the markets mark down the banks, and the crisis will spread from the periphery to engulf core European states such as Italy, Spain and Belgium and others that now seem secure. Europe as we have known it is unravelling, and it is hard to imagine David Cameron – whose fathomless opportunism should never be underestimated – not taking full advantage of the situation. It may seem far-fetched, but it is no longer impossible to envision Britain outside the EU after a referendum on membership. Labour will be fortunate if its young prince proves to be as skilful in responding to radical shifts in events as he has been in inching his way to power.

John Gray's The Immortalization Commission is published by Allen Lane.

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sun Nov 06, 2011 3:11 am

You Can't Say That: A Memoir by Ken Livingstone – review

Ken Livingstone has been vindicated, argues Seumas Milne

Seumas Milne
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 3 November 2011 10.00 GMT


A pragmatic populist … Ken Livingstone being interviewed for television in City Hall, London, 2007. Photograph: Martin Godwin

At the height of Britain's political convulsions of the 1980s, the left boasted three charismatic national leaders: Tony Benn in parliament, Arthur Scargill in the unions and Ken Livingstone in the raging trench warfare of local government. Each was subjected to vilification that routinely tipped over into the deranged.


You Can't Say That: Memoirs
by Ken Livingstone

But 30 years on, Red Ken is still standing, having given the Thatcher government a bloody nose, faced down Tony Blair and emerged once again to contest the capital. And he did that with a political strategy that chimed not only with the era, but especially the kind of city London was becoming. As he says in this autobiography: "New forces were changing London, and … I was in tune with them." Before any other British political leader, Livingstone championed emerging social movements – anti-racism, gay rights, gender politics and environmentalism, as well as engagement with Irish republicanism – at a time when to do so was regarded as political suicide. It's rare for any politician to be so comprehensively vindicated: a generation later all those causes have become mainstream.

The contrast with his own background, though, could not be sharper. The most powerful section of this gargantuan book are his memories of growing up in a repressed, working-class Tory household in the south London of the late 40s and 50s. Livingstone never met another child apart from his sister till he was five; his grandmother potty-trained him by "rubbing my nose in the mess"; his parents were so hostile to the publicly owned BBC they wouldn't buy a TV until they could watch commercial television; and his uncle was a member of Mosley's Blackshirts. He recalls his 48-to-a-class primary school being told they were living in "the most advanced country at the heart of the greatest empire in human history".

Escape from such stultification depended on fellow animal research technicians, the upheavals of the 60s and an epic trip across Africa in the company of an ostrich named Horace. But it turns out Livingstone's emancipation wasn't all his own doing: his seaman father had no time for racism, while his ex-dancer mother told her children "how nice" she had found the gay people she had worked with.

This book is not for the faint-hearted: no nuance of the battles for Lambeth's housing department in the 70s is spared, or Labour's tactics to win the 1981 Greater London Council election which turned him into a household name – or, more recently, his struggle to rebut efforts to portray him as a bigot and his mayoral administration as corrupt. But it comes alive in Livingstone's evocation of each period: of the brazen racism of the late 60s Labour right and local Maoist groups organising night-time training to prepare for an armed uprising in the 70s – along with his accounts of conflicts and causes, from Rhodesia and Vietnam to Afghanistan.

It's still startling to be reminded of the scale of the 80s hate campaigns waged against him: he was branded by the Sun the "most odious man in Britain" and by Thatcher as out to impose an "east European style tyranny". The Express described a violent attack on him as "only to be expected" – and all this for supporting cuts in tube fares and equal rights that today even David Cameron endorses.

There were echoes of that during the 2008 campaign in which Boris Johnson ousted him as mayor. The irony is that Livingstone was always a pragmatic populist, more radical American Democrat than Marxist, whose original political heroes were Jack Kennedy and Tony Crosland. But his continued identification with the left – while still managing to win elections – during the long years of rightwing ascendancy was regarded as an offence against the natural order of things and made him powerful enemies.

Throughout his career, however, those enemies regularly rescued him: in the 80s, the banning of his cheap fares policies by the Law Lords, and Thatcher's abolition of the GLC, turned him into a democratic martyr; 15 years later, Blair's shameless rigging of Labour's selection process to block Livingstone helped him win a landslide as London's first elected mayor. Indeed, that election was New Labour's first real political defeat and a lesson that a modern left politics could be electorally successful.

Not that Livingstone's room for manoeuvre as mayor was anything like as broad as at the GLC, for all his success in driving through congestion charging, more buses and affordable housing. There was also criticism from his supporters for embracing the City just as the financial system was going into meltdown, and from others for spasms of offensive irascibility, his stand against Islamophobia and relationship with Hugo Chávez.

It was not that in the end which did for him in 2008, though – nor his stubbornness, without which he certainly wouldn't have survived such a political career. The decisive factor was Labour's deep unpopularity under Brown after the abolition of the 10p tax rate, which overwhelmed the mayor's stronger support base.

Livingstone was in a sense Britain's first postmodern politician, who dined off his celebrity and refused to kowtow to the political establishment. But Johnson – with none of Livingstone's lifelong commitment to London – has outplayed him at his own game, allowing Livingstone to be painted as a truculent has-been. Despite the Tories' unpopularity, the quintessential rightwing establishment Johnson has managed to pass himself off as another maverick, but with better jokes. The odds are currently loaded against a second comeback for Livingstone, one of only a handful of working-class figures still in frontline British politics. But if he were to pull it off, it would be a progressive hat-trick of historic proportions.

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Sat Nov 12, 2011 1:03 am



Full description

Picking up where The Hands of History left off, Simon Hoggart's brilliant new collection of parliamentary sketches takes us from the dying days of Tony Blair's leadership, through the shadow-filled days of Gordon Brown and on to the utterly bewildering days of that comedy double-act Cameron and Clegg. He charts the events that made the news, the faux-pas that should have, and the myriad mistakes that have landed us all where we are now. Above all, he gives us incisive and witty pen-portraits of those responsible for our plight: the belligerent Brown, the unintelligible Prescott, the slippery Cameron and the bemused Miliband This is a hilarious account of a period which, on the surface, doesn't give us much to laugh about, from the master wit of Westminster.

Synopsis

A collection of parliamentary sketches that takes us from the departure of Tony Blair to the arrival of the grumpiest prime minister in recent history, through the expenses scandal - with its duck houses, moat cleaning and porn films - to the last election and the arrival of a new premiere, David Cameron, the man who hates the condom on his head.

Trade review

A new collection of Hoggart's parliamentary sketches from "The Guardian", in which he casts an amused and sceptical eye over the political events of the past 5 years. Takes us from the dying days of Tony Blair's leadership, through the Gordon Brown era and on to the bewildering days of the comedy double-act Cameron and Clegg.

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Mon Dec 05, 2011 11:10 pm

A Walk-On Part by Chris Mullin – review

There is much to enjoy in Chris Mullin's diaries of his influential years before his time in office

Peter Wilby

guardian.co.uk, Friday 25 November 2011 22.55 GMT


Goodbye to Westminster … Chris Mullin stood down in 2010. Photograph: Martin Argles

Who says that politics and politicians have become boring? The late Alan Clark's diaries were turned into TV drama; now, from the Labour side, Chris Mullin's have been adapted for the theatre, with the production currently running in London. They were not an obvious choice.


A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-99
by Chris Mullin

Clark's rampant lechery, his malice towards many supposed political allies, and his devil-may-care flamboyance (he once delivered a frontbench statement while palpably drunk) made his diaries compulsive reading. Mullin, though his diaries are consistently witty and include some very funny stories, is earnest, conscientious and (except towards Peter Mandelson) kindly. He would never write of anyone, as Clark did of Tom King, a senior Tory minister, that "his balls are very weak". Nor would he agree with Henry "Chips" Channon, a backbench Tory diarist of the 1930s and 40s, that "the weaknesses of one's friends are more amusing to chronicle than their dignified conduct". Where Clark punctuates his diaries with tales of seduction, Mullin records his struggles on behalf of asylum-seekers, his compassion for starving Africans, and his progress in extirpating masonic secrecy and MPs' September holidays. But Mullin, as much as Clark, deserves his place in the front rank of political diarists.

The best of these diarists, while they have a degree of access to the inner circles of power, are nevertheless detached. The diaries of Jock Colville, private secretary to Churchill during the second world war and the 1951-55 administration, are of immense value to historians and absorbing to political obsessives. But the diaries of Charles Moran, Churchill's doctor, provide far more illumination about the great man's opinions of ministerial colleagues. Other great 20th-century diarists such as Channon and Harold Nicolson tell us as much about English high society in the 30s and 40s as they do about Whitehall and Westminster.

Nicolson and Clark, it seems, were Mullin's models. Like them, he only briefly reached the lower echelons of government as, in his own self-deprecating description, "minister for folding deckchairs". Like them, he is a precise observer and attentive listener who records gestures, postures, tones of voice and turns of phrase (he notes that in his early years of office, Tony Blair was a serial name-dropper, reeling off the monarchs and presidents he had lately met). Like them, his maverick qualities often make his comments surprising. Though firmly on the Labour left, he repeatedly expresses exasperation with "the benefit culture" that seduces many of his Sunderland constituents. Indeed, for all his reputation as a man of the people, Mullin delivers harsher verdicts on the greed, idleness and ingratitude of visitors to his weekly surgeries than he does on political colleagues.

Mullin covers the entire New Labour era, from Blair's accession in 1994 to the regime's downfall in 2010. The latest volume – as often happens with political diaries and memoirs, they were not published in chronological order – covers the period up to the beginning of Mullin's "four undistinguished years in government" (his words) in July 1999. Paradoxically, Mullin's influence was probably at its greatest before he entered office. After the vindication of his long campaign to free the Birmingham Six, he is Labour's most admired backbencher, "a sane leftwinger" (the Financial Times's description) who, while sceptical of New Labour and its modish jargon, is prepared to give the leadership the benefit of the doubt. He is chosen to second the 1997 Queen's Speech, an honour which he hears about just in time to put on "my one and only suit" before he leaves home. Later, he secures the chairmanship of the Home Affairs select committee, which, he tells Blair, he prefers to a junior ministerial position. He tops elections for the parliamentary committee, and wins the Channel 4 award for Commons Questioner of the Year.

Yet he is eventually drawn to power in the more conventional sense. Resolved to accept nothing less than minister of state, he settles for the lowest rung, parliamentary under-secretary, only to discover, as the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley put it, that he "has been buried as effectively as if he had been fitted with concrete overshoes and dropped into the Thames". His job consists almost entirely of pointless activity and just about his only tangible achievement (at the environment department) is to impose a 10mph speed limit on Lake Windermere. The saddest part of the diaries recounts how, during an interval when he returns to the backbenches, still hoping for something better at ministerial level, he wonders how, in divisions on the Iraq war, he can find "a loophole through which I can crawl, principles and job prospects intact". In the end, he rebels on one vote, but troops "pathetically into the government lobby" on another. His modest prize is to become under-secretary of state for Africa, the only job that makes him at all happy.

When Mullin, after much characteristic dithering, decides to step down as an MP at the 2010 election, he does so out of frustration and boredom. That is the unique value of these diaries: they show, ruefully and entertainingly, the sheer tedium that faces many MPs and junior ministers. Mullin, honest and self-aware, cannot disguise his own unimportance. The other diarists move effortlessly in elite circles: Channon in particular is forever attending London balls and the country-house parties where the big decisions were taken. Beyond politics, they enjoy a hinterland of business, writing and leisure interests. Mullin is too conscientious to deploy his undoubted talents extensively outside parliament. He may dote on his wife and children but he does not, like Clark, collect vintage cars or, like Nicolson, preside over castle gardens.

After reading Mullin, one sees why most politicians will do almost anything to attain and hold on to high office. Mullin himself is not much attracted, as a select committee chairman, by overseas junkets; and, as a minister, he eschews the trappings of power, declining a chauffeured car because, he explains, a bus to Westminster passes the front door of his south London home. But he shows, all the same, why so many MPs are tempted, in the graphic phrase, to sink their snouts in the trough.

• A Walk-On Part: The Fall of New Labour is at the Soho Theatre, London until 10 December 2010.

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Tue Dec 27, 2011 5:11 am

^
Chris Mullin tops poll of MPs' Christmas book choices

Former Labour minister's diaries most popular choice for politicians' stockings

Alison Flood

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 22 December 2011 10.19 GMT


Chris Mullin … topping the Westminster chart. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

A Jamie Oliver cookbook may have topped the Christmas bestseller lists yet again this year, but among the political classes Chris Mullin's latest volume of diaries, A Walk-On Part, was the most-wanted book this festive season.

Waterstone's asked 150 MPs which book they would most like to be given this Christmas and Mullin's chronicling of the time before his years in office came in first, with 4% of the total vote. The title was selected only by Labour MPs, however, with Tories preferring their biographies with a less political edge, and plumping instead for Claire Tomalin's prize-winning Charles Dickens: A Life. Liberal Democrat MPs responding to the ComRes/Waterstone's annual survey went for the satirical Private Eye: The First 50 Years as their top Christmas pick, also revealing a hitherto unexpected appreciation for poetry by choosing Pam Ayres's autobiography as their next most popular title.

Just one novel, Peter Temple's thriller White Dog, made the politicians' overall top 10, with MPs hoping to fill time on the 25th with Robin Harris's history of the Tory party The Conservatives, Alastair Darling's take on the financial crisis Back From the Brink and the late Philip Gould's look at "how New Labour changed British politics forever", The Unfinished Revolution, instead. Jeremy Paxman's exploration of the influence of the British, Empire, Simon Sebag Montefiore's "biography" of Jerusalem and Max Hastings' history of the second world war, All Hell Let Loose, round out a top 10 heavily dominated by male authors.

But all was not consensus. One possibly cash-strapped Labour MP was after the Brick Development Association's Guide to Successful Brickwork, inclusive of "an extensive glossary of brickwork terms for ease of reference", as their Christmas present, while Waterstone's spotted "a sense of humour" in other individual selections. Two "irascible" Conservative MPs were hoping to find Labour's Alternative Economic Plan by Ed Balls and Ed Miliband in their stockings – a title they "helpfully" designated as fiction, said the bookseller – while another Tory politician was after Angela Merkel's How I Solved the Euro Crisis.


"Even if those titles existed, they'd be pretty dry reads at Christmas. MPs are better off with the real books they've selected," said spokesman Jon Howells.


Top 10 books requested by MPs for Christmas

1. A Walk on Part by Chris Mullin
2. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin
3. Back From the Brink by Alistair Darling
4. The Unfinished Revolution by Philip Gould
5. The Conservatives by Robin Harris
6. Empire by Jeremy Paxman
7. Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore
8. All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings
9. Private Eye: The First 50 Years
10. White Dog by Peter Temple

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Fri Jan 13, 2012 4:59 am

Michelle Obama rejects claims of backroom conflict at White House

First lady rebuts 'angry black woman' allegations in new book as election campaign gains momentum

Esther Addley

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 11 January 2012 22.00 GMT


Michelle and Barack Obama. The first lady has dismissed claims she is 'frustrated and insecure'. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

She is a brooding, "unrecognised force" in the White House, a new book claims; in frequent conflict with her husband's aides and quick to impose her disapproving views on the presidential staff.

Not so, according to Michelle Obama, who spoke out yesterday to dismiss the allegations, saying this was merely the latest attempt to paint her as "some kind of angry black woman".

The first lady chose to speak out following the publication of The Obamas, an unauthorised biography of the president and his wife by the New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor.

The book blames a "deeply frustrated and insecure" Mrs Obama for frequent tension within her husband's inner circle, and details ill-tempered run-ins with his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and former press secretary Robert Gibbs.

But in an interview with CBS News, Mrs Obama said she and Emanuel had "never had a cross word". "I don't have conversations with my husband's staff. I don't go to the meetings. Our staffs work together really well. So if it were ever an issue it would go through that channel anyway.

"I guess it's just more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here," she said. "That's been an image people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I'm some kind of angry black woman."

Kantor's book, which she says is based on interviews with 33 White House staffers, describes a "grim situation" in early 2010, after the Democrats lost Edward Kennedy's seat on the Senate to the Republicans, with "a president whose agenda had hit the rocks, a first lady who disapproved of the turn the White House had taken, and a chief of staff who chafed against her influence".

It claims Mrs Obama, whose husband will seek re-election in November, let it be known she felt the administration's "rudder isn't set right", to which Emanuel reacted "indignantly", and that she was furious when he promised her presence at an event without consulting her, responding by refusing to commit to campaigning for the midterm elections later that year. Emanuel left his position in September 2010 and was later elected mayor of Chicago. Mrs Obama said he and his wife were "some of our dearest friends".

Asked by the CBS reporter Gayle King if she had felt frustrated or unhappy in her position, she said: "I love this job. It has been a privilege from day one … If there's any anxiety that I feel it's because I want to make sure that my girls come out of this the other end whole. But me and Barack, we're grownups, all the ups and downs, we take it on."

On another occasion detailed in the book, Gibbs is alleged to have "cursed" the first lady, after another staffer said she had been unhappy with his response to a claim in a book, denied by Mrs Obama, that she had told Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that living in the White House was hell.

Asked about the incident, Mrs Obama said: "I'm sure we could go day to day and find the things people wish they didn't say to each other. People stumble, people make mistakes." Gibbs, she said, was "a trusted adviser … and remains so. He's been a good friend."

Mrs Obama had initially "bristled" at the confinements of her new role, according to Kantor, having given up her own career during her husband's campaign. An early plan to return to the family home in Chicago had to be abandoned when the security demands of their position made it impractical.

Kantor writes that she also "wanted everything to be flawless and sophisticated" as, according to a former aide, she felt "everyone was waiting for a black woman to make a mistake". But, she writes, she grew into her role, becoming more confident and popular as her husband's political agenda faltered at times.

Speaking to King, Mrs Obama did not dispute that her time in the office had been a "learning curve", particularly when it came to issues she has campaigned on, such as childhood obesity. "You start out with these ideas but you have no idea whether what you want to do with them is going to go anywhere. So then you're a little hesitant, you're careful, you're doing more planning and learning than you are doing."

The first lady had agreed to the interview before Christmas, King said, and she spoke with one eye on her husband's re-election campaign, saying: "If I take my 'Michelle-the-wife' hat off, we need this man in office, and he's doing a phenomenal job." Asked about those who felt disappointed by his presidency so far, she said: "They just don't know. This campaign is going to be about making sure people understand about what's been accomplished, I think people are confused … about how much has been accomplished, but that's what you do in a campaign."

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Re: Books about politics

Post  eddie on Mon Feb 06, 2012 4:37 am

Fidel Castro launches memoirs in Havana

Former Cuban president makes rare appearance to present 1,000-page book, Guerrilla of Time, charting his rise to power

Associated Press

guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 February 2012 09.48 GMT


Fidel Castro, left, with Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara in the early days of their guerrilla campaign in the mid-1950s. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fidel Castro has made a rare public appearance to launch his memoirs.

The increasingly reclusive former Cuban president spent six hours presenting the two-volume book to an audience in Havana.

State television showed a smiling, animated Castro wearing a dark tracksuit over a blue plaid button-up shirt. Audio of him speaking was not broadcast, but the Communist party newspaper Granma said he told attendees at the event on Friday that they would hear about "two books you haven't had any news of".

The memoir, Guerrilla of Time, is almost 1,000 pages long and covers Castro's life from childhood until December 1958, the eve of the triumph of the Cuban revolution. It is based on interviews with the journalist Katiuska Blanco.

"I have to take advantage now, because memory fades," Granma quoted Castro as saying.

The 85-year-old stepped aside provisionally in 2006 because of a life-threatening illness and retired permanently two years later, clearing the way for his younger brother and long-designated successor, Raúl, to take over.

Fidel Castro is seldom seen in public, though he did appear at a Communist party congress last April, holding the arm of an aide as he entered to tears and a standing ovation.

Granma said he mused about a wide range of topics on Friday, including visits from foreign dignitaries, world events and technological advances. He reportedly expressed deep opposition to private education and said Cuban leaders were wrong to think that simply by implementing socialism, all the island's economic problems would be solved. "Our duty is to fight until the last minute for our country, for our planet and for humanity," he was quoted as saying.

Castro generally speaks to Cubans through occasional columns called Reflections that are published in government-run newspapers and presented on television by newsreaders.

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