My book What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us? seems to have divided commentators strictly along age lines.
People of my age – the baby boomers, the children of the sixties – feel I’ve betrayed my own comrades for a mess of pottage. The Guardian’s Catherine Bennett asks pointedly: "Will his personal contribution be enough to stop a future young carer lashing him to a commode or similar?" Have I given myself an unfair advantage in my old age by crawling in advance to those who will look after me? That wasn’t the intention. And I promise to behave gallantly should I see anyone lashing Ms Bennett to a commode.
Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell retort that sixties radicals “joined and energised the radical labour movement campaigns to defend and advance the welfare state during the 70s and 80s.” But they didn’t. They brought their sixties student politics into the unions in those two decades, and it was their intolerance, sectarianism and self-righteousness that brought the unions to their knees by the mid 1980s.
On the other side, the much more youthful Laurie Penny at the New Statesman shook with indignation as she read the book. It "lays out an incisive case for how my parents’ generation squandered the good times and betrayed the courage of the Attlee settlement" she writes. And the Evening Standard's Rosamund Irwun - nearer in age to Ms Penny than to Ms Bennett - says: "Another boomer has belatedly woken up to the problems they have left us — Francis Beckett in his brilliant new book, What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do for Us?"
None of them, however, give me credit for explaining just why the sixties generation failed. It was to do with schools in the late 1950s and early 1960s – a point upon which I shall expand soon in the Times Educational Supplement.
Look out for further comment by Francis on his website.
What did the babyboomers ever do for us? is available from Biteback, priced £12.99.
Writes the author of Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister Nicholas Jones
Any suggestion that the Prime Minister’s headline-grabbing remarks about Gaza and Pakistan were slips of the tongue by an uncontrolled ‘loudmouth’ could not be further from the truth.
David Cameron cut his political teeth crafting punchy one-liners for the likes of John Major and it is farfetched to imagine he would launch himself on the world’s stage without having thought through the messages he wanted to deliver and how he intended to present them.
Cameron’s accusation that Pakistan was ‘looking both ways’ in the battle against terrorism – which set the framework for his meeting at Chequers with the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari – was as pointed as his description of Gaza as a ‘prison camp’.
David Miliband, the shadow Foreign Secretary, rebuked the Prime Minister for having a ‘loose tongue’ and for ‘going off script’ during his visits to Turkey and India. He considered Cameron had created an international mess with his bluster: there was a ‘big difference between straight talking and being a loudmouth’.
What Miliband failed to acknowledge was that Cameron’s skill in crafting punchy soundbites was what originally marked him out as an up-and-coming political strategist after he joined Conservative Central Office at the age of twenty-two.
His job was to hunt for embarrassing quotes and slip-ups by Labour politicians and then ‘think of killer facts and snappy one-liners’ which John Major could use to attack Neil Kinnock.
He was credited with having sharpened up Major’s performance at Prime Minister’s questions and his ability to identify timely anti-Labour ammunition and transform it into ‘razor-sharp script’ lines won him promotion to head of the party’s political section and then the job of special adviser to the then Chancellor, Norman Lamont, and later the Home Secretary, Michael Howard.
Cameron’s track record suggests that his one-liners are entirely calculated. He had every intention of reminding Israel of its obligations to Gaza and of Pakistan’s responsibility to do more to tackle home-grown terrorism.
Early on in his bid for the Conservative leadership Cameron found a neat way to disarm critics of Eton and Oxford education: ‘Yes, I know I have this terrible CV...’
Not surprisingly Cameron knew instinctively how to woo the White House press corps after his first meeting with the US President.
Barrack Obama opened their joint news conference with a sombre seven-minute resume of US/UK relations. Less than a minute into his response, Cameron complimented the President on the tidiness of children’s bedrooms in the White House family quarters.
‘If the President of the USA can get his children to tidy their bedrooms, it is time the British Prime Minister did exactly the same’. When Obama signalled his encouragement, the Prime Minister looked to straight to camera to send a message home.
‘They should be in bed by now...but if not, they have notice from the President’.
Cameron’s easy-going style is beguiling but there should be no mistaking the message of his soundbites: they deliver what he meant to say.
Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister is available now from Biteback, priced £9.99 and you can look at Nick Jones's website here.
Biteback is delighted to announce it has secured the memoirs of veteran broadcaster, Peter Sissons, from PFD for an undisclosed advance. In When One Door Closes, Sissons, one of Britain’s most popular and outspoken news anchors, describes an extraordinary career at the heart of British broadcasting. He says, “I’m delighted to be publishing my story with Biteback and am looking forward to working with Iain Dale and his team on the project.” When One Door Closes is published in January 2011 and is a lead title for Biteback.
Iain Dale says: “I grew up watching Peter Sissons and was thrilled when I was offered the chance to publish his fascinating story. This isn’t just a book about news, it’s about Liverpool, the Beatles, being shot and much more besides. Peter isn’t afraid to launch both barrels when necessary and he gives some brilliant insights into what it’s like working in fast moving news operations and also the difficulties modern day news journalists encounter. It’s a life story, but it’s also a book that will appeal to anyone involved in news or wanting to get into journalism.”
Dominic Sandbrook, reviewing Michael Smith's Six: A history of Britain's secret intelligence service called the book "engrossing", and comments, "As a rollicking chronicle of demented derring-do, Smith’s book is hard to beat. His research is prodigious and his eye for a good story impeccable, and his book, while perfectly scholarly, often reads like a real-life James Bond thriller."
To read the review on the Sunday Times website, click here. You will need to log in to access.
Maggie Hartford of The Oxford Times writes:
Sword-stick assassinations; the slow torture of Rasputin, found with his testicles crushed; a sack tied to a door, containing the remains of a secret agent. Michael Smith’s latest book, Six: A History of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, doesn’t stint on violence. He said: “People have accused me of exaggerating, because the subtitle is Murder and Mayhem, but it’s all there in the facts.”
Mr Smith made his name in 2004 as defence correspondent of the Sunday Times, exposing the Downing Street memos, which rocked the Bush and Blair administrations with suggestions that the intelligence that sparked the war in Iraq was ‘fixed’.
He is uniquely placed to write about spying and spies, because he used to be one.
To continue reading, please click here.
SIX is available to buy here, priced £19.99.