Sex, Lies and Politics: a (rough) guide to the General Election

  • December 10, 2019 07:00
  • Vicky Jessop

The election is almost upon us. All around the country, people will be taking to their ballot boxes and casting their votes for the next ruling party.

At the same time, an intricate system of vote counters, exit poll reports and nervous politicians will spring into action. Though it’s a system that might look complicated to the naked eye, here are a few insights from Philip Cowley and Rob Ford’s book Sex, Lies and Politics which might help to make sense of the confusion.

Fact One: we tend to mis-measure electoral participation

Though it might surprise you to hear it, we don’t measure electoral turnout in the UK accurately- which is strange, as it’s an important indicator of democratic health. Once you take duplicate and inaccurate registrations into account, you have to look at the number of people who are eligible to vote but not registered. Or the students who are registered to vote in two places. Or the people who never update their records when they move house, causing inaccuracies.

Given that we measure electoral turnout by dividing the number of votes cast by the ‘total registered electorate’, this is a problem that we haven’t yet managed to solve… but probably should.

Fact Two: the Downing Street cat can influence how we see politicians

We’ve all heard of Larry, the Downing Street cat, who took up his position in 2011. Larry and his ilk are resolutely apolitical: after all, they don’t care who’s feeding them, as long as they get fed. But this isn’t how they’re seen by the rest of the electorate. In an experiment, members of the public were shown pictures of Humphrey the cat and were told that he was Blair’s cat, and then Thatcher’s cat.

Unsurprisingly, the way that he was received differed depending on his supposed owner, depending on the viewer’s political views. Similarly, our own political attachments colour our views of anything that we associate with politics. Voters around the time of the 1997 election tended to support policies associated with Tony Blair and Labour, but reject identical policies associated with John Major and the Conservatives. We don’t tend to give politicians a fair hearing: bear this in mind next time you hear one of them trying to explain his views on live television!

Fact Three: the average voter is a woman

Given that women make up 51% of the general population and a higher proportion of eligible voters, the average voter is a woman. And the average voter differs from male voters in some interesting ways.

Women are more likely to be undecided voters and make their minds up about who to vote for closer to the day in question. Women say that they are less interested in politics than men- by 70% to 62%- though this policy is reversed when they are asked about specific policies like health or education.

They also have the potential to drive elections. In the past, women have tended to vote in much the same way as their male counterparts- until 2017, where significantly fewer women voted Conservative than men, by a whole 12 percentage points. Are UK voters starting to mirror US ones? Or was this just a blip?

Either way, keep your eyes peeled.

Interested in finding out more about the upcoming election? Check out Sex, Lies and Politics here and order your copy now!


Our pick of Christmas stocking fillers

  • December 05, 2019 07:00
  • Vicky Jessop

‘Tis the season! All around the world, people are thinking about what to cook for their Christmas dinner, who to invite over on the big day… and thinking what to get their friends and family for Christmas.

While we can’t say an awful lot about the first two, we’ve got that last problem covered. 2019 has been a vintage year for books: we’ve published everything from books about the royal family’s corgis to dissections of where our Prime Ministers have gone wrong.

Take a look below at our selection of stocking fillers


For people who like a chuckle

The Weak Are A Long Time in Politics, by Patrick Kidd: an anthology of razor-sharp political sketches by the Times’ sketchwriter, Patrick Kidd. Sit back in your armchair and prepare to be entertained!

Critical Times, by Peter Brookes: a brilliant new collection of acerbic sketches of contemporary political life by The Times’s master of satire, Peter Brookes.


For people who can’t get enough of politics

May at 10, by Anthony Seldon:

The English Job, by Jack Straw: a look at the fractious and long-lasting relationship between Iran and the UK by former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

Exceeding My Brief, by Barbara Hosking: This is the story of a Cornish scholarship girl with no contacts who ended up in the corridors of power serving two British Prime Ministers. Hers is a story worth reading.

Sex, Lies and Politics, by Philip Cowley and Rob Ford: Take a look behind the curtain of a General Election in this entertaining and eye-opening book contains all you need to educate yourself on the ins and outs of politics.

F**k Business, by Iain Anderson: This is essential, often shocking, reading for anyone interested in how Brexit unfolded for Britain’s most important economic movers and shakers.


For people who loved watching The Crown…

Pets by Royal Appointment, by Brian Hoey: it’s no secret that the royal family love their pets. From miniature palaces built for their corgis to crocodiles, hippos and even an elephant, this is the story of the royal animals.  

…And What Do You Do?, by Norman Baker: The royal family: the quintessential British institution or an antiquated, overindulged drain on the taxpayer? Find out here.


For sports enthusiasts

Ciao, Stirling, by Val Pirie: legendary racing driver Stirling Moss like you’ve never seen him before, as told by his longtime friend and secretary Val Pirie.

With Clough, by Taylor, by Peter Taylor: Brian Clough famously remarked, ‘I’m not equipped to manage successfully without Peter Taylor. I am the shop window and he is the goods in the back.’ Find out more about their relationship from Peter Taylor himself.


For people who love their history

Secret Alliances, by Tony Insall: the story of the Norwegian resistance during the Second World War and their relationship with the British secret service.

Double Cross in Cairo, by Nigel West: As part of the infamous Double Cross operation, Jewish double agent Renato Levi proved to be one of the Allies’ most devastating weapons in the Second World War. Find out about his previously untold story here.


Not found what you were looking for? Then why not browse our home page to get some inspiration on upcoming releases- and recent bestsellers?



Brexit has soured relations between business and politics

  • November 29, 2019 07:00
  • Iain Anderson

"I had never been spoken to like that in all my 40 years in business. Put simply, there was no respect.” That’s what Paul Drechsler, the former CBI president, told me about his encounter with advisers at the top of government in the months after the Brexit referendum.

He emerged from Downing Street having been “screamed at” for almost an hour. More recently a major inward investor in the UK told me: “I don’t think the relationship between business and politicians has been this low since the mid-1970s.”

I feel compelled to agree. A more positive relationship between business and policymakers would be good for our country’s long-term future. In my new book F**k Business – the Business of Brexit I unpack what has gone wrong and attempt to chart a path towards putting it right.

Of course it takes two to tango, and for some time after the referendum many in business were in denial. Business didn’t expect to lose the economic argument, and in many ways that argument was never lost. But business has failed to make the positive case for a deal with the EU and that case has not become overwhelmingly accepted by the political class. Three years on — to paraphrase our last prime minister — nothing has changed in that regard.

What has changed is that the locus of the debate has veered off into a Westminster psychodrama that most business leaders — like most voters — find soul destroying. How did we get to a place where a no-deal option became mainstream? I will tell you how. Since the summer of 2016 politicians on all sides have been listening to the Westminster bubble more than to the key players in the economy.

Large and small businesses tell me they feel policymakers pay lip service to their opinions or trust that business has the resources and financial muscle to deal with the uncertainty. Those resources are wearing thin. Business ability to plan is more restricted than at any time since the financial crisis over a decade ago. What to tell staff, customers, suppliers?

Worse, there is clear evidence in recent weeks that international investors are holding back until the political crisis is over. Every day the UK is losing opportunities.

The desire in Westminster and Whitehall to talk to wealth creators is fickle. Policymakers blow hot and cold. It seems it only works when politicians can snap their fingers for business to come running. The mystery surrounding how they want to engage with business needs to be replaced with a transparent system of engagement on the best ideas — not on the basis of who you know.

Business needs to step up to the plate too. It needs to show it is committed to providing opportunity for everyone, not just those in the bubble, and to do so in a sustained and long-term way.

During the referendum itself most businesses were reluctant participants. Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former adviser, told me: “It was hard to get business to speak up. They feared the backlash. George Osborne used to say to me, ‘Don’t count on business to do anything; we will have to do it all ourselves.’”

Quite simply, without business politicians will have very little to do for themselves. Let’s turn a new chapter in relations between business and politics. Right now.

Originally published in the Times on October 8th.

Iain Anderson’s ‘F**k Business — The Business Of Brexit’ is out now and currently featuring in our Black Friday Sale. Get it for half price here


The Black Friday Sale

  • November 27, 2019 07:00
  • Vicky Jessop

Not content with holding an Election Sale, we decided to get in on the Black Friday action and make it that little bit easier for you to get some great Christmas presents for your friends and family- or simply, for you to treat yourself!


From midnight on Friday until midnight on Cyber Monday, the titles below are 50%, with free post and packaging on orders above £30.

Whether you’re looking for a stocking filler, a political memoir or daring historical exploits, we’ve got a great selection below. Browse and be inspired…


Our Pick of Stocking-Fillers

Critical Times, by Peter Brookes

Romanifesto: Modern Lessons from Classical Politics, by Asa Bennett      

The Big Book of Boris, by Iain Dale and Jakub Szweda      

May at 10, by Anthony Seldon

Ciao, Stirling: The Inside Story of a Motor Racing Legend, by Val Pirie

Sex, Lies and Politics, by Phil Cowley and Rob Ford

The Weak Are a Long Time in Politics, by Patrick Kidd




Political Reading

F**k Business: The Business of Brexit, by Iain Anderson

Punch and Judy Politics, by Ayesha Hazarika and Tom Hamilton

The English Job, by Jack Straw

Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England's forgotten towns and redraw the political map, by David Skelton

Nine Crises: Fifty Years of Covering the British Economy – From Devaluation to Brexit, by William Keegan

I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics, by Jeanne Safer

Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire, by Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson

Cleaning Up the Mess: After the MPs' Expenses Scandal, by Ian Kennedy

The Secret Art of Lobbying: The Essential Business Guide to Winning in the Political Jungle, by Darcy Nicolle

Putin's Killers, by Amy Knight


The Royals

… And What Do You Do? What the Royal Family Don't Want You to Know, by Norman Baker

Pets By Royal Appointment, Brian Hoey


Historical Tomes

Who Killed Kitchener? The Life and Death of Britain’s Most Famous War Minister, by David Laws

Glasgow 1919: The Rise of Red Clydeside, by Kenny MacAskill

Shackleton's Heroes, by Wilson McOrist

The Boxer's Story, by Nathan Shapow

An Impossible Dream: Reagan, Gorbachev and a World Without the Bomb, by Guillaume Serina

Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler: How a British Civil Servant Helped Cause the Second World War, by Adrian Phillips




Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry, by Owen Bennett

Not Quite A Diplomat: A Memoir, by Robin Renwick

Exceeding My Brief, by Barbara Hosking

Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite a Gentleman, by Charles Williams

Rather His Own Man, by Geoffrey Robertson

The Slow Downfall of Margaret Thatcher: The Bernard Ingham Diaries, by Bernard Ingham

A British Subject: How to Make It as an Immigrant in the Best Country in the World, by Dolar Popat


Any of our books tickle your fancy? Then why not have a look at our other blog posts, or browse our new releases by clicking here?




Brexit, broken Britain and the case for a Citizens’ Convention on Democracy

  • November 11, 2019 11:21
  • Richard Askwith

ONLY one issue matters right now in British politics: Brexit. That’s what political insiders tell us – and when have they ever been wrong?

Yet there is an alternative view. The question that really matters is what we’re going to do, after 12 December, to fix our broken system of parliamentary democracy.

The warning signs are obvious. Our voting system guarantees that, whoever ends up in Downing Street, most voters will consider the election result a travesty. The ill-considered framing of the 2016 referendum ensures that, whatever long-term outcome we ultimately achieve with Brexit, most people will feel cheated by it. 

These are not temporary dissatisfactions. Over the past decade, confidence in the UK’s political institutions has evaporated. Half the electorate feel that none of the main parties cares about people like them; 47 per cent feel that they have no voice at all in national decision-making; 63 per cent feel that the system is “rigged” to the advantage of the rich and powerful. A £2bn-a-year lobbying industry makes it hard to argue that they’re wrong; as does the obvious social and economic gulf between our legislators in Westminster and most of those they are supposed to represent. (The House of Lords, in particular, is no more representative than the Garrick Club.) 

Even within the political class, there’s a growing recognition that the system is breaking down. Populists lie with shameless abandon, and thrive; old taboos against political violence and intimidation have shattered. Politicians are despised even more than journalists. In Ipsos-MORI’s authoritative Veracity Index, the political profession scored a trust rating of just 17 per cent – that’s less than half the score for bankers. 

It’s not just that people are tired of politicians – although they are. The system itself is losing their consent. Roughly half of the electorate think we need a strong leader who is prepared to break rules, and that we would be better governed if parliament’s powers were reduced. A few fogeys still venerate our constitution, yet the events of the past few months have made it alarmingly clear that it isn’t worth the paper it isn’t written on. We can’t even agree if we’re a direct democracy or a representative democracy.

There’s an obvious solution: reform. And there’s an obvious time to do it: now. 

In normal times, significant political reform is impossible. That’s the first rule of politics: those with the power to make reform happen are those for whom the unreformed system works. So nothing much changes, and the electorate becomes apathetically resigned to the status quo.

But these are nasty, abnormal times, which offer opportunity as well as danger. It is hard (although sadly not impossible) to imagine an incoming government so irresponsible as to leave the UK’s democratic crisis unaddressed. Urgent repairs, commanding genuine popular support, are a matter of simple self-interest for anyone involved in parliamentary politics.

In normal times, of course, there is also a second rule of politics: significant reform is impossible. We can agree easily enough that the old needs to be replaced. But as soon as we start trying to define a bold new alternative, we bicker ourselves to a stalemate. Just look at the turgid history of attempts to reform the electoral system or the Lords. Hence our default position of muddling on as we are.

Today, however, those first two rules of politics are arguably being superseded by a third and more fundamental rule: no democratic system of government can survive without the relatively wholehearted consent of the governed.

This principle was at the heart of my book, People Power, which Biteback published nearly two years ago as part of its “Provocations” series. People Power predicted and dissected today’s disastrous “People vs. Parliament” conflict and argued that the simplest way to resolve it was to introduce an element of direct democracy into parliament itself. Specifically, I suggested that our current House of Lords – a democratic laughing-stock steeped in privilege and patronage – should be replaced, or at least supplemented, by an upper chamber chosen by sortition. In other words, the legislators in our upper chamber should be “people’s peers”: a small, representative sample of the general population, selected by lot from the electoral roll. It sounds far-fetched (although Alex Burghardt MP, having read it for the BBC’s Daily Politics, admitted that “It’s not as crazy as it sounds”). My counter-argument, which sounds glib but is actually deadly serious, is that it is a lot less far-fetched than imagining that parliament can continue without such radical reform.

Two years on, the crisis in politics has deepened – and Lords reform is at the top of no one’s agenda. Yet reform of some kind is increasingly recognised as an urgent necessity; and the idea of giving randomly chosen citizens a central role in the process has become almost mainstream.

When Lisa Nandy and Stella Creasy – Labour MPs supporting Leave and Remain respectively – proposed a randomly-chosen citizens’ assembly to detoxify the Brexit debate and build a consensus on what to do next, their proposal drew support from right across the political spectrum, from Gordon Brown to Rory Stewart, the Financial Times to the Guardian, the Electoral Reform Society to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

More recently, a cross-party grouping including Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas, Dominic Grieve, Tom Watson and David Davis has backed plans for a randomly-selected Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy, to deliberate on behalf of the entire electorate over a two-year period and agree the basis of a new UK constitution.

The design and processes of this assembly have been exhaustively planned by an expert team led from the Centre for British Politics and Government at King’s College London (with support from the Policy Institute at King’s). The big outstanding question is how much backing – if any – a future Government will give it and, crucially, what weight will be attached to its findings. This month, around 80 civil society groups came together to launch a campaign called Up To Us, calling for “a new pact between the citizen and the state”. The aim is to build mass support for the idea of the Convention, so that parties begin to feel that backing it will be a vote-winner. 

I struggle to see how anyone could object to this plan, which transcends party politics. If parliamentary democracy is to have a future in the UK, the ground rules need to be agreed and written down; and they cannot be meaningfully agreed unless the entire electorate feels that its views and interests have been consulted. That’s why the principle of a deliberative assembly that’s a representative sample of the electorate is so powerful: it is visibly fair.

If the proposed Citizens’ Convention does take off, it may or may not give serious thought to the idea of incorporating sortition as a permanent feature of parliament, as proposed in People Power. I like to think that it might, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking.

On the other hand, the case for the Convention itself – a randomly-chosen one-off assembly about the ground rules of democracy – seems irresistible. If you haven’t yet got your head round the idea, I urge you to follow some of the links in this post; and to consider supporting the Up To Us campaign. 

The high-risk alternative is to carry on as we are.


People Power: remaking Parliament for the populist age”, by Richard Askwith, is published in Biteback’s Provocations series (£10)