June 12, 2020 16:00
Sarah Wootton and Lloyd Riley
Death and dying have become everyone’s business, so isn’t it time we had more of a say in what they look like?
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed new problems in the way we care for dying people. Decisions about who should receive life-sustaining treatment, communication around the circumstances in which CPR might not be in a person’s best interests and how people can plan for their future treatment are more prominent in the public consciousness than they have ever been.
Once we emerge from this crisis, we will have to find ways to build a better and fairer society and the public’s clear willingness to engage with these issues shows that reforming the rules which govern how our lives end should be near the top of legislators’ to-do lists. This should also focus our attention on the problems in end-of-life care that were present long before coronavirus; problems like the lack of an assisted dying law in the UK.
It is unfathomably cruel that we withdraw mechanisms of control from people at a time when they would have the most value. As dying people come to terms with dramatic changes in their lives and the grief and loss of knowing that time with their loved ones is rapidly running out, we actively deny them an option that would bring so much comfort and reassurance – the knowledge that while death cannot be avoided, the suffering that may accompany it can be.
Our book, Last Rights, sheds light on how this outdated, broken and unpopular status quo has been sustained for so long. It explores how fault lines in society are created by a small minority who hold back the tide of public will and cling on to old ways of thinking, which they believe others must subscribe to.
Dying people have not been listened to. They have been repeatedly ignored, shouted down and gaslighted.
Last Rights draws parallels between the people who spend their final months fighting for the option of assisted dying and those who campaigned for votes for women, equal marriage and other expansions of personal liberty, which once prompted such bitter cultural battles but have since been woven seamlessly into the fabric of society. How will history judge us if we insist dying people must continue to suffer in order to protect a blanket prohibition that nobody can coherently defend?
The case put forward to oppose change is hollow, based on disproven hypotheses and fear-based arguments that crumble under scrutiny. Why are we refusing to learn from the increasing number of compassionate and pragmatic nations around the world which have passed assisted dying legislation? How can we be content with a two-tier system of dying, where those who can afford it can buy the death they want at Dignitas, while others are left at home to take matters into their own hands behind closed doors? Who can justify why, in 2019, Mavis Eccleston was put on trial for murder for helping her terminally ill husband Dennis end his own life?
84 per cent of the British public demand change on assisted dying, but Westminster and Holyrood have shied away from a mature, thoughtful, open-minded consideration of how our laws could be fixed. These are laws which place unnecessary restrictions on our freedom, autonomy and control; laws which can rob us of the option of a peaceful death and our ability to protect our loved ones from having to witness us endure unimaginable pain and suffering in the final chapter of our lives.
The onus should no longer be on dying people and their families to explain why choice at the end of life is needed. It should be on politicians, via formal inquiry, to question how, in the twenty-first century, it can possibly be denied.
Sarah Wootton and Lloyd Riley's book, Last Rights: The Case for Assisted Dying, will be out on 23 June. Take a look here!
June 05, 2020 09:00
Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson
Ahead of the publication of Rule Britannia in paperback, authors Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson take a look back the past two years of electoral chaos and what that might mean for Britain going forward...
Who now remembers 2019, a year of panic and chaos, in which so many Brexit deadlines were missed, promises to die in ditches were not kept, and eventual claims were made that Brexit was ‘done’ and ‘we’ had taken back control? The first edition of this book ended in January 2019, when all this was to still come.
After the fireworks and triumphal gong-banging came a global pandemic that wiped Brexit off the headlines and out of minds. This edition of Rule Britannia is an updated version, revealing the truly sorry story of 2019 and the first half of 2020, a time when notions that Britain could embrace a new post-imperial identity, and that a civilising process could begin, rapidly disappeared. The low points of 2019 included the appointment of a special advisor in No. 10 who planned to employ ‘weirdos and misfits’, and the spreading of a now demonstrably false narrative that people in deprived northern areas had won the Leave vote.
This is a hopeful book. However, for those who relish misery we point out that, long before the word pandemic was uttered, every sector of the British economy was in deficit; more and more British children were growing up in poverty; homelessness had become normal; the nation was living on borrowed money with increasingly poor mental health; and Iain Duncan-Smith’s universal credit was revealed to be a cruel universal failure. The British state was already in crisis.
It was a year of elections, votes and lies. The Conservatives lost 1330 local councillors in the spring elections, while Labour lost just 84. Nevertheless, this was reported by the BBC as ‘voters delivering a stinging rebuke to both parties’. And at this time (the last time local elections were held anywhere in the UK), despite claims that far right movements were rising, in fact support for the far-right was declining rapidly in Britain. This good news was overtaken on 24 May when Theresa May resigned.
The Tory leadership contest which followed demonstrated again the influence of an elite, the same group whose forbears were used to running an empire, with all the feelings of entitlement and self-interest that entails. Most of the thirteen candidates were privately schooled Oxford alumni, and a man whom only 10 per cent would trust to babysit their children was elected leader of the Conservative Party: Boris Johnson.
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn had expanded its membership to over half a million, but the leader continued to be demonised. His support for the two-state solution in Israel-Palestine was behind the campaign to paint him as an anti-Semite. It was ironic that the spending programme on which Labour was defeated in the general election in December 2019 was adopted and then doubled in size, at least in scale, by the Tories in spring 2020, when billions were promised to shore-up a locked-down population and economy. It turned out that such generous spending was possible.
The Conservative government continued its imperious trajectory. MPs defeated in the general election were elevated to the House of Lords. Dominic Cummings, who had been found in contempt of Parliament in March for refusing to appear before a select committee, was appointed special advisor. Privy to insider information, when he fled London for Durham he made clear what he thought of those he left behind, those who continued to follow the lockdown instructions he had help devise.
This is not a book about the Covid-19 virus, of which hundreds of books will be written. Instead this book tries to explain why Brexit is so closely mixed up with a particularly abject lack of knowledge about Britain’s imperial past and a deep anxiety about Britannia’s place in the world, combined with a nostalgia for days about which we do not tell ourselves the truth. The British have been presented with lies about their future out of the European Union, by people who are so used to lying they may not know remember what it is like to speak honestly.
This book ends with the good news. There is hope for the future, but it will not involve taking back control or rekindling a lost empire.
Rule Britannia is available to pre-order now as a paperback and will be out on 23 June. Take a look at it here!
May 19, 2020 12:00
An exposé of South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry
Publication date: 16 June 2020
Price: £14.99 paperback
In April 2019, Lord Ashcroft published the results of his year-long investigation into South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry. Over eleven pages of a single edition of the Mail on Sunday, he showed why this sickening trade, which involves appalling cruelty to the ‘King of the Savannah’ from birth to death, has become a stain on the country.
Unfair Game features the shocking results of a new undercover operation Lord Ashcroft has carried out into South Africa’s lion business. In this powerful exposé, he highlights the increasing dangers to public health which lions and their body parts pose. Just as China’s wet markets are widely considered to have led to Covid-19, some experts predict that the rampant trade in lion bones will spark another major health crisis.
The book also shows how wild lions are being captured to widen the gene pool of the country’s 12,000 captive-bred lions; details how tourists are unwittingly being used to support the abuse of lions; and demonstrates why Asia’s insatiable appetite for lion bones has become a multi-million-dollar business linked to criminality and corruption which now underpins South Africa’s captive lion industry.
Lord Ashcroft proves that novel ways of hunting captive-bred lions in enclosed spaces for ‘sport’ are being dreamt up by lion traders all the time, including killing them with dogs; and he confirms that the trade in cross-breeding lions and tigers to produce freaks of nature known as ligers – which are sold for thousands of dollars – is thriving.
Perhaps most disturbingly, Unfair Game reveals how South Africa’s laws and authorities have enabled the small group which controls the lion industry to profit from this misery. The book’s shocking conclusion shows that the reluctance to tackle this most pressing issue has even reached the highest levels of the police force.
Lord Ashcroft further uses this project to renew his call to the British government to ban the import of captive-bred lion trophies.
Commenting on Unfair Game, explorer and conservationist Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who has written the foreword, says: “Lord Ashcroft’s investigation of the captive-bred lion industry is timely, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. It is our responsibility to hand over the baton to the next generation with South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry consigned firmly and permanently to the dustbin of history. I hope sincerely that this book will go a long way towards helping to do just that.”
Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. He is a former treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. He is also honorary chairman and a former treasurer of the International Democratic Union. He is founder and chairman of the board of trustees of Crimestoppers, vice-patron of the Intelligence Corps Museum, chairman of the trustees of Ashcroft
Technology Academy, chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, a senior fellow of the International Strategic Studies Association and a former trustee of Imperial War Museums. His books include Victoria Cross Heroes: Volumes I and II; Call Me Dave: The Unauthorised Biography of David Cameron; White Flag? An Examination of the UK’s Defence Capability and Jacob’s Ladder: The Unauthorised Biography of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
For more information please contact James Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org
May 11, 2020 09:00
For the Biteback Book Festival, we were lucky enough to chat with Margaret Thatcher's only female private secretary, and author of our book People Like Us, Caroline Slocock. Though the interview initially took place on Twitter, we're publishing a slightly-edited version here for you to enjoy...
Welcome Caroline! What was it like being the only female private secretary to work for Margaret Thatcher?
I was the first woman Private Secretary at No. 10. Women were unusual – I was the only other one in the Cabinet Room when Mrs Thatcher resigned. We both knew you had to work harder than a man to be accepted but I also knew she‘d ruled out women in my role, before. She preferred men. I was an outsider and I didn’t share her politics, but I was in her inner circle of five.
I was fascinated by her and as a woman saw things most men didn’t. For example, I saw her insecurity: her challenging behaviour toward her ministers was a response to her feeling undermined, I thought. I saw her cry in front of her Cabinet when she resigned. Having seen events over the previous eighteen months, I thought she was right to go, but as a woman I also understood why she felt angry at and betrayed by her colleagues.
What made you want to become a civil servant?
It wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to become an academic (and a novelist), but the jobs in English departments dried up due to Thatcher’s cuts of arts departments. My PhD supervisor suggested the fast stream civil servant after I’d been unemployed for a year. I applied to the civil service because I thought good administration, whatever the government, was important. I believed as I still do that civil servants should serve the government the people elect, faithfully and well. Bad policies become even worse, if executed badly.
How did you get the job as private secretary?
I slipped through the net. Permanent Secretaries were told not to put forward women as Mrs Thatcher did not want them. But mine refused to go along and the new No. 10 Principal Private Secretary did not know about the edict. He put me in a short list of one, and she interviewed me. The interview was one-to-one, and I was terrified because I couldn’t stand her image or her politics and knew her views on women. She brought blue hyacinths from her flat – ‘I thought you’d like them, Caroline’ – placed them between us, listened and then accepted me. We clicked.
Was she very different in person to the way in which she has been remembered in the media?
She was far more feminine than media images suggest- for example, than the Spitting Image puppet in a man’s suit. Misogyny and stereotypes play a part in this. Across history powerful women have been portrayed as men, and dangerous too. There are good reasons for hating her but these don’t justify the effigies of her as a witch which were burnt at her death. We still see this misogyny today, for instance, with the “Kill the Bitch’ chants against Hilary Clinton at Trump rallies, with T-shirts showing her as Medusa’s severed head.
What’s your favourite memory of working for Margaret Thatcher?
I was at her side during trips and it was good to see her more relaxed. We visited the Rovers Return in Coronation Street and she was offered a drink by Bet Lynch. With the bouffant hair and the big personalities, they were oddly similar! They were both acting, in a way.
It's tempting to think of the big things - that final Cabinet - but tiny things capture her too. Once she spotted that the hem of my skirt was coming down and offered to take me up to the flat to hem it up for me. I refused and said I'd use sellotape instead. Shame, really.
How do think she would have handled this crisis?
She would have been thinking ahead more, and been more across the detail than Johnson, challenging scientists and her own Ministers and coordinating everything. She was a scientist, and would have mastered the science, not let experts completely master her. And I think she would have taken a global leadership role like she did (well ahead of her time) on global warming, going to the UN to seek international action to tackle it. I believe that she'd also be convening world leaders.
What did you move onto after she resigned?
I went to the Treasury, and eventually left the civil service to become CEO of the Equal Opportunity Commission, where we tackled the discrimination women face at work and the systemic barriers they face. It was a fantastic, important job – and it also helped me write this book.
How do you think politics has changed since Thatcher’s era?
No. 10 has far more power now and that’s not a good thing. It’s trying to do too much from the centre, it’s been trying to control the media (for example, not putting up Ministers until recently to the Today programme), and even prorogued Parliament when it got in the way. It’s vital politicians are challenged and scrutinised, it’s bad for government when unaccountable and unelected advisers in No. 10 gain too much power. This caused Thatcher’s Chancellor to resign (and ultimately her) and more recently Johnson lost his.
Power corrupts. Command and control models, which were intensified under Blair and Brown, don’t work well: you just can’t do everything from the centre. Communities are being far more effective in the crisis than the government in getting practical help to where it’s needed, for example.
Do you think that today’s female politicians still struggle to make their voices heard?
Definitely. Recently, Sarah Wollaston complained that women were still being ridiculed in Parliament for their high pitched voices, something that happened to Thatcher. It's a sign that women are still struggling to be heard in what is remains a world dominated by male voices.
Caroline Slocock's book, People Like Us, is available here. Or, if you're curious to read more from our great authors, why not check out the rest of our blog posts?
April 26, 2020 10:00
For the last day of the Biteback Book Festival, we talk to one-time press officer to Harold Wilson and Tedd Heath, Barbara Hosking...
What made you want to write your memoirs at the age of 90?
My friends made me write them because they said, ‘You keep on after dinner or after lunch, telling us all about what you did and you’ve got these lovely stories, so why on earth don’t you write them down, so other people can have them?’ It’s a big job: it took me about a year and bit!
What do you miss now about your childhood?
It was lovely because we didn’t have all this technology. We didn’t have laptops and iPhones and all this stuff, which I’m not terribly good at and I find very confusing. I can do it, but it does take me a while.
What were Harold Wilson and Ted Heath like to work for? Ted Heath had a fearsome reputation; was he difficult to get along with?
I was very careful with him to start with because he had that reputation. He had a big temper, and he was difficult and wanted things to be absolutely accurate and right. I was careful with him, but I found that I got on very well with him for two reasons. One was that his life apart from politics was the arts. So was mine, so I had that in common with him. Then I agreed totally with his wish for us to go into Europe, so I loved my time with him because I was doing what I believed in.
What do you think about Brexit?
Brexit? It breaks my heart. It really breaks my heart. It’s the wrong thing to do. We should stay in Europe and be an important part of it, and help to direct it, instead of reneging on it and going on our own. We’re just a little foggy group of islands in the North Sea, and without the EU we’ll come under the orbit of the US and just do what Trump wants. It’s going to be awful for our children.
What was the favourite job you ever held?
I think my favourite job was probably the last one I did, when I was deputy chairman of west country tv. Because I was in a position of authority, and I had a great deal of control over what we did, and so I could get programmes in the Cornish language on our screens, and everyone complained and said it cost a lost of money. And I said, it’s very good for our image. So we did it.
Do you think politics has become more polarised?
No, I just think that the Labour party has been out of politics for a while. It was so busy with itself trying to- I don’t know what it was trying to do, go very left wing, sort of strike out in some new extremely left wing way for itself- but it didn’t take any notice of the fact that it should have been Her Majesty’s opposition, and doing that job well. Democracy needs an opposition.
What do you think about Keir Starmer’s appointment to Head of the Labour Party?
It’s an excellent appointment, because he’s got the stature and the public respect to be a proper leader of a party, and I think that he’ll do a very job. However, he’s also got to bind up all the different parts of the Labour party and make it into an opposition. There’s a lot to do, but the person I actually feel sorry for is the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. He was really a good weather Prime Minister, a jolly, happy cheerful guy, and he goes into the worst crisis this century. It must be hard on him.
The issue of sexual assault has become more mainstream in recent years, with several politicians talking about their own experiences in the House of Commons. Do you think the culture around this is slowly changing?
Yes, I do. I think that the attitude to working women has changed a great deal. When I first started working, which was in 1945-46, just after the war, women were expected to put up with the odd sort of, slap on the bottom or an almost-grope. And you were expected to put up with it. Abuse is such a vague expression, because I used to think that abuse meant, you know, that it had to be hands on. Whereas today it’s much more nebulous: it’s very difficult to know what it means.
Do you think women find it hard to get their voices heard in politics?
I think that Mrs Thatcher did. There she was, coming into the House of Commons with a burning ambition, and a very good sharp mind and good looks, and she just had to do the best she could. She would be insulted by these Tory MPs. I wish it wasn’t like that but it is.
You’ve lived a long time! What’s your secret to staying young?
It’s being with young people. I love to be with people younger than myself: I love to listen to them and know what they’re thinking. I love to probe them and ask them what they mean by these grand statements. But I am totally energised by people. I don’t like being on my own; I haven’t been to a shop for a month. All I see is Margaret, which is lovely. She’s marvellous.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading all sorts of things. I’m reading what’s here, but I have been catching up with writers that I haven’t read, like White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I found her a bit difficult at times, but I liked it and I thought I was quite moving. I’m also reading a non-fiction memoir called White Muguls by Williams Dalrymple, about the English in India two hundred years ago, when they turned into muguls. They had stacks of money! So they took up their ways and often moved to Islam. They really went native.
Barbara's book, Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant, is out now and only £4.99 until the end of today. Take a look here!