October 01, 2019 12:59
September 24, 2019 10:19
It’s been a tumultuous year in British politics. No-deal is on the horizon, Parliament are popping in and out of the Houses of Westminster like a jack-in-the-box, and several key politicians are causing waves as they continue to make their Brexit dreams a reality.
But what does it all mean? What should you know about the political landscape we’ve found ourselves in, and who do you need to keep tabs on as the weeks roll towards 31st October?
Worry no more. We’ve got the definitive list of Brexit books that you should be getting stuck into.
Jacob’s Ladder, by Lord Ashcroft
Want to know more about the man behind the Mogg? The man who once declared that ‘unsalted butter is a crime against the Holy Ghost’? Jacob Rees-Mogg has had a long and colourful career in politics, but never has he taken centre-stage quite like he has now. From his childhood to his beginnings in Oxford, find out more about the politician who has had such a hand in shaping the country’s Brexit policy. Written by Lord Ashcroft, it’s baffling and fascinating in equal measure, and a great introduction to the world of the backbencher.
The Big Book of Boris, by Iain Dale and Jakub Szweda
What can be said about Boris Johnson that hasn’t been said already? Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Johnson’s magnetic personality and force of will have seen him thrive in the Westminster arena and reshape politics in his own image. What better time, therefore, to dive into the book that brings together the best of his quotes- from his time as Foreign Secretary to his declaration that his chances of being Prime Minister were equal to his ‘being reincarnated as an olive’?
F**K Business, by Iain Anderson
Business and politics go hand in hand… but what happens when one of them becomes ever more unstable? What do economists do when they feel that they can’t trust politicians? With the relationship between the two always changing, it’s time to swot up on how the relationship between Parliament and business might impact us all when Brexit finally does happen. Leading you along this thorny path is Iain Anderson, whose ringside seat in the political and economic arena has given him unparalleled insights into what went wrong, and how we can fix it.
Punch and Judy Politics, by Ayesha Hazarika
We’ve all seen it on television: the Leader of the Opposition nailing the Prime Minister down on a technicality, and the Prime Minister firing back with a wounding statistic about their rival. If you’re looking for an introduction to the tradition-laden and often confusing world of Prime Minister’s Questions- the ultimate game of cat and mouse- then look no further. Full of funny anecdotes, history and (most importantly) information about how it actually works, it’s the book to have at hand as you watch Boris Johnson battle his recalcitrant Parliament.
The Weak are a Long Time in Politics, by Patrick Kidd
When politics becomes satire, then sketch writers have a field day. And that’s exactly what Patrick Kidd has done: faced with an abundance of political silliness, he’s compiled a list of sketches from the past few years and put them into one big book. By turns funny, groan-worthy and gobsmacking, it’s a book you’ll have a lot of fun reading- and a surprisingly sharp account of Parliament’s descent into utter lunacy.
Not had your fill of Brexit antics? Why not check out our Twitter feed to catch up with the latest news at Biteback, or – even better- subscribe to our newsletter to receive our monthly newsletter All Things Politics?
September 19, 2019 10:15
Everybody who knows anything about motor racing knows the name of Stirling Moss, the first real professional motor racing driver. During the twelve years that he raced, he was runner-up in the World Championship four times, often driving inferior cars, but he was never the winner. He also championed the cause of the British motor racing industry, often preferring to drive a British racing car whenever possible.
On his 90th birthday, we chatted to Val Pirie, the author of the newly-published book Ciao, Stirling, which offers a new insight into the life of his extraordinary man, and their close friendship.
Read on for more!
Hello, Val! In your own words, tell us what your book is about.
No-one knows what Stirling was really like when he wasn’t racing, or what he did after the accident that put him out of racing. There is a plethora of books about his racing, but nothing about his life behind the scenes, or what he did after he had to give up the only way of life that he knew. He had few real friends and unfortunately, most are now no longer around.
Stirling is one of the nicest, most honest people in the world but he has always been rather shy and no-one can appreciate just what a kind, caring, yet sometimes infuriating person he is!
We all have our foibles, and Stirling is no exception. He has chosen his few friends with care over all the years that he has been in the public eye. He is a private person and I only hope that I have done full justice to my best friend and mentor.
What made you want to write the story of what Stirling Moss is like?
None of his family have fully understood why we were - and are - such close friends. We have stuck up for each other through thick and thin, and continue to do so.
He is my best friend and I felt that people should know about him as a person.
When I first joined Stirling Moss Ltd, there were two camps: Moss and Hawthorn. (i.e. those who thought Mike was the greatest and did not like Stirling and vice versa). They were liked and loathed in equal measure and I wanted to put the record straight because no-one, apart from Stirling's friends, actually knew the real Stirling Moss and what made him tick. In fact, when people used to accost me and say that they didn't like Stirling Moss, I would always ask them if they had met, or knew, him.
They hadn't and didn't!
What was Stirling like to work for?
A perfectionist! What else can I say? Living up to the expectations of a perfectionist is always difficult, particularly when you were supposed to be a mind reader - even though one was 'never paid to assume'!
To say it was a challenge would be quite an understatement!
What was your favourite part of the job?
I didn't look at it as a job: more of a rollercoaster.
One had to be prepared to do anything at the drop of a hat. This certainly taught me to look after my own affairs later on in life, but it also made me into a workaholic, which I still am today as an octogenarian!
What’s your favourite anecdote about working for Stirling?
There are several, because we rushed around all over the place as the job took on different aspects but I suppose doing things on the spur of the moment were the most memorable, because Stirling normally used to plan ahead with the utmost detail. Acting off-the-cuff was unusual! The only time I had to sign his name on official documents, along with him signing a similar stack of documents, simply amazed me, as did 'hitch-hiking' in the East End of London and acting like naughty schoolchildren afterwards, the driver being completely unaware of who he was transporting, were the first to spring to mind but there are many others mentioned in the book.
What’s your writing process like? How long did it take you to write the book?
It actually did not take me very long in terms of writing but, because I am such a busy person, it took longer than I would have liked. It probably took longer dealing with the publishers!
I first started writing it on my knee when I was travelling. I even scribbled around the type on the front pages of newspapers, which I then transcribed onto a document when I had time!
Writing about things that happened so long ago, when things - and London - were so very different was great fun. As were the people of the day. London was like a village, which is more than one can say of it today. According to Stirling, though, it is still the centre of the world!
Are you planning on writing another book after this?
Yes, but not a biography.
I have had the outline of a children's story in my mind, which my daughter has been asking me to resurrect, for ages and I have thoughts about another fiction book as well.
It is difficult to know which one I will pursue first or whether either will be printed but it is good to keep one's mind occupied and one's fingers doing something other than housework!
Do you still watch motorsports?
Only if I have to!
Thank you, Val!
Ciao, Stirling is out now in hardback. Get your copy here- or read more about the man himself in this article from Motor Sport.
July 09, 2019 10:48
Harvey Elliott, the 16-year-old whose move from Fulham to Liverpool is being widely predicted, is just the latest in a long line of players who have found it impossible to resist the lure of Anfield – even when the club was in the Football League’s old Second Divison...
In the summer of 1960, Gordon Milne found the appeal of a move to Liverpool FC irresistible even though it meant leaving Preston North End who were in the old First Division and going down to the Second.
Milne, who had just come out of the army after doing his national service, says: ‘I’d played 80-odd games for Preston in the late Fifties and I’d also played for the army team, which in those days was a good strong side.’
First Arsenal made an approach for the newly demobbed Milne, before Bill Shankly, the recently appointed Liverpool manager who had played for Preston, expressed an interest. ‘You don’t want to go to London, son,’ Shankly, a Scot who specialised in succinct advice, told Milne after making a special trip to see him.
He also told Milne, ‘We’re a sleeping giant’, a reference to the fact that Liverpool, who had won their fifth League title in 1947, were now in the second tier and still looking to win the FA Cup for the first time.
‘I’d read about Shanks,’ Milne says. ‘He was just an enthusiast. His passion was for football and he believed in Liverpool. He knew what he wanted and he knew how the game should be played – simple and straightforward. He always emphasised the team, players complementing one another.
‘But at the time it worried me whether I’d made the right decision by turning down Arsenal, who were in the First Division. It was only in the long term it turned out to be the best move I ever made.’
Liverpool paid £16,000 for Milne with the player receiving the statutory tenner as a signing-on fee.
‘Shanks had started building at that time and I was the first one of that team he signed,’ Milne says. ‘Afterwards he signed Willie Stevenson, big Ron [Yeats], Ian St John and Peter Thompson. This group joined what they’d already got there: Tommy Lawrence, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Ian Callaghan and Roger Hunt.’
Milne did not start well. His first-team debut was against Southampton in a Second Division match at Anfield a few weeks after joining the club. It ended in a 1-0 defeat.
‘I always remember Joe Fagan, who was number three behind Shanks and Bob Paisley, coming to me. Joe had a different nature from the other two, a softer nature. Joe said, “The manager thinks it’d probably be better if you had a little spell in the reserves. Moving clubs is a big thing.”
‘In those days you didn’t challenge things. There wasn’t the arrogance among players there is now.’
After that faltering start against Southampton, Milne would become a key member of one of the great teams of English football in the twentieth century. He made more than 200 appearances for the club, helping them win League titles in 1964 and 1966.
In 1966, as an international player, he narrowly missed out on selection for England’s World Cup-winning squad.
Milne has mixed memories of the loss to Southampton on his debut.
These include being driven to Anfield by his dad with his mum and Edith, his wife-to-be, coming along, too.
‘There was no meeting at a hotel or anything like that. You just turned up at the ground. It was a wet night, we parked in a side street and walked to the ground.’
When they went back to the car after the game, they found it jammed in by other parked vehicles.
‘Now I’d just signed for Liverpool and we’re standing there wondering what to do. Some fans came by who recognised me. “Oh, there’s Gordon Milne. Let’s go and help.” And they bounced the car out. They bounced it so my dad could get the front of the car out. “Don’t worry about the game,” they said. “It’s only your first game.” All this sort of stuff. Typical Scousers.’
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.
July 08, 2019 12:41
Justin Marozzi, Sunday Times
Sunday Times Review:
The English Job by Jack Straw
Jack Straw, the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution, experienced this at first hand in 2015 while travelling there with his wife and two friends. What had been intended as a cultural adventure swiftly became a “forced conscription into a thriller”, as they faced menace, intimidation and hostility from gangs of Basij goons, the shadowy militia of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Visiting a famous tree supposedly planted by Noah’s son Japheth several thousand years ago, Straw was formally presented with a two-page leaflet detailing why he was not welcome in Iran.
This consisted of a long charge sheet of national humiliations, from the 1857 Paris Treaty and the Reuters and tobacco monopolies of 1872 and 1890 to “the stealing and looting of Iran’s oil” from 1901, the British-led coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 and the support given to Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–88.
To take just one of these grievances, the Reuters concession gave the German-born British entrepreneur Baron Julius de Reuter the monopoly right to build railways, canals, irrigation systems and mines, and develop all future industries, for 70 years. Not a bad return on the bribes totalling £200,000 (£23m today) that Reuter paid the key players in Tehran. It was, said the future foreign secretary Lord Curzon, “the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has ever been dreamt of”.
The English Job takes its title from an old Iranian expression that continues to see a British hand behind everything. As a longstanding Foreign Office joke goes: “Iran is the only country in the world that still thinks the UK is a superpower.”
Being bundled in and out of cars and dodging aggressive rent-a-mobs would put many visitors off Iran for life, but Straw is made of more resilient stuff. He admits he has succumbed to the Iran “bug” and can’t get enough of the place. One might contrast his evident affection for the country with the astringent criticism from the conservative commentator Melanie Phillips, who has publicly asked, “Why does Jack Straw shill for Iran?”
While that lurid accusation is completely overdone, there is a potential danger in all this admiration for Iran’s rich cultural hinterland that, when combined with self-flagellation for Britain’s colonial-era exploitation, lets the revolutionary regime in Tehran off the hook. This, after all, is a country second only to China in the world league of executioners. “Failing on all fronts” is the title of Amnesty International’s latest report on Iran, but Straw has little to say about Iran’s egregious human-rights record.
He is clear-sighted and lucid, however, in his analysis of Iran’s self-destructive obsession with Israel, be it the routine threats to wipe the country off the map, the “Death to Israel” slogans on its ballistic missiles, or the countdown timer showing the hours and minutes left until the destruction of the “Zionist regime”. This morbid fixation with Israel is as much a barrier to the country’s return to the community of nations and an end of its international isolation as the occasional rampage by regime thugs against foreign diplomatic compounds. If you want to be treated with respect, it doesn’t matter how glorious your history might be, you just don’t do that.
Straw rightly laments Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal he and others laboured so long to bring about. He gives short shrift to President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, a career advocate of regime change in Tehran and a man who has taken money for appearing on platforms supporting the Iranian opposition group MEK, previously banned by the US and UK as a terrorist group.
Those, such as Trump, Bolton and fellow hawks, who trash the deal need to answer the single most important question: why have you chosen to make Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons more, not less, likely? Unless the objective is all-out war, it makes no sense. Straw doesn’t say it, but one might add that for decades Saudi Arabia has been an infinitely more destructive funder of global Islamist terrorism than Iran.
Straw argues that there is no such thing as a single regime in Tehran. There are instead multiple, competing sources of power as hardliners do battle with reformists. That distinction is all very well for diplomats, but since each is ultimately subordinate to the octogenarian, anti-semitic, hardline Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, mastermind of his country’s isolation since 1989, it doesn’t get you far. As Straw ruefully acknowledges, unless Tehran changes its ways, it will surely remain a pariah.