Margaret Thatcher — Zion Lady

  • August 29, 2017 14:49
  • Geoffrey Alderman, The Jewish Chronicle

The Honorary Jew

By Robert Philpot

Biteback Publishing, £20


I grew up in an inner-London, working-class household that was both Orthodox Jewish and rabidly socialist. The idea that any family member might support the Conservative party would have seemed frankly absurd. In my family’s imagination, the typical Tory was middle-class, well-to-do, church-going and certainly of an antisemitic inclination.

Maggie Thatcher changed all that. By the time of the 1983 general election, both my parents were voting Tory and Maggie Thatcher was their heroine. My mother was convinced that the Tory leader must have had, in however nebulous a sense, Jewish roots.

Genealogically speaking, of course, the Iron Lady had none. Margaret Thatcher (née Roberts) was a Grantham grocer’s daughter, schooled in a Methodist environment. But it was precisely this milieu — which encouraged hard work and self-help — that drew her to the Jewish people, a journey no doubt helped by the fact that, in 1938, her parents had taken it upon themselves to give board and lodging to Edith Muhlbauer, a teenage Jewish refugee from Austria and almost certainly the first Jew that the young Margaret had ever met.

But the journey was never going to be straightforward. As Robert Philpot reminds us in his meticulously researched monograph,  some of her early private letters reveal elements of the parlour antisemitism for which mid-20th-century Toryism was rightly infamous. In one, she appears to have felt no shame in referring to a woman who “looked a Jewess… [with] the typical long nose.” But the journey was made, aided and abetted by a small Jewish circle whose influence on her outlook and on her political judgment can hardly be overstated: principally Keith Joseph, Alfred Sherman and Immanuel Jakobovits.

Philpot is at his best in chronicling this remarkable coalition, using material now available from the Thatcher archive. At its centre were Sherman, who had fought for the Communists in the Spanish Civil War but who ended up as Keith Joseph’s speech-writer, and another free-marketeer with East-End Jewish roots, Arthur Seldon (born Abraham Margolis), adviser to the Institute of Economic Affairs.

It was through the IEA and its alumni that Thatcher was introduced to the “Chicago School” of neo-liberal political economy (also, incidentally, built on Jewish foundations: its leading advocate had, after all, been Milton Friedman). But scarcely less important as a mentor was Chief Rabbi Jakobovits, whom Thatcher deliberately put into the House of Lords to counter incessant complaining from the bishops of the Church of England.  

How much of all this reflected genuine philosemitism on Thatcher’s part? At the time it was said that Thatcher, the MP for Finchley, simply knew where her political bread was buttered. But Philpot leaves us in no doubt: she was indeed an honorary Jew.


Geoffrey Alderman is a historian and columnist



  • August 22, 2017 14:00
  • Biteback Publishing

Iain Dale, MD of Biteback Publishing, has acquired world rights to Winning Here by former Chief Executive and Director of Campaigns & Elections for the Liberal Democrats, Lord Rennard.

Chris Rennard’s long relationship with the Liberals, and later the Liberal Democrats, began when a compassionate Liberal candidate helped his disabled mother receive her widowed mother allowance. By his twenties, Rennard was the most successful election campaigner his party has ever known.

He helped the Liberal Party win power in Liverpool in the 1970s and campaigned for Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins in famous by-elections which helped the Liberal SDP Alliance to compete for power before its acrimonious collapse in the late ‘80s. He was then responsible for a series of spectacular by-election victories that rescued his party’s fortunes and he oversaw a huge increase in the party’s number of MPs and elected representatives. Liberal leaders Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg would all rely on him as the party grew to the peak of its success.

This volume of memoirs spans his first thirty years in politics (to 2006) and includes the highs and lows of his party during the leaderships of Paddy Ashdown (including his hopes for coalition with Tony Blair) and Charles Kennedy (including the latter’s enforced resignation after publicly revealing his problem with alcohol).

Iain Dale said: ‘There will never be a better insider account of a political party. Winning Here is a record that shows how election campaigns are really fought and won and how party leaders change and parties develop.’

Winning Here will be published in January 2018 and supported by a major publicity campaign.


Nigel Farage: The Movie

  • August 14, 2017 11:09
  • Christopher Hope

Nigel Farage: The Movie snapped up by Hollywood as studio set to sign £60m deal


The Bad Boys of Brexit will be turned into a six-part film

The Daily Telegraph

13 AUGUST 2017

Coming to a television set near you: Farage the movie. 

A major Hollywood studio is poised to sign a deal with Nigel Farage and Arron Banks to make a £60million, six-part film of Mr Banks’ best-selling diary of the referendum campaign The Bad Boys of Brexit.

The script is nearly finished and shooting will start in the New Year. The series will air in April, once the deal is signed next month at a meeting in Los Angeles.

The story is told from the point of view of Gerry Gunster, a US pollster who advised the Leave.EU campaign, and tells how Mr Farage and Mr Banks won against the odds and ended up campaigning for Donald Trump's successful campaign in the US presidential election.

One source said Mr Gunster will be portrayed as a “respected US expert being employed to control these British lunatics in the referendum.

“It naturally descends into farce - but they win against all odds - he is then horrified that the British lunatics are sent to help a US TV reality star fight for the presidency.

“The farce continues and - guess what - they win and suddenly they are catapulted into the alternative White House to change the world, what could possibly go wrong!”

Casting takes place this Autumn for the £60million series. Mr Farage and Mr Banks are expected to be executive producers, as well as LBC radio presenter Iain Dale who published the book.

Mr Dale, who will sign the deal with Mr Banks and his aide Andy Wigmore in the US next month, told The Telegraph: "Having conquered Europe it seems The Bad Boys of Brexit are about to woo Hollywood. 

"The main question is whether Danny DeVito is available to play Arron Banks. I just hope the writers can capture the humour and chaos displayed in the book."

The Bad Boys of Brexit detailed how Mr Banks, his key aide Andy Wigmore and Mr Gunster worked closely with Mr Farage, persuading him to take part in the famous Battle of the Thames when a flotilla of pro-Leave fishing boats was assailed by one carrying singer Bob Geldof a week before the vote in June last year.

Other less successful ventures include a failed BBop concert which would have featured see members of 1980s pop band Bucks Fizz and an Elvis impersonator.

American Oscar winner Kevin Spacey or Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberatch have been previously tipped to play Mr Farage. 

However the former UK Independence Party leader was coy about who coy about him when challenged by The Daily Telegraph, saying: “I am hoping if they do make the film, I think I should play me. I am really good at being me.

“It will be about Brexit and the start of the revolution of 2016, how Brexit stunned the establishment and led to directly to the victory of Donald J Trump.”

Amazon, the online bookseller, describes the book as an “honest, uncensored and highly entertaining diary of the campaign that changed the course of history”. 

It adds: “From a David Brent-style office on an industrial estate in the south-west, Banks masterminded an extraordinary social media campaign against the tyrannies of Brussels that became a mass movement for Brexit.

“He tore up the political rule book, sinking £8 million of his personal fortune into a madcap campaign targeting ordinary voters up and down the country.

“His anti-establishment crusade upset everyone from Victoria Beckham to NASA and left MPs open-mouthed. 

“When his rabble-rousing antics landed him in hot water, he simply redoubled his efforts to wind up the targets.

“Lurching from comedy to crisis (often several times a day), he found himself in the glare of the media spotlight, fending off daily bollockings from Nigel Farage and po-faced MPs.”



The Greatest Comeback reviewed in the Irish Times

  • July 24, 2017 11:42
  • Biteback

The Greatest Comeback review: a sombre salute to Béla Guttmann

David Bolchover’s biography of the great Benfica coach is a deeply personal project

Keith Duggan Chief Sports Writer


In the spring of 1926 Henri de Rothschild was among the soccer enthusiasts struggling to secure a ticket to see Hakoah Vienna play a New York All-Stars select in the Polo Grounds. The game was a 46,000 sell-out, and the “Unbeatable Jews” were hailed as a marvel. The team travelled to the White House, in Washington, DC, to meet President Calvin Coolidge and attracted more than 250,000 fans on their 11-match tour.

Nathan Straus, a Jewish philanthropist, was at the game in the Polo Grounds. He had donated most of his fortune to Jewish projects in Palestine. Before the match the two teams paraded the pitch, carrying American and Jewish national flags, and both The Star-Spangled Banner and Hatikva, the anthem of the Jewish national movement, were played. When the players stopped in front of his box Straus began to sob. The day was both a triumphant acknowledgment of Hakoah’s brilliant existence and the beginning of their quick demise.

Hakoah Vienna (1909-38) was a phenomenal organisation whose members excelled in many sports. Throughout the 1920s its soccer team and its supporters encountered a degree of racial hostility that David Bolchover believes to be unprecedented. The sides in the famous soccer rivalries of Glasgow and Buenos Aires are, he contends, “just playing at animosity”. Hakoah wanted to promote Zionism and the idea of Jewish athletic prowess. Its football wing was an exoticism; breathtaking in its style of play, a lodestar for the European Jewish community and, in the words of George Kay, the West Ham captain whose team lost 5-0, “the best team I have ever seen”.

For we readers the benefit of historical hindsight shrouds their exploits in a terrible unease. Ten players decided to stay on in New York to play for teams there. At least 37 Hakoah athletes were murdered in the Holocaust. The soccer team was relegated and later expelled from the Austrian league. Hakoah was, Bolchover writes, “a light in the gathering gloom for a few glorious and inspirational years”.

Béla Guttmann, then Hakoah’s centre back, and the subject of this biography, was one of those who stayed in New York. It was one of a series of instinctively smart decisions the Hungarian made during an extraordinary life. His father, sister and wider family were among those who were massacred in Nazi Europe. Guttmann survived, despite electing to return to his native Budapest in 1938, when Jewish persecution was rampant.

Harboured in an attic by Pál Moldován, a Budapest gentile who became Guttmann’s brother-in-law, the former player lived through the Holocaust, escaped from a labour camp and 15 years later established himself as one of the great 20th-century soccer coaches in guiding the Lisbon side Benfica to consecutive European Cups. He was charming, quick-tempered, utterly restless and wedded to the principal of expansive, romantic football. He walked away from his greatest triumph in 1963 because the Benfica board quibbled over his salary.

“I am the most expensive coach in the world, but, looking at my achievements, I’m actually cheap,” he would say later, with some justification.

Two clubs solicited his services. Both began with P. One was Peñarol, from Uruguay, arguably then the best club team in the world. The other was Port Vale. “Such was the parochialism of English football that this is the only recorded approach by any English club to this great manager, a man who spoke decent English after six years spent in the United States,” Bolchover writes.

Guttmann opted for Montevideo over Stoke-on-Trent. He roamed constantly in the years afterwards without ever fully recapturing the totality of influence as coach, life force and tactician. He died in 1981, respected by soccer historians and keen fans but a relatively obscure name in the sport globally.

This is not a straightforward biographical story. It was clearly a deeply personal exploration for David Bolchover. His research and interview sources are impeccable, and he allows that Guttmann’s story became for him a personal obsession. It isn’t until page 266, in his acknowledgments, that we learn he had been working on the manuscript for a considerable time before finding a publisher.

Bolchover is an English soccer man and he is Jewish. He wanted, through walking Guttmann’s iridescent path, to reclaim the Jewish contribution to the development of soccer in pre-Holocaust Europe. And in tracing Guttmann’s journey he seeks to remind his audience of the unceasing scourge of anti-Semitism, “a virus that survives by mutating”, he writes, quoting Jonathan Sacks, former chief Rabbi of the UK.

In 1939, 9.5 million Jewish people lived in Europe. Now that number is 1.4 million. In 1925, when Guttmann scored for Hakoah in a famous 11-2 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv, 200,000 Jews lived in Vienna. Today it is home to fewer than 10,000.

The book’s 11 chapters are preceded by disturbing vignettes of the systematic purging of the Jewish population in central Europe on either side of and during the second World War. Guttmann’s life is in turn inspiring, bleak, heroic and, occasionally, comic, and his legacy is stained by his role in a hit-and-run death in Milan in 1955.

Overall, the book is a deeply sombre salute to a flawed, uniquely gifted soccer man who negotiated a path through the horrors of Nazism. The only wish here is that Bolchover had written his emotional imperative as a more central strand of the narrative. Because, in writing this book, Bolchover was chasing a ghost. And as we read about Béla Guttmann’s pilgrimage from club to club and idea to idea, always searching, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he was doing the same thing.




Biteback to publish book by Oliver Letwin MP

  • July 18, 2017 14:49
  • James Stephens

Iain Dale of Biteback Publishing has acquired world rights to a new book by former Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin from Toby Mundy Associates.

This book is Letwin’s attempt to explain how the central ideas and policies of the modern Conservative party came into being, how they have played out over the period from Mrs Thatcher to Mrs May, and what needs to happen next.

In it he focuses on how one set of politicians has tried to lead the country in a certain direction as a result of holding a particular set of views about what will make it a better place in which to live. Far from being a sugar-coated version of history, Letwin hopes that by telling the story in this way, he will persuade the reader that politicians are capable of recognising their mistakes and learning from them – and to show that social and economic liberalism, if correctly conceived, are capable of addressing the issues that confront us today.

The book also describes Letwin’s own journey from a remarkable childhood with American academic parents, via Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, into the very centre of first the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, and then the Cameron government, where as Minister for Government Policy and then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, every piece of government policy crossed his desk.

It will include Letwin’s personal reflections on two devastating electoral events: the EU referendum and the general election of June 2017.

Toby Mundy said:

‘Oliver has written a grown-up and incisive book about politics — part memoir, part political history, part history of ideas — that I believe will be extensively reviewed and crystallise a wide-ranging debate about the state we’re in.’ 

Iain Dale said:

‘One of modern politics’ foremost thinkers, Oliver has produced a fascinating work that will set the pace for political writing for years to come.’

Hearts and Minds: The Battle for the Conservative Party from Thatcher to the Present will be published in October 2017.