The former prime minister gives a truthful account of errors – but unknowingly makes a few more
For the Record by David Cameron, William Collins, £25
A spectre haunts this book – the spectre of Europe. Just as the 700 pages of Tony Blair’s autobiography could not escape the shadow of Iraq, so the 700 pages of David Cameron’s memoir are destined to be read through a single lens: Brexit.
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The sensation has become so rare, it took a moment to realise what it was. But following Wednesday’s ruling by Scotland’s highest civil court that Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament was unlawful, the feeling was unmistakable. It was optimism. Admittedly, it was optimism in its weakest form: not the confident certainty that all would turn out for the best, but rather a fragile flicker of hope that things might not be so bad after all.
When answers are in short supply, sometimes the best we can do is try to ask the right questions. Some of those dive into legal and constitutional arcana, as experts try to work out how Boris Johnson can climb out of the hole he has spent this last week digging ever deeper for himself. Now that the opposition parties have refused to accede to his cunning plan for an October election, and will next week see passed into law their demand that he seek an extension of Britain’s EU membership, he’s left with a series of unpalatable alternatives – from breaking the law to resignation to tabling a motion of no confidence in himself.
When some of the best-known Conservative figures of the last half-century are booted out of their party, when a new prime minister loses his first parliamentary vote and his governing majority on the same day, when historians are referring to this as a “revolutionary moment”, you know something of great significance is going on. But what exactly is it?
First published in 1938, US author Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s forgotten classic is a devastating work of political fiction that still resonates today
Some of the largest themes have been addressed in the shortest books. That is especially true in the realm of what might be called political fiction. The single best evocation of communism – and especially the distance between the ideal and the Soviet reality – remains George Orwell’s brief allegory, Animal Farm. In the same way, few works have conveyed the brutal nature of imperialism more effectively than Joseph Conrad managed in fewer than a hundred pages in Heart of Darkness. A third place in that small space on the shelf could be allocated to an even briefer work: Address Unknown, a story so short it can be read on a morning bus ride. Yet somehow it distils the essence of the ideology that, along with the other two, casts a deathly shadow over the 20th century. Across a few economic pages it touches the heart of the Nazi darkness.
Address Unknown was first published in Story magazine in September 1938, and then in book form a year later, becoming an instant bestseller. It has been translated across the world, adapted into a 1944 film and into multiple productions for the stage and radio – all under the name of Kressmann Taylor, after Story’s editor, along with Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s husband, Elliott, decided it was “too strong to appear under the name of a woman”. The impact was immediate, the story credited with having “jolted America”, alerting it to the horror unfolding in Nazi Germany.
The story traces the contours of fascism – the leader-worship, the surveillance, the summons to men to act as men Continue reading...
Against some stiff competition, one of the worst things about Brexit is the way it sucks up all the oxygen, consuming whatever political energy is available, until there’s none left for anything else. Just think what we might have achieved these past three years if the bureaucratic and intellectual resources we’ve devoted to the business of leaving the European Union had been directed elsewhere.
The myths of a no-deal Brexit are about to collide with reality. Those myths are many, and they flourish on both sides of the great divide. For remainers, the greatest is that no deal could never happen. They look at the polls that show far more Britons oppose a crash-out from the EU than support it – 50% to 38%, according to Ipsos Mori – and they can’t quite believe that any government would defy the public will on so grave a matter.
There’s no way the Scottish National party would vote down a minority Labour government and put the Tories back in power
Take 10 paces back and ask yourself, what just happened? Only when you appreciate what the Conservative party has just done can you begin to consider how Labour, and the other opposition parties, should respond. Indeed, the clearer the Tory move becomes, the more obvious the duty of the opposition.
The Queen’s first prime minister was Winston Churchill. Her 14th is a Winston Churchill tribute act. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Boris Johnson’s debut performance as prime minister included a sub-Churchillian riff, extolling Britain’s readiness not to fight the Nazi menace but to cope with a no-deal exit from the European Union. “The ports will be ready and the banks will be ready and the factories will be ready and business will be ready and the hospitals will be ready,” he said, until one half-expected him to declare that we shall be ready on the beaches, we shall be ready on the landing grounds, we shall be ready in the fields and in the streets and in the hills.