The Biteback End of Year Roundup

  • December 30, 2020 14:46
  • Vicky Jessop

It’s been a long and extraordinary year, but we’re ending 2020 on a high!

We’re thrilled to have published so many fantastic books over the course of the year, and the end of year round-ups are saying much the same.

The Spectator’s Sara Wheeler chose Andrew Adonis’s book Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill as one of her picks of the year in their 2020 round-up- and so did The Times, in their round-up of the year’s best Political and Current Affairs books.

This year has also been a year for great women, and we’ve seen Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Ladies Who Punch chosen as Woman and Home’s best source of feminist inspiration, while Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography has made it onto the list of Waterstones’s best Political Books.

Next year, stay tuned for some great reads, including Penny Mordaunt and Chris Lewis’s book Greater, which offers a new vision for the UK and how to bring it together, and John Quin’s Dr Quin, Medicine Man, which is a look at the NHS from a completely new angle: that of an endocrinologist, or hormone specialist.

We're looking forward to seeing you all in 2021!


The Biteback Black Friday sale is ON!

  • November 27, 2020 00:00
  • Vicky Jessop

Black Friday is finally upon us and we’re celebrating the oncoming festive season by offering 50% off all our books this weekend!

From 27-30th November, you can browse and shop to your heart’s content, with free postage and packaging on orders above £30.

And if the sheer number of books on display has you confused about what to go for first, we’ve curated a list of our latest releases that are sure to make great stocking fillers- or winter reading!

Take a look below for more:


On politics

The Secret Life of Special Advisers, by Peter Cardwell

In a nutshell: a hilarious, eye-opening look at a life spent advising ministers as a Special Adviser, or SpAd. Expect party conference disasters, job instability and Boris Johnson hiding from Iain Duncan Smith.

Only £10: get it here.

John Bercow: Call to Order

In a nutshell: if you’ve ever wanted to know what made John Bercow into the man he is today, look no further. This biography examines the highs and lows of Bercow’s career- from the infamous Monday Club to his legacy as Speaker.

Only £10: get it here.

Going for Broke, by Michael Ashcroft

In a nutshell: Rishi Sunak is so new to politics that nobody has written a biography of him- until now. Michael Ashcroft takes a look at one of the youngest Chancellors we’ve ever had, and asks what has made him so successful.

Only £10: get it here.

Beyond the Red Wall, by Deborah Mattinson

In a nutshell: seasoned pollster Deborah Mattinson heads north to the Red Wall to find out why it turned blue in the last general election.

Only £8.50: get it here.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, by Jonny Oates

In a nutshell: how can you change the world? Jonny Oates has been doing it all his life- from boarding a plane to Addis Ababa aged 15 to becoming Nick Clegg’s Chief of Staff. It’s a candid and fascinating look at a life beyond politics.

Only £10: get it here.


On feminism

Exceeding My Brief, by Barbara Hosking

In a nutshell: Barbara Hosking has lived a colourful life, serving two Prime Ministers, working at a copper mine in the African bush and coming out in her nineties. This is the fascinating story of her life.

Only £5: get it here.

Diane Abbott, by Robin Bunce and Samara Linton

In a nutshell: Diane Abbott has been breaking records since she first set foot in the Houses of Parliament. Thirty years later, this book looks at her remarkable life- and legacy.

Only £10: get it here.

Ladies Who Punch, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

In a nutshell: a witty, far-reaching compendium of ladies who have changed society for the better. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown takes the reins to introduce us to some names we know- and some that should be better remembered.

Only £8.50: get it here.


On the royal family

The Last Queen, by Clive Irving

In a nutshell: the royal family has weathered its fair share of media scandals. Seasoned journalist Clive Irving explains the pact that the Queen has made with the UK’s newspapers- and why she might in fact be the last queen of the United Kingdom.

Only £10: get it here.

Royalty Revealed, by Brian Hoey

In a nutshell: ever wondered how to tip a royal servant? Or what Prince Charles takes with him on holiday (answer: his own toilet seat). This neat little collection of royal facts is perfect for slipping into a pocket and entertaining on the go!

Only £5: get it here.

Kensington Palace, by Tom Quinn

In a nutshell: Kensington Palace has been a mainstay of royal life ever since it was built in the 1700s. Find out about the colourful characters who have lived there- from George III right through to Diana and Meghan.

Only £10: get it here.


On sports

Sacré Bleu, by Matt Spiro

In a nutshell: from winning the World Cup in 1998 to suffering years of divisions and acrimony, the French national football team has had its share of highs and lows. Find out how they triumphed to lift the trophy again in 2018, thanks to skilled player Kylian Mbappé.

Only £9.50: get it here.

When Footballers Were Skint, by Jon Henderson

In a nutshell: ever longed for the days when football was more homespun and your average footballer earned less than a plumber? Jon Henderson resurrects the glory days of the beautiful game in this tribute to days gone by.

Only £5: get it here.

Bloody Southerners, by Spencer Vignes

In a nutshell: Often outrageous and always compelling, Peter Taylor and Brian Clough’s partnership shook the very foundations of the footballing world. Find out how from the players who were there.

Only £6.50: get it here.


On history

Ernest Bevin, by Andrew Adonis

In a nutshell: a Labour great, whose talent for getting results saw him compared to Churchill, has mostly been forgotten. How? Andrew Adonis seeks to right the scales, giving a detailed and fascinating look at a man whose impact on history is far-reaching and surprising.

Only £10: get it here.

The Secrets of Station X, by Michael Smith

In a nutshell: the astonishing story of how the British codebreakers of Bletchley Park cracked the Nazi Enigma cyphers, cutting an estimated two years off the Second World War, never ceases to amaze.

Only £5: get it here.

Shackleton's Heroes, by Wilson McOrist

In a nutshell: a gripping account of the men who ensured that Ernest Shackleton's fabled Trans-Antarctic Expedition succeeded.

Only £5: get it here.


Introducing London's Mayor at 20

  • November 24, 2020 09:55
  • Jack Brown

On the publication day of London's Mayor at 20, Jack Brown tells us why he, Tony Travers and Richard Brown decided to put pen to paper...


The position of Mayor of London, established in 2000, turned twenty this year. So perhaps it is appropriate that the mayoralty is finally moving out of the house it grew up in. The Greater London Authority – which consists of the mayor and the London Assembly – is set to shift from City Hall near London Bridge to the Crystal building in the Royal Docks in 2021. The move is hoped to save £61 million over five years, and help aid regeneration.

The mayor’s parents should be pleased. In fact, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government created the position, has written the foreword to our review of the mayoralty’s first twenty years. He was one of several who could claim parenthood of London’s mayoralty. He seems a proud father today:

‘Could we imagine not having a Mayor of London today? … Never forget that the position of a London mayor was at the beginning politically controversial – the 1980s had seen the abolition of the Greater London Council – and three terms of government were important in bedding the institution down. Now its abolition would be unthinkable.’

Centre for London and Professor Tony Travers of the LSE are keen observers of London government. At the start of the year, we decided to team up to commemorate and evaluate the first two decades of the London mayoralty. A team of expert, independent contributors were commissioned to evaluate the performance of successive mayors in a range of different policy areas: from transport to culture, economic development to policing. Well-placed practitioners were asked to share their recollections of key moments in the very recent history of London and its government, under all three mayors, in a series of short ‘vignettes’ that help bring the story to life.

After the decision was taken to mark the occasion with a book, the capital was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The challenges of writing the book suddenly seemed somewhat less significant. The capital’s streets fell silent, particularly in central London. Transport for London’s finances were plunged into crisis, as fares evaporated. London’s future itself seemed bleak and uncertain.

Less significantly, the book’s authors were also locked indoors. This provided time to write, but it did not necessarily help with morale. With a little distance, I can now look back and say I am proud of what we have produced.

The book arrives at a time of great uncertainty for the future of both London and its mayoralty. Relations between central and London-wide government are perhaps at their worst in the mayoralty’s twenty years. London-wide government has been repeatedly established, reformed and abolished by central government in the past. Is there is a chance that this book, published to celebrate a significant anniversary for the mayoralty, could also end up as its obituary?

We hope not. While there are strengths and weaknesses in mayoral power and performance, both across its twenty-year existence and today, the book is broadly positive about the role itself. It has delivered significant major projects for London, from the Olympics to Crossrail (even if the latter has taken a little longer than first hoped). It has driven improvements and innovations in the capital’s infrastructure, and provided important civic leadership for Londoners at times of celebration and crisis. The mayor has been a powerful advocate for the capital, both to central government and around the world, to the betterment of the city and its people.

We hope that the mayoralty’s future will be bright, and that taking a moment to pause and reflect on the last twenty years now will provide some lessons for the next twenty, as well as for city governance elsewhere in the UK and around the world. But on top of that, I assure you it’s a cracking read.


Interest piqued? London's Mayor at 20 is out today: take a look here!


Calling all lovers of The Crown!

  • November 17, 2020 11:23
  • Vicky Jessop

It's November and once again we're all glued to Netflix as the latest series of The Crown takes to our screens.

From Princess Margaret to Diana, our fascination with the royal family has seen us follow their every move for more than a hundred years. But if you're looking to find out a bit more about the truth behind the television series, then why not check out these pieces by our royal authors Tom Quinn and Clive Irving?


'The Crown' season 4: Did Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher get along?

'The Crown': How strained was Diana's marriage to Charles?

Queen Elizabeth II's 'battle to save monarchy' subject of sensational new book

The Crown season 4 fact vs fiction: From the Buckingham Palace break-in to the Queen’s audiences with Thatcher


Interest piqued?

If you're looking to find out more about the real lives of the royal family, we've got you covered.

For people who want to find out more about the lives of Diana, William and Kate and Meghan Markle, Tom Quinn's book Kensington Palace is out now.

On the other hand, if you fancy delving into the history of the royal family instead, check out Mrs Keppel and Backstairs Billy: Tom Quinn's explorations of a very famous royal mistress and a butler who was almost as well-known as the Queen Mother!



If you want to look at the Queen's struggle to save the monarchy, then Clive Irving's book The Last Queen is the perfect next stop for you. 

Read an exclusive extract here!




James Callaghan: An Underrated Prime Minister?

  • October 30, 2020 10:00
  • Kevin Hickson

Who was James Callaghan? Ahead of the publication of his book, Kevin Hickson reintroduces us to a man who has been largely forgotten by history...


James Callaghan stood down as leader of the Labour Party forty years ago this year, bringing to an end a long period on the frontbenches stretching back over thirty years. during which he uniquely held all of the top four offices of state.

Critics would contend that his record in each of the top posts was questionable. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he had fought against the inevitable devaluation of the pound, as Home Secretary he had upset many on his own side by imposing what were seen as racist restrictions on Commonwealth immigration and as Foreign Secretary he had appeared to gain very little from the renegotiations over the terms of membership of the EEC. His detractors – from both wings of the party – expected little from him as Prime Minister, and would later claim not to have been surprised by the course of his premiership, still most often associated with having to go ‘cap in hand’ to the IMF, and culminating in the dead going unburied and the rubbish left to pile up in the streets during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

After the election of Margaret Thatcher there were few defenders of his record. The left accused him and his government of ‘betrayal’ and called for the grassroots activists and the party conference to have more control over a future Labour government’s policies. Those on the right of the party who believed their cause was best secured through the formation of a new party also trashed his record in order to justify their departure. By the time Labour had recovered electorally in the mid-1990s, the leading modernisers of ‘New Labour’ did everything they could to distance themselves from the old party and Callaghan’s era in particular. For New Labour, history began in 1994.

Yet, as many of the essays in this new book show, the record was actually much better than these accounts would allow. The government’s position was precarious, with the absence of a parliamentary majority and bitter internal divisions at every level of the party. But Callaghan was the only person who could have held it all together for as long as he did given his unique political skills and instinctive feel for the mood of the Labour Party. Moreover, the economy recovered from the IMF cuts in the two years that followed before the winter of 1978–79. Callaghan also sought to innovate in certain fields, notably in education policy.

Not all of the authors would agree – and one aim of the book is to encourage diversity of opinion, thus allowing the reader to make up their own mind on Callaghan’s legacy – but the editors certainly believe that Callaghan deserves more credit than he got at the time or subsequently, not least from his own party.

Callaghan personified a certain kind of politics, respectability and common sense, underpinned by a quiet sense of patriotism. Not for him the tendency of the left at different times to rip into Britain’s past, something that is arguably all too prevalent inside and outside the party today. At a time of social, economic and cultural upheaval, Callaghan offered the public reassurance. Note that in spite of everything that had happened during the years of his premiership he was still more popular than Mrs Thatcher in the 1979 election. The more honest of political commentators from across the ideological spectrum recognised his political skills. His own sense of betrayal by the trade union militants and the left-wing ideologues in the Winter of Discontent and after the defeat was palpable, and it was he and not they who were closest to the views of its working-class voters.

Yet those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them, and the re-emergence of the socialist dogmatists under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership combined with the refusal to accept the 2016 referendum outcome led Labour to an even worse electoral defeat in 2019 than that of 1983. The ‘red wall’ came tumbling down and Labour now finds itself in its worst position since 1935. In order to revive its electoral fortunes, the party would be well advised to rediscover Callaghan’s values, which were once mainstream in the party but are now viewed with disdain by many of its own activists.


James Callaghan: An Underrated Prime Minister? by Jasper Miles and Kevin Hickson is out on 3 November. Take a look at it here