Appeasing Hitler by Tim Bouverie review – how Britain fell for a delusion


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A gripping account of the nation’s greatest mistake is timely and relevant

In November 1937, Viscount Halifax, the British foreign secretary, had an audience with Adolf Hitler at the Berghof, the Nazi dictator’s lair in the Bavarian Alps. Halifax thought it a success. He wrote to his fellow appeaser and prime minister, Neville Chamberlain: “Unless I am wholly deceived… Hitler was sincere when he said he did not want war.” He was, of course, deceived. Wholly.

This was not really the fault of Hitler who barely concealed the murderous character of his regime and his monstrous ambitions. His spear carriers were called “Legions of Death” and their caps were decorated with skulls. The deception of Halifax, Chamberlain and their many fellow travellers was of the self-induced kind.

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Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman review – the travails of being an MP


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A valuable book sheds welcome light on a group of people who are too often reviled

You wouldn’t know it from the title of her book, which panders to the prejudice that the estate of Westminster is entirely rotten, but Isabel Hardman thinks that there is quite a lot to admire about our politicians. She doesn’t subscribe to the notion, as popular as it is glib and lazy, that all MPs are venal and priapic narcissists who are worthy only of our scorn. For sure, there are self-serving, useless and downright nasty pieces of work at Westminster and they are to be found tainting all of the parties. MPs do tend to have more inflated egos than the average member of our species. They are more likely than most to have had a damaged childhood. They can be strange people, because you have to be at least slightly idiosyncratic to ...

Ctrl Alt Delete: How Politics and the Media Crashed Our Democracy – review


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Tom Baldwin’s account of the abusive relationship with the truth in media and politics is lucid, punchy and often funny

Let’s begin with the parable of the triple-breasted woman. A couple of years in advance of Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House and before the term “fake news” had caught on, a Florida woman calling herself Jasmine Tridevil made headlines around the world by posting pictures of herself with a third breast. Claiming she had undergone this unusual implant surgery in the hope of landing a reality TV show, her story was propagated by a spectrum of media including New York magazine, BuzzFeed, the New York Post, the Toronto Sun, Fox News, CBS Tampa, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Telegraph.

As you will have surmised, the story was an invention by a woman whose website boasted that it was the “provider of internet hoaxes”. Tom Baldwin remarks: “The ...

How Democracy Ends review – is people politics doomed?


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Representative government is experiencing a calamitous midlife crisis, argues David Runciman in this scintillating if gloomy treatise

Some people sniff the air and smell an alarmingly foul whiff of the 1930s. The rise of demagogues and “strongmen”; the resurgence of authoritarianism, nationalisms and fundamentalisms; the denigration of expertise and the celebration of ignorance; scorn for consensus-builders and pragmatic compromise; the polarisation of politics towards venom-spitting extremes. Haven’t we seen this horror movie before?

No, argues David Runciman in this scintillating treatise about representative democracy and its contemporary discontents. Donald Trump is “an old man with the political personality of a child”, but he is not “a proto-Hitler”. We are not reliving the first half of the 20th century in Europe. Vladimir Putin presides over a “parody democracy” in Russia, but he is not Stalin. Some of the symptoms of democratic decay may seem familiar, but the disease is different. We ...

Betting the House by Tim Ross and Tom McTague and Fallout by Tim Shipman review – Theresa May’s fatal error


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Two entertaining books expose the destructive role played by the prime minister’s chief advisers in her disastrous 2017 campaign

Some called them “the terrible twins”. To others in government they were “the gruesome twosome”. No one ever cast a vote for Fiona Hill or Nick Timothy. Only a small minority of Britons will have heard of them. Yet both of these excellent books suggest that Theresa May’s chiefs of staff were the most influential people in the British government at a time when it was making decisions of enormous consequence for the nation’s future. In Tim Shipman’s engrossing account, they held the prime minister “captive” during the 11 months it took for May to travel from being a leader so superficially dominant that she was worshipped by Tory MPs with the creepy nickname “mummy” to her spectacular crash at the June election.

“There are three people in this government,” Timothy ...

My Life, Our Times by Gordon Brown review – formidable but destructively flawed


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Brown’s memoir is great on his years in the Treasury but suffers from his fixation with the leadership

When he was at the Treasury, it was one of Gordon Brown’s stock jokes that there are two kinds of chancellor: those who fail and those who get out in time. There is actually a third type: himself. He has a unique record. In post for more than a decade, he was the longest-serving chancellor under universal suffrage. Thanks to the enormous latitude over economic and social policy that he was granted by Tony Blair, no postwar chancellor has been a more formidable force. He married the energy of his ideas with the force of his personality and combined them with the power of the Treasury to drive an impressive agenda of domestic reform.

He made a successful mission of tackling child poverty. He did the same for pensioners to the point where debate ...

Theresa May by Rosa Prince review – a sphinx without a riddle


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A biography of the prime minister reveals a politician of steely self-control with a taste for vengeance Eric Pickles worked closely with Theresa May for many years and is never less than complimentary about his fellow Tory. “But it’s true it takes an awful lot of time to get to know her,” he says. “I’m not sure anyone has ever entirely got to know her.” To this biography, Rosa Prince gives the subtitle “The Enigmatic Prime Minister”. Thus the author sets her own exam question: who is the woman behind the mask of steely self-control? The search begins in childhood. I’ve wondered if May is irritated that she is constantly labelled “the vicar’s daughter”. Does she not mind being defined by her father’s occupation? Apparently not, because she has repeatedly referred to it herself and the chapters on her upbringing, the most revealing section of this biography, explain why. ...

Broken Vows: Tony Blair – The Tragedy of Power – review


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The prosecution may have persuasive arguments, but Tom Bower’s monotone biography feels like a show trial History, so it is often said, is written by the victors. There seems to be an exception to that rule in the case of Tony Blair. Three consecutive election victories, two of them by landslides, ought to give him a place in the history books as Labour’s most successful leader. He is one of only two prime ministers since the Napoleonic wars to secure an unbroken decade at No 10. The economy grew in every single quarter of his premiership, a record unrivalled by any other major developed country. Sharply higher levels of investment went into health and education, the school and hospital building stock was renewed, child poverty went down and even the Tory party eventually embraced much of a legacy that includes the minimum wage, more spending on international aid, gender equality ...