John le Carré letter reveals author’s contempt for British political class

Message to American friend in 2010 pours scorn on ‘ragbag of ivy league Tories’, ‘eco-ostriches’ and ‘born again PR men’ returned to power in UK

John le Carré’s stinging disdain for British politicians is displayed in a caustic letter to an American friend, coming up for auction, which sees him pouring scorn on the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Labour alike.

The handwritten letter to an obstetrician from Maine was written by the author in August 2010, after the Conservative party had failed to win a majority in the general election and had formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Or as Le Carré astringently put it: “The Etonians have taken back the shop with the help of some B-list inexperienced liberals who will evaporate in their own hot air before long, leaving the shop to a ragbag of ivy league Tories, born again PR men, sexists, anti-Europeans, nostalgists and ...

May 1968: the revolution retains its magnetic allure

A Stone Roses album, a Hari Kunzru novel, a Gucci ad campaign ... 50 years after the events of May 1968, our writer reflects on how the ideas and energy of that moment live on today

We are now as far from the events of 1968 as the people involved were from the end of the first world war. Cliche has long since reduced much of what occurred to “student revolt”, but that hardly does these happenings justice, partly because it ignores the workers’ strikes that were just as central to what occurred during ’68 and the years that followed, but also because the phrase gets nowhere near the depth and breadth of what young people were rebelling against, not least in France.

This was the last time that a developed western society glimpsed the possibility of revolution focused not just on institutions, but the contestation of everyday reality, which is ...

Rise by Liam Young review – how Jeremy Corbyn inspired the young

A Corbyn aide sets out to explain the ‘youth surge’ on the left, but though the surge is real, and important, the book is uninspiring

Every few years, an event hits the radical bookshops. A clutch of new writers appear, telling you the story and how it will change everything. A typical book might have a cover with a clenched fist, and it might be called, for instance, Rise. Then the movements fail, and the books join each other in the bargain basements. For the British left, the snap election of June 2017 really was an event, and an ecstatic one – a sudden, thumping statement that enthusiasm and anger mattered more than media and received opinion. Helped by a massive youth swing leftwards, 40% of those who voted supported Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become prime minister – 10% more than for Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband, and only 2% ...

A Party with Socialists in It review – Labour’s left from the 19th century to Corbyn

Simon Hannah’s survey of the left of the party is unsparing and more about unfulfilled promise than Corbynistas may like

In writing about a party as muddled together and misrepresented as Labour, clarity is a powerful weapon. Authors who accurately describe the party’s competing factions and traditions, and the ever shifting balance between them, are relatively rare. They are also a threat to Labour’s many enemies, who have often relied on portraying the party, and the left of it in particular, as a vast but hazy conspiracy.

This pithy book, “intended mainly for those who have been drawn into politics” since Jeremy Corbyn stood for leader, aims to “introduce the major historical struggles” of the Labour left and “explain what was at stake”. Simon Hannah is a young leftwing Labour activist, and there is an avuncular foreword from the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. Yet Hannah’s approach to the Labour left, ...

Paul Mason: five books to understand the left

From the charge against neoliberalism to the manifesto that inspired activists to join labour – Paul Mason on the books that explain the left today

From the end of the miners’ strike to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the left in Britain stumbled from one nadir to the next. How they made a clean sweep of Labour’s NEC elections is a process even the participants do not yet fully understand. However, one thing is certain: this was not a theory-led revolution. The ideas of the modern left were primarily born out of a new kind of practice and some undeniable facts. Neoliberalism had failed. In the survival strategies adopted by governments it has become, as the economist William Davies writes, “literally unjustified”. Davies’ book The Limits of Neoliberalism sums up the wider thinking of the UK left about the system it is trying to replace. It identifies the coercive imposition ...

Corbyn by Richard Seymour review – the strange rebirth of radical politics

Seymour investigates how the Labour leader proved doubters wrong – and a collection of essays, The Corbyn Effect, asks what might his government look like?

In these febrile times, writing books about current British politics – and even reviewing them – is a risky business. Richard Seymour’s highly opinionated study of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership, and the circumstances that gave rise to it, was first published in April 2016. Labour were in the low 30s in the polls, a middling-to-mediocre position, and Corbyn’s tenure seemed a bold experiment that was not that likely to succeed. Seymour gave his book, “written in sympathy with Corbyn”, an upbeat subtitle, but his predictions were largely pessimistic. A prolific polemicist in the small but prickly space to the left of the Labour left, and pointedly not a party member, Seymour argued that Corbyn’s leadership would be both too radical for the establishment to tolerate, and ...

Barbara Hosking: ‘I couldn’t write my memoir without mentioning that I’ve been gay all my life’

The former aide to Harold Wilson and Edward Heath on a rollicking career, coming out at 91 and a daily glass of claret

Born in Cornwall in 1926, Barbara Hosking moved to London aged 21 to pursue a career in journalism. Instead, she joined the Labour party press office and went on to serve as a press officer to Harold Wilson and later Edward Heath. She also spent three years in East Africa running the office at a remote mining company and worked in TV, becoming executive chairwoman of Westcountry Television. Now, aged 91, she has written about her storied life, and her sexuality, in Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant.

Was it a challenge to write a memoir in your 90s?
Not really. The disadvantage was, about 10 years ago, I threw all my diaries away. But I was amazed at how much I remembered, apart ...

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

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 ...

Citizen Clem: ‘extraordinary biography’ of Clement Attlee wins Orwell prize

John Bew’s life of the self-effacing founder of the NHS praised by judges as a ‘monument to the greatest leader the Labour party has ever had’ “A model of the biographer’s art”, which pulls back the curtain on one of the most significant but least recognised political figures of the last century, has won Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. John Bew’s Citizen Clem, about Clement Attlee, the founder of the NHS, was named winner of the £3,000 2017 Orwell prize for books at a ceremony in London on Thursday night.
Prize judge and journalist Erica Wagner said: “For all [the judges], it really stood out as not just an extraordinary biography, but because this is a prize that celebrates great writing and, though all the books shortlisted were remarkable, Citizen Clem was a model of the biographer’s art.” Continue reading...

Ed Balls on truth behind Gordon Brown’s ‘what is polenta?’ outburst

Politician turned Strictly star tells Hay festival audience about restaurant meeting between Brown and Tony Blair in 1994 It has been said Peter Mandelson once mistook mushy peas for guacamole. Now it has emerged Gordon Brown had a similar food challenge, when he asked in horror: “What is polenta?”
The politician turned Strictly Come Dancing star Ed Balls witnessed the outburst during the meeting between Brown and Tony Blair at the Granita restaurant in Islington in 1994. Continue reading...

Terry Eagleton: a lit crit of the party manifestos

‘For the Posh and Powerful, Not For Riff-Raff Like You’ … the critic deconstructs the party promises The title of the Conservative party manifesto is “Forward, Together”, presumably because “Backward, Apart” isn’t much of a vote catcher. The prime minister’s mind-numbing mantra, “strong and stable government” (anyone for the weak and turbulent kind?) crops up twice in consecutive lines on the first page, suggesting that the authors have a rather dim-witted audience in mind. Less blandly, Labour calls its manifesto “For the Many, Not the Few”, cunningly calculating that this might have a wider appeal than “For the Posh and Powerful, Not For Riff-Raff Like You”. Writing these things can’t be easy. You need to talk about the British Coal superannuation scheme surplus while still managing to sound a high moral tone. Party manifestos are part sermon, part technical guide. They must be morally uplifting but down to earth, ...

Making a mess of the iambic pentameter | Letters

A reader’s suggestion that ‘The mess we inherited from Labour’ is an iambic pentameter draws howls of protestHarold Mozley (Letters, 29 April) is wrong. “The mess we inherited from Labour” is an iambic tetrameter, not pentameter = three iambic beats, not five, on three second syllables. “Strong and stable leadership in the national interest” has six trochees = six beats on six first syllables. “Corbyn: the courage of his convictions” has four trochees. Shakespeare used iambic pentameter and everything else he could find and not just for rhetorical effect either.
Chris Hardy
London • “The mess we inherited from Labour” may have 10 syllables, but is far from being an iambic pentameter. In terms of its prosody it’s decidedly messy, with a single iamb followed by a couple of anapaests and a weak final syllable. “Strong and stable leadership” may have only six syllables, but its strength ...

Ayn Rand’s neoliberal legacy is seen today | Letters

Jonathan Freedland’s article on Ayn Rand’s still pernicious influence at the heart of capitalism (The new age of Ayn Rand, G2, 11 April) is timely but dangerously dispiriting. Read alongside Polly Toynbee’s despairing analysis (If 1997 was a new dawn, now Labour faces its darkest night, 11 April) we might well succumb to the paralysis she seems to think the left of Labour suffers from. An inspiring, excellently researched and eminently readable, antidote to defeatism is Raoul Martinez’s Creating Freedom, Power, Control and the Fight for Our Future. He argues for a radical, but achievable, rethinking of what we mean by freedom. At the heart of it is a questioning of what we take to be democracy. He writes: “As long as the vast majority of wealth is controlled by a tiny proportion of humanity, democracy will struggle to be little more than a pleasant mask ...

Ayn Rand’s neoliberal legacy is seen today | Letters

Jonathan Freedland’s article on Ayn Rand’s still pernicious influence at the heart of capitalism (The new age of Ayn Rand, G2, 11 April) is timely but dangerously dispiriting. Read alongside Polly Toynbee’s despairing analysis (If 1997 was a new dawn, now Labour faces its darkest night, 11 April) we might well succumb to the paralysis she seems to think the left of Labour suffers from. An inspiring, excellently researched and eminently readable, antidote to defeatism is Raoul Martinez’s Creating Freedom, Power, Control and the Fight for Our Future. He argues for a radical, but achievable, rethinking of what we mean by freedom. At the heart of it is a questioning of what we take to be democracy. He writes: “As long as the vast majority of wealth is controlled by a tiny proportion of humanity, democracy will struggle to be little more than a pleasant mask ...

Alice in Westminster: The Political Life of Alice Bacon by Rachel Reeves – review

This biography of Labour’s champion of comprehensive schools reveals a woman who was loyal to her party and passionate about her constituents’ concernsPoliticians in opposition writing political biographies is a distinct sub-genre: Roy Jenkins on Asquith, William Hague on Pitt the Younger, Boris Johnson (in opposition as Tory mayor of London to everyone’s interests except his own) on Churchill, and now the former Labour frontbencher Rachel Reeves on an almost forgotten postwar Labour politician, Alice Bacon. Her subject fully deserves to be rescued from posterity’s condescension. Brought up in a politically active Yorkshire mining family, she was elected a Leeds MP in the Attlee landslide of 1945 and, during her quarter-century in the Commons, rose to become an influential minister, though never in the cabinet. On her death in 1993, she was recalled by a Yorkshire paper as a woman who “was able to deal with world leaders ...

Militant by Michael Crick review – Britain’s successful leftwing sect

The press and the Labour’s right wing are often in a froth about the party being taken over by radical leftists. So is this addictive study of Militant a gift for Corbyn-bashers? Panics about infiltrators are a Labour tradition. In a party made up of disparate elements from the start, in a country where the legitimacy of leftwing radicalism is rarely accepted by the media and wider establishment, it is hardly surprising that subversives, real and imagined, have regularly been spotted burrowing their way into Labour’s loose structures. During the 20s, the party struggled to purge itself of communists, whom Lenin instructed to support Labour “as a rope supports the hanged”. Nowadays, the party’s right wing and its many press allies are in an almost perpetual froth about Labour being “taken over” by left-wingers, whether they are activists of the large new pressure group Momentum or even Jeremy Corbyn himself. ...

Broken Vows: Tony Blair, The Tragedy of Power by Tom Bower – digested read

Tom Bower’s dissection of the former prime minister’s years in power is ground with an axe to a pithy 800 words October 2007. A swimming pool inside the Rwandan presidential palace. Tony Blair is lying on a sun lounger soaked with the blood of hundreds of thousands of murdered Hutus. Blair pulls up his Speedos to expose his butt-cheeks to the burning African sun. “I love it when you do that,” murmurs Cherie, sipping a dry martini while a slave fans her. President Kagame leans towards Blair. “I want to meet the most important person in the world,” he says. Blair pulls off his Ray-Bans and looks the president straight in the eye. “You’re talking to him,” he replies. “Now give me several hundred million dollars in cash that I can channel back into my foundation so that no one ever finds out how rich and venal I really am....