Brought to Book: David Seymour

  • September 08, 2010 09:37
  • Katy Scholes

Co-author of Why Join a Trade Union? David Seymour tells us about his favourite book and more, in Brought to Book.

What is your favourite book?

If ever I was on Desert Island Discs, the problem wouldn't be choosing eight records but one book. Even eight books is a near-impossible choice.
So I am going to cheat here and name not one favourite but eight: The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov (Doestoyevsky). The most fantastic story-telling and impossible to choose between them. Bleak House. My favourite Dickens. Never tire of reading it. Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis. Lovingly detailed and heartbreaking emotion, almost too painful to finish. Love In The Time of Cholera and A Hundred Years of Solitude. Again, can't choose between these magnificent Marquez stories. Don Quixote. So wonderful I drove my children mad reading them excerpts over breakfast. My Secret Garden. May be a children's book but I still cry every time I read it. And finally Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. The most incredible telling of Siegried Sassoon's journey from young country boy to the trenches of World War One.

What was your favourite book as a child?

No contest. The Famous Five, from Five On A Treasure Island through the whole incredible adventures. No childhood should be without them. Even today.<!--more-->

What book did you take on holiday this year?

You expect the man behind The Wire to produce a great book but Homicide is even better than that. It is the story of his year spent with the Baltimore homicide detectives. Wonderful writing, extraordinary stories and then the final kicker - not only is it all true, the detectives are real including their names. Went from that to Trollope's first Palliser novel, Can You Forgive Her? Have read one or two of the series before but picked up all six for £5.95 in Guildford's brilliant Oxfam bookshop recently so they are my new project. If I finish it before my holiday ends (I am still away at the time of writing this) I will carry on with my current project, Casanova's My Life. Up to volume 11. Totally wonderful.

What is your favourite political book/biography?

In third place, the autobiography of Judge John J. Sirica. From log cabin to the Chief Justice who broke the Watergate scandal. The ultimate example of what is remarkable about the American dream. Runner-up, Tony Benn's diaries. Real history and real politics as it was dictated every night, including him washing his socks in a crummy hotel room at 2am after a hard day on the campaign trail. But the winner, to the shock and dismay of my friends, is Margaret Thatcher's The Downing Street Years. And not only because my greatest journalistic triumph was pinching it from under the nose of Andrew Neil when he was editor of the Sunday Times and had paid £3 million for the pleasure of publishing it exclusively. This is authentic political autobiography, no punches pulled, the wings plucked off her rivals with icy disdain, but compassion and concern shown for those who worked with her (how unlike our own recently departed prime minister).

What do you think is the most significant book of past decade?

Difficult, as in my opinion it hasn't yet been written. Has to be about the unfolding disaster of New Labour. So will give it to Andrew Rawnsley's double expose of what went on in government. I had hesitated, but when Ed Balls accused Rawnsley of being entirely reponsible for the "fictional" rift between Blair and Brown, I felt Andrew deserved it.

Which literary character would you like to be?

Is Casanova allowed? Probably not. He was a real person. Besides, I am not sure that the undoubted pleasure was worth the pain of the STDs that followed regularly. So how about Prince Lev Nokolyevitch Myshkin, the idiot in Dostoyevsky's book of that name. He was no idiot at all. In fact, he was an insightful, thoughtful sympathetic man who people considered stupid because of his simple approach to life. The attitude of a child, in fact. Seems to me like a perfect description of a good journalist, writer or politician.

Why Join a Trade Union? is available from the Biteback website, priced £6.99


Hiring Andy Coulson: still paying dividends for the coalition government

  • September 07, 2010 15:02
  • Katy Scholes

Writes Nicholas Jones, author of Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister.

Andy Coulson’s crucial role in helping David Cameron win the backing of the Murdoch press is still paying handsome dividends for the coalition government.

One of his first tasks on being appointed the Conservatives’ media chief in the spring of 2007 – four months after resigning as editor of the News of the World – was to convince Cameron of the importance of aligning party policy with the Sun’s style of campaigning journalism.

Coulson considered his greatest journalistic achievement to be the introduction of ‘Sarah’s Law’, the News of the World’s long running and ultimately successful campaign to allow parents access to information about known paedophiles who could pose a risk to children.

Under Coulson’s guidance Cameron learned how to exploit the mindset of the Murdoch press and he began to tailor the Conservatives PR tactics to take advantage of its campaigns. He promised a ‘forces’ manifesto’ in response to the Sun’s support for ‘Our Boys’; and in November 2008 he supplied a signed article giving his personal backing on the day the Sun launched a petition to force the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, head of children’s services for the London Borough of Haringey, in the ‘Baby P case’.<!--more-->

‘Labour’s lost it’ was the banner headline on the Sun’s front page when it announced that it had abandoned Gordon Brown on the morning after his speech to the 2009 Labour conference. An editorial said the paper believed ‘Cameron’s Conservatives' could put ‘the “great” back into Great Britain’.

The Sun’s support for the Conservatives during the 2010 general election has continued during the early months of the coalition government. Coulson is now the Downing Street director of communications and he has made sure that the Prime Minister has lost none of his flair for aligning himself with the paper’s campaigning journalism.

In mid August Cameron launched the Sun’s campaign against social security abuse with a signed article headlined: ‘People will not get away with fraud’ (Sun, 12.8.2010). The Sun has a hotline number and a dedicated email address for readers to report benefit cheats and has published a succession of stories about ‘scroungers’ and ‘spongers’ living off benefits.

A campaign like this, in a newspaper with a circulation the size of the Sun, does feed through into wider news coverage about the justification for an imminent crackdown and tightening of the rules for qualifying for job seeker’s allowance or disability living allowance, one of the key priorities of the autumn spending round.

Once Coulson was signed up as the Conservatives’ director of communications, after resigning in the wake of the prison sentences imposed in the News of the World scandal over the tapping of mobile phones, he began to work his way back into media circles. One of his first assignments was taking Cameron to the annual lunch of the Journalists’ Charity at which Cameron declared his support for Britain’s great tradition of campaigning journalism; he singled out the Sun for praise for its investigation into the plight of forces families.

The link between Cameron and the Murdoch press is explored in greater detail in Campaign 2010.

Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister is available from the Biteback website.


Why Join a Trade Union?

  • September 07, 2010 11:13
  • Katy Scholes

How was your journey into work today? It may seem that TUs only exist to make our daily commutes a nightmare but in their new book Why Join a Trade Union?, journalists Jo Phillips and David Seymour discuss the merits and otherwise of being a member of a union.

Trade unions: the Labour Party was built on them; Margaret Thatcher set out to destroy them and they made us late for work today. So who really needs them?

The answer is quite simply, anyone who goes to work and who cares about pay and conditions, equal rights, safety and training (or so the trades unions themselves would tell you). Others may call them wreckers and bullies who just want a fight with the bosses, but in a world of portfolio jobs and economic austerity, will people need unions even more for protection or have they had their day along with sheepskin coats and picket lines?

Why Join A Trade Union? is positive, light-hearted and comes just in time.”
Hugh Lanning, Deputy General Secretary PCS

“Bang on, and the jokes aren’t bad either.”
Charlie Whelan

Why Join a Trade Union? is available from the Biteback website, priced £6.99


How and why were we led to war in Iraq? Brian Jones discusses at RUSI

  • September 06, 2010 15:33
  • Katy Scholes

Last week Dr Brian Jones, author of Failing Intelligence and former Head of the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Section in the Defence Intelligence Staff, featured at an event at the Royal United Services Institute. He discussed how and why Tony Blair and George W Bush, using distorted and exaggerated intelligence, persuaded their legislatures and their electorates that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and was therefore a threat.

To watch the talk, please click here.

Failing Intelligence is available to buy from the Biteback website, priced £9.99


Is coalition government the end of spin?

  • September 06, 2010 11:12
  • Katy Scholes

By Nicholas Jones

David Cameron’s relationship with the news media sparked a lively discussion between the blogger and broadcaster Iain Dale and Nicholas Jones, author of Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister, when they debated the issue at a meeting hosted by the National Union of Journalists.

‘Is coalition government the end of spin?’ was the question they had to address. Both agreed that effective political public relations was here to stay and they considered the successful presentation of the new government was due in large part to the way Conservative and Liberal Democrat spin doctors had put their political differences aside and had spent the first few months of the new administration working together.

Jones pointed to Cameron’s success in winning the backing of the Murdoch press and the all-important support of the Sun but Dale said the Prime Minister’s far greater achievement was to have won power without conceding too much to the agenda of either the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph newspaper groups, both of which had a fraught and fractious relationship with Cameron and his cabinet colleagues.

Dale said Andy Coulson, the Conservatives’ media chief who had become the new director of communications in Downing Street, had insisted from the start that Tory and Liberal Democrat spin doctors had to work together to limit the risk of counter briefings and talk of splits; Cameron had warned the coalition’s special advisers they would be sacked if they briefed journalists anonymously to attack each other.<!--more-->

‘Part of the remit of Labour’s special advisers was always to do the bidding of Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson,’ said Dale. ‘And, I am a little sceptical as to whether the line drawn by Cameron and Coulson will hold and whether we will be saying the same thing in two years time.

‘Political journalists are behind the curve on understanding how the coalition is working. All political correspondents are looking for is splits and what they don’t get is that inter-personal relations between coalition ministers are good’.

Jones said it was the tribal loyalties of the Blairite and Brownite spin doctors which had proved such a divisive force for New Labour and it did seem, at least for the moment, that Cameron and Nick Clegg had broken the mould of political public relations.

But if there was any evidence that journalists were being fed with anonymous quotes attacking one side or the other it would be the first sign of a real fault line in the coalition and once a hostile briefing war began, Cameron and Clegg would soon find they were being threatened by instability from within as had been the case under both the Blair and Brown Premierships.

The debate was organised by the freelance and press and public relations branches of the NUJ (1.9.2010)

Campaign 2010 is available to buy from the Biteback website, priced £9.99.