How Britain Really Works by Stig Abell review – the facts about a muddle of a country

Education, media, politics ... this pithy primer on what makes the country tick is a vital guide for the fake news era

People don’t know nearly as much as they think they do. Often, we don’t even know what we don’t even know. Many people are sure they understand parliamentary process, how a customs union works, or what goes on in schools, but when put on the spot find such things curiously hard to explain. What happens at a bill’s second reading? When would a person sit their Sats? These sound like pub quiz questions, but are surprisingly helpful in putting news in its proper context or simply understanding how the country ticks.

To say that How Britain Really Works fills in some of these gaps runs the risk of making it sound dull when it’s a wry, readable, even whimsical book. (Sometimes a bit too whimsical; the conceit of using the ...

A Good Time to Be a Girl review – Helena Morrissey’s ‘gentle’ manifesto for change

The City superwoman’s grand plan for greater diversity in the workplace is often disappointingly conservative

Helena Morrissey is different. She stands out in ways that are obvious – she has nine children and works in the senior echelons of the City – and ways that are not. She is a Brexiter, in a profession that mainly voted Remain. She is radical in some ways and distinctly conservative in others, making her difficult to pigeonhole. Morrissey is unusual and her book is essentially about why that is a good thing; why people who don’t fit the mould should be valued for that, rather than forced to conform. Although only, perhaps, up to a point.

Her book is pitched as a mild rebuke to the gung-ho American cult of “lean in” corporate feminism preached by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Why, Morrissey asks, should women “lean in” to an old-fashioned patriarchal system that’s no longer fit ...

Of Women: In the 21st Century by Shami Chakrabarti review – priorities for feminism in the 21st century

The former director of Liberty provides a welcome global perspective on gender injustice, which ‘may be the greatest human rights abuse on the planet’

Roshuni Tiruwa was 15 when she died, almost literally, of shame. The shame was not, of course, hers. She had absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. She was simply a teenage girl in a part of rural Nepal still practising a tradition known as chhaupadi, or the isolation of girls and women during menstruation because they were believed to be somehow unclean and toxic. When they had their periods, girls would be banished from their homes at night and made to sleep alone in outhouses, where they were vulnerable not only to attack from snakes and other wild animals but also from predatory humans. Roshani, however, is thought to have suffocated to death in the tiny, cold hut after lighting a fire for warmth.

Related: Shami Chakrabarti: ‘I’m ...

The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray review – gentrified xenophobia

The rightwing journalist and commentator cites Enoch Powell and wants to protect white Christian Europe from ‘outsiders’
Gentrification comes for everything eventually. Down-at-heel neighbourhoods, peasant cuisines, football: all have been polished up for middle-class consumption. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone gave xenophobia the same treatment. Naked racism may still be unacceptable in polite society. But post-Brexit vote there’s a clear market emerging for a slightly posher, better-read, more respectable way of saying that you’d rather not live next door to Romanians or think Muslims are coming to rape your womenfolk. Think Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins, but with longer words, and for people who wouldn’t be seen dead on an English Defence League march – although one of the more ridiculous contentions in this book by the journalist Douglas Murray is that the EDL are actually terribly misunderstood chaps, who have a point, and aren’t ...

Everywoman by Jess Phillips – a life less ordinary

The outspoken Labour MP has empowering stories from her own life – and she tells them wellJess Phillips MP was an accidentally young mother, wears “big hoop earrings that I buy in pound shops”, and her brother is a recovering heroin addict. When her own children were small she lived on benefits for a while, and she remains a stranger to the art of staying on-message. Tell me again how politicians are a gilded, out-of-touch elite. Nonetheless, the book she has written about that life and its relationship to her Labour politics will inevitably irritate some. Many of them will be men who won’t actually need to read it to know they hate its unapologetically feminist take on everything from trolling to hands-on fatherhood. Those who prefer feminist thinking dressed up as academic analysis and policy proposals, meanwhile, won’t warm to it and nor will anyone for whom the ...

A Woman’s Work by Harriet Harman review – a life confronting sexism

The Labour MP’s book includes the subjects most political memoirs leave out, and ends with a feminist manifesto When Harriet Harman was nearing the end of her time at university, a male tutor took her aside for a chat. If she slept with him, he explained, she’d get a 2:1. But otherwise – well, her case was borderline. Repulsed, she refused (and thankfully got the 2:1 anyway). But years later, she learned that he’d tried the same trick on another student, one from a less wealthy background than Harman’s, who knew all her family’s hopes were pinned on her succeeding. The other girl, wretchedly, had not dared refuse. The story is a striking lesson not merely about the abuse of power, but the protection sometimes unfairly afforded by privilege. And if you think things like this don’t happen nowadays, then you probably need to read this book. Continue reading...

The best politics books of 2016

At the end of a tumultuous year, Gaby Hinsliff rounds up insider accounts and analysis and asks, where do we go from here?
• Vote: What was your favourite book of the year? What the hell happened to 2016? If there’s one question that sums up the dark and febrile politics of the past year, that’s surely the one. First comes the shock but then the craving for something to explain the seemingly inexplicable, and, however unfairly, it’s in that light that this year’s crop of political books will inevitably be judged. Publishers can only provide so much insight in a world where events move this fast and furiously, but there are worse places to start than reading and reflecting. Bookshops will be overflowing this Christmas with rival inside stories of Brexit, from the Downing Street spin doctor Craig Oliver’s campaign diaries to useful first-hand accounts from journalists Owen ...

Coalition by David Laws review – was the near-obliteration of the Lib Dems worth it?

This ‘inside account’, the first memoir to emerge from the coalition cabinet table, holds Nick Clegg up as a hero, and reveals what happened with tuition fees and other deals made with the Tories

Ah, the Liberal Democrats. Remember them? Really big in the noughties, although it turned out many people preferred their earlier work. Their frontman quit last year and most of the band were sacked, leaving the remainder playing mainly to rooms above pubs. But fortunately, one now has a book out explaining where it all went wrong.

Or perhaps that should be how it went right. Former education minister David Laws’s Coalition is the first memoir to emerge from around the Conservative-Lib Dem cabinet table and it’s a strenuous attempt to defend both his party’s record in government and his good friend Nick Clegg. And it almost works.

Continue reading...

Cameron at 10: The Inside Story 2010-2015 review – solving the mystery of the prime minister

Is he a sphinx without a riddle? This authorised account of the first term by Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon has few revelations but does deliver some juicy gossip

Everyone is trying to find out the secret of David Cameron, but he is exactly what he appears to be. There’s no mystery.” Or so said former Tory spin doctor Dominic Cummings of the man who brought the Conservatives back from the dead, yet whom he depicted as little more than a genial second-rater who got lucky. But what if there is more to the man with the knack of pulling off the apparently impossible?

After all, Cameron held together a coalition that initially wasn’t expected to last until Christmas for five long years, and then became the first prime minister since Palmerston to increase his majority in office despite an austerity programme that inflicted pain on many voters. The story of ...