Ridiculously out-of-date book reviews: The Clegg Coup

gerardcleggMy Masters dissertation is on the role and strategy of the Liberal Democrats in the British party system, so as part of that I’ve been looking at various academic and non-academic texts for background information. Today I plunged into Jasper Gerard’s The Clegg Coup, which may well be one of the worst books ever written about British politics.

It fails on multiple levels: for a start, Gerard’s writing style is rambling and unfocused with chapters, paragraphs and even sentences ending up in miles away from where they started. The book doesn’t have any focus, jumping between biography of Clegg, discussion of the Coalition and attempts at political analysis willy-nilly, though one overriding theme is that Gerard clearly likes Nick Clegg and distrusts anyone who doesn’t. The ‘coup’ of the title appears to be one that Gerard is fully in support of, happily denigrating anyone who disapproved of the direction Clegg wanted to take the Liberal Democrats.

Beyond that, though, it’s shockingly badly researched and edited. At some points, Gerard appears determined to crowbar in every piece of trivia he’s learned about people, but on the big points, there’s a shocking lack of knowledge. I’m not talking about obscure points of political history here but simple facts that could be checked with thirty seconds on Wikipedia. A lengthy section talks about how Clegg was working for Leon Brittan at the European Commission while Miriam Gonzalez Durantez was working there for Chris Patten, completely failing to notice that Patten replaced Brittan on the Commission and was Governor of Hong Kong at the time Gerard asserts Gonzalez was advising him on Middle East policy. The book’s littered with errors like that, including mention of Labour’s first leader, Kier Hardy.


The brakes/breaks confusion there is one of several homophone errors in the book, and at points it feels like there’s been a decision to have an error of fact or editing on every page.

The only truly interesting part of it is what it unintentionally reveals. There’s some interesting bits about how Clegg chose not to run an aggressively ‘Orange Book’ campaign for the party leadership, and there’s an interesting omission of any detailed look at his selection for Sheffield Hallam. However, beyond all that, it’s clear that Gerard sees party politics as very much an elite activity. There’s lots of discussion of people within the Westminster bubble, wealthy donors and think tanks, but almost no mention of party members or even voters. It presents politics as a rather consequence-free activity with little connection to the real world, where an eager hagiographer like Gerard can go far through knowing the right people and writing positively about them.

If I hadn’t been reading the book for any useful nuggets of information, however inadvertently revealed, I’d likely have thrown it to one side once the error count reached the dozens, but if you’re a fellow connoisseur of bad political writing, you may well find something to enjoy in it.

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Review: The Man In The High Castle (Amazon TV)

maninthehighcastleLooking back over my previous posts, I see I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of The Man In The High Castle for over four years. It was first announced as being adapted by Ridley Scott for the BBC in 2010, but after disappearing into the netherworld of development hell, it was then announced as an Amazon series last year, and the first episode of it has now appeared as part of their latest pilot season.

The big question, then, is was it worth the wait? On the evidence of this pilot episode, yes it was, and also worth the (hopefully shorter) wait for it to return as a full series. His involvement may not be quite so hands on this time, but Ridley Scott has shown yet again how to adapt a Philip K Dick novel. Just as Blade Runner used the characters and themes of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? but was prepared to deviate from the plot, so does The Man In The High Castle. There’s an understanding that a book and a TV series tell stories differently, especially one that’s being told through the multiple levels of Dick’s imagination. In short, I would definitely recommend watching it, whether you’ve read the book or not. Spoilers for the book and the adaptation follow, so read on at your own peril.

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Review: The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester

350x350.fitandcropIt’s been a while since I’ve done a review of anything here, but I wanted to spread the word about this production, in the hope that it might spur some of you into going to see it.

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are a company that have been producing live versions of 40s and 50s style radio broadcasts – complete with traditional sound effects produced on stage – since 2008. They’ve come together with Colchester’s Mercury Theatre to produce a version of Dracula that’s a fantastic piece of stage comedy.

We’re invited in as the studio audience to watch a BBC radio production of Dracula. The company’s lead performer, Mr Starkey (perhaps better known to my readers as Doctor Who‘s Strax) helps set the scene for us. Some of the regular repertory company’s finest performers will be presenting us with a dramatic presentation of Bran Stoker’s Dracula, and to add some verisimilitude to the performance a real-life Romanian aristocrat, Count Alucard, will be playing the part of Dracula. Meanwhile, outside the studio, Britain is about to be battered by violent storms accompanied by thunder and lightning, and a number of mysterious deaths have been occurring in the vicinity of Broadcasting House…

What follows is two stories in one: the adaptation of Dracula being performed with all the plum tones and ham acting one expects from early radio drama; and the events going on inside the studio as members of the company renew old feuds and start new flirtations, cues are missed, sound effects are generated, and Count Alucard’s behaviour becomes increasingly harder to explain as method acting.

The whole thing comes together to produce a wonderfully funny performance and the cast are all superb in their roles, bringing some perfect comic timing (including some wonderfully comedic pauses in the delivery) and interaction with the audience. My only complaint would be that there are so many different things happening on stage at various times it’s hard to be sure that you’re experiencing everything that’s going on – while your attention is focused on the performers at the main microphone, something else could be going on at the effects table at one side of the stage and with the piano player at the other. It’s all expertly put together, and the escalating level of farce is carefully managed to not overwhelm the story.

I’d definitely recommend going to see this if you can – it’s on at the Mercury until the 15th November (go here to book tickets and find out more) and I don’t know if it will have performances anywhere else afterwards, or if it will just be a little theatrical gem for us in the East to tell you all about.

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Review: A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin

I dropped out of the ‘reviewing every book I read habit’ while attempting it last year, and I’m not planning to pick it up. However, I do like writing the occasional book review, and as part of the concerted effort to blog here more often, expect to see the occasional one dotted in amongst the political rants.

A Dance With Dragons is obviously the fifth book in the series, so if you haven’t read the others yet, be warned that there will be spoilers. If you’re watching Game Of Thrones on TV, then this really will spoil you for stuff that’s coming up in the next season. So if you don’t want to know any more, look away now…

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2011 books: Catch up

Oops, haven’t written here for a while, and have also slipped behind on the regular reading too. Only three books finished in the few weeks since my last post, and they were:

30) A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin

The longest part yet of A Song Of Ice And Fire, and would perhaps have counted as two books if I wasn’t reading the single Kindle edition. Still very good, and an interesting depiction of a world descending into hell, with each chink of light ruthlessly extinguished as another plot comes to light.

31) Rule 34 by Charles Stross

The sequel to Halting State, Stross returns to near-future Scotland for a crime story that’s equal parts Brookmyre and Orwell. A very interesting extrapolation of current trends in society and policing, laden down with the usual rapid-fire of ideas that you expect from Stross.

32) I, Patridge: We Need To Talk About Alan by Alan Partridge (Armando Ianucci, Steve Coogan et al

The autobiography of a broadcasting legend, whose career I’ve followed since he burst to national prominence on Radio 4’s On The Hour and Knowing Me, Knowing You. It reveals just how this major talent’s career has been blighted by the jealousy of lesser talents and the short-sightedness of broadcasting management (usually at the BBC). Includes a harrowing account of his descent into Toblerone addiction – I, for one, will never look on their chocolate-honey-nougat prisms with quite the same innocence from now on – though needless to say, he has the last laugh.

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I think this may be the first time I’ve read a novel by a blogger (as opposed to reading the blogs of novelists) but if others are up to this standard, then I might have to find more.

The Ministry Of Love is, as far as I’m aware, only available as an e-book from Amazon (and for a ridiculously low price), but it might be a good reason to get a Kindle, or at least a Kindle app for some other device as it’s the sort of book that will definitely appeal to the sort of people who read this sort of blog. O’Mahony’s like a benevolent version of Christopher Brookmyre, most notably in the fact that one The Ministry Of Love‘s subplots has wandered straight in from A Snowball In Hell. However, while Brookmyre’s attitude often seems to be that the whole world is going to hell and is only held back by the work of a few decent people, O’Mahony takes a somewhat more optimistic view of the human race.

More after the cut, but there be spoilers for the novel there so don’t read if you want to approach it with fresh eyes. I definitely recommend giving it a try, though – it’s easily worth £1.14 of anyone’s money.

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How I Won The Yellow Jumper, by Ned Boulting (2011 book #28)

With the Tour de France over for another year, I decided to stretch out the experience of it a little by reading Boulting’s behind-the-scenes account of reporting on the Tour from 2003 to 2010. He’ll be familiar to viewers of cycling on ITV4 as the main field reporter for the Tour de France, and also as the presenter of the Tour Series and Tour of Britain (which means he gives Colchester the briefest of mentions late in the book).

This is the story of how Boulting went from being an out-of-his-depth football reporter dispatched to cover the Tour (the ‘Yellow Jumper’ of the title comes from his disastrous first Tour broadcast) to a passionate fan of cycling. It’s the sort of book that could have descended into Partridgean anecdotage, but while I haven’t checked, I don’t believe ‘needless to say, I had the last laugh’ features anywhere in the book.

Rather than going into the day-by-day minutiae of each Tour he’s covered, Boulting instead presents a series of vignettes about life on the tour, most of which go on to reveal a much wider picture of one of the world’s largest sporting events. We get to see what goes on to bring the Tour to TV screens worldwide, from how Gary Imlach keeps his clothing crease-free to how much of a task it is to feed a small army of journalists every day. In the process, we see how Boulting goes from being almost entirely ignorant of professional cycling to an experienced and somewhat cynical reporter. Indeed, it’s his honesty that helps to lift this book above the humdrum, and you suspect that if he was working in a sport that wasn’t as routinely scandalous as cycling, his candidness (about doping, the personalities of some of the sport’s stars and the somewhat bizarre world of Team Sky) might see him uninvited from future events.

Boulting’s an amusing writer, and one able to keep perspective on his situation. While there are complaints about what it’s like to live on the road in France amidst a moving army for three weeks, he knows that most of his readers will envy him his job and the privileges that go with it, not pity him for it. The one thing the book lacks, though, is a definite ending. When he talks about the first rumours of Team Sky’s launch in 2008, it’s almost a foreshadowing of the end of an era, but the Tour remains on ITV4, with many of the same team who started covering it on Channel 4 in the 80s still there. For those of us who’ve been watching during those twenty-five years, it’s a good read and recommended.

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