Conference Diary: Nicholas Jones

  • October 05, 2010 15:44
  • Katy Scholes

Labour’s latest broadside against the Cameron-Coulson partnership

Given the skilful way the Conservatives have used the news media to prepare public opinion for the cutback in child benefit announced at this week’s party conference in Birmingham, it is no wonder that Labour MPs are continuing to gun for David Cameron’s communications chief Andy Coulson.

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme – which made fresh allegations about Coulson’s involvement in phone-hacking by News of the World journalists – provided ready-made ammunition for opposition MPs and another barrage of damaging publicity.

But Coulson is standing firmly by his previous denials of having had any knowledge of how the paper’s royal editor hacked into mobile phone messages. This is despite fresh claims by an unidentified former senior journalist that Coulson listened in personally to intercepted voicemails of public figures. Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, has called on Cameron to make a statement to Parliament.
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Nicholas Jones, author of Campaign 2010, says Coulson has a pivotal role as Downing Street’s director of communications in co-ordinating the media build up to announcements by the coalition government about the current spending review. The decision to withdraw child benefit from parents who are higher rate taxpayers was a well kept secret but the possibility of a cut was trailed in both the Sunday newspapers and weekend radio and television programmes, preparing the ground for the Chancellor George Osborne.

Campaign 2010 provides an insider’s account of how Coulson was appointed the Conservatives’ media chief in 2007 and then worked with Cameron to prize the support of the Murdoch press away from the Labour government.

Cameron has been a beneficiary of the style of campaigning journalism favoured by the Sun and the News of the World and under Coulson’s guidance his government is managing to orchestrate favourable coverage for the spending cuts which are now being announced.

Jones says Campaign 2010 gives readers a step-by-step guide as to how Cameron and Coulson succeeded in bringing together the Conservative and Liberal Democrat media teams to promote the first peace-time coalition government and allow Cameron to claim that under his premiership politicians from opposing parties can work together in the national interest.

Nicholas Jones's book Campaign 2010 is available from the Biteback website priced £9.99.

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Brought to Book: Shane Greer

  • October 04, 2010 14:21
  • Katy Scholes

Executive editor of Total Politics magazine and editor of So You Want to be a Politician Shane Greer gets Brought to Book.

What is your favourite book and why?
I don’t have a favourite to be honest. When it comes to fiction I like anything by Raymond E. Feist or Robert Ludlum. As for non-fiction, I’m a big fan of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Drew Westen’s The Political Brain, Bastiat’s The Law and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom.

As a child, what was your favourite book and why?
Anything by Raymond E. Feist. But if I had to pick an absolute favourite, I’d have to go with Rise of a Merchant Prince.

What book would you take on holiday this year?
It depends where I’ve got to in my reading list. But Thanksgiving isn’t far away, so I’ll take a punt and say that I’ll bring Alice Schroeder’s The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (which has been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long).

Do you have a favourite political book/biography?
I don’t have a single favourite. My favourites include those listed above. But to make this a little more interesting I’ll throw in David Plouffe’s Audacity to Win and Joe McGinniss’ The Selling of the President.

Which book published in the last ten years do you think is the most significant?
Significance is relative. But in the world of politics I’d probably go with the Alastair Campbell diaries.

Which literary character would you most like to be and why?
That’s a tough one. But I think I’ll go with Pug (who can be found in almost all the Raymond E. Feist novels). Seriously, who wouldn’t want to be a master magician whose best friend rides a golden dragon?

Shane Greer's So You Want to be a Politician is available from the Biteback website.

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Conference Diary: Paul Richards

  • October 04, 2010 11:40
  • Katy Scholes

William Hague’s speech this week made much of the book sales at the Labour Party conference last week. That Tristram Hunt’s biography of Friedrich Engels outsold both Blair and Mandelson was taken as evidence of a resurgence of communism.

I spent a fair chunk of the week hanging around the bookshop at conference in Manchester, but I didn’t see any communists. I did see a pleasing number of people buying Labour’s Revival, and even more looking at it, and saying they would get a copy mail-ordered. Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU bought a copy. Even Ken Livingstone leafed through a copy.

It is always a thrill for an author to see their work in print (they’re lying if they deny it), and to see people buying and reading it. When Michael Crick from Newsnight filmed me signing copies (as though there was a queue of people wanting a signed copy), it was a highlight of the week.

I hope people who wish Labour well read the book. It’s designed to provide succour to the new leader (I’m glad I left that question open in the book) and a guide to what Labour should do next. There’s a pretty hard-hitting analysis of the failings of the last years of Labour in government. Looking back, it seems mild compared to the revelations coming out in my namesake Steve Richards’s book and radio series. Most of all there’s a plan for Labour’s next moves forward.

Rachel Sylvester of The Times says the new Labour leader should read Labour’s Revival. I know there’s a copy in Ed’s office, but I don’t know if he’s picked it up – yet!

Get your copy of Labour's Revival by Paul Richards for £12.99 here.

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Michael Smith: "publish and be damned" - but hopefully not!

  • October 01, 2010 16:33
  • Katy Scholes

This week is Banned Books week and to coincide with that and the attention currently given to the early days of MI6 as a result of the publication of its official history and my own book SIX: A History of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, Biteback is pleased to announce that it is to publish the original version of Greek Memories. We secured the rights to publish this important book several months ago but have withheld any announcement until now. Greek Memories was the third in a series of four books of memories of wartime published in the post-war period by Compton Mackenzie, then regarded as a leading literary figure, although he is now sadly remembered largely for Whisky Galore and Monarch of the Glen.

Mackenzie was already a famous writer before the war; his breakthrough novel was the critically acclaimed Sinister Street, which has mercifully recently been reprinted by Faber, so well done them. He was serving at Gallipoli when he became ill and as a result entered the intelligence world. Gallipoli Memories is purely about military intelligence although some of the characters he comes in contact with are in fact members of the predecessor of MI6. (I’m using MI6 here to avoid confusion since that is the title we now generally know it by.) <!--more-->

First Athenian Memories covers the early months of his time in Athens, at which point he had been recruited into MI6. Mackenzie paints a very grand picture of himself as the intelligence chief in Athens, although he was in fact tasked to do counter-espionage rather than intelligence-collection. But he was no fool and though he had a penchant for creating mayhem he swiftly expanded his empire. Nevertheless, though it no doubt sailed close to the wind, First Athenian Memories did not reveal any damaging secrets.

That was not the case with Greek Memories which dealt with his secret service activities in Greece in 1916. It was published in 1932 and immediately banned. The publishers Cassell were advised politely that they should withdraw it. It was an offer they could not refuse and, while a few review copies had been issued, contemporaneous court reports state that it was withdrawn on the morning of publication and not a single copy went on sale.

Greek Memories named the wartime Chief of the secret service, Mansfield Cumming. He had been dead for nine years by the time the book was published but revealing his name was still regarded as a heinous crime. More importantly in some ways, Mackenzie had reproduced parts of various MI6 documents at various points in the text and named a number of other MI6 officers who were still living. This was a red line for the authorities who decided they had to put an end to unauthorised disclosures and hauled Mackenzie up before the courts.

Mackenzie was in fact dealt with quite lightly, being fined £100 with a further £100 costs. He took his revenge with the satirical novel Water on the Brain, ridiculing the secret service MQ9(E) and its mysterious ‘Chief’, Colonel Nutting, known only as ‘N’, whose offices at Pomona Lodge were not yet 'officially' a lunatic asylum, but would eventually become one, full of typists ‘feverishly’ typing out reports ‘that will never be read even in eternity’.

Greek Memories was eventually re-published in 1939 in a heavily censored form but the original unexpurgated version has never been published since. Technically it remains banned. But our motto here at Biteback Towers is ‘publish and be damned’ so we will be publishing a special hardback collector’s edition of the original 1932 text in February for the extraordinarily reasonable price £19.99. Since the few copies of the 1932 book trading on the internet would cost you between £120 and £250, with one uncorrected proof copy even priced at the spectacularly grand sum of £880.69, the Biteback edition would be a snip at even five times the price!

Michael Smith is a Commissioning Editor of Biteback Publishing, a former intelligence officer and award-winning journalist, as well as one of the world’s leading experts on Britain’s secret services. He is author of the No.1 bestseller Station X.

Buy your copy of Mick's book Six: A history of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service part 1: Murder and Mayhem now for £19.99.

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Biteback Publishing is pleased to announce the first biography of deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg - published Summer 2011

  • October 01, 2010 11:41
  • Katy Scholes

The book, which so far has only a working title ‘Nick Clegg: The Biography’, is being written by the writer and broadcaster Chris Bowers, and will be published by Biteback in time for next year’s party conference season.

“We’ve been looking to appoint a biographer of this year’s breakthrough figure in British politics,” says Biteback’s managing director Iain Dale, “and in Chris Bowers we believe we’ve found an experienced biography writer in the perfect position to give the background on who Nick Clegg is and what drives him.”

The book will chart Clegg’s rise from MEP to deputy Prime Minister and lynchpin in the historic coalition government. It will also look at the extraordinary family history that helps define him as a politician.

Bowers, 49, is a journalist and commentator, and author of the recent best-selling biography of the tennis ace Roger Federer.

He also works as a communications consultant for the European Federation for Transport & Environment and is a Lib Dem district councillor in East Sussex, he worked loosely with Clegg on revising the Lib Dems’ environment policy in the run-up to the last Lib Dem leadership election.

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