7 Dec 2014 at 17:46
As Paul Lambert leaves the BBC to become Nigel Farage’s Director of Communications, here’s why he got the nickname ‘Gobby’. Follow him on Twitter at @westminstergoby.
7 Dec 2014 at 17:46
As Paul Lambert leaves the BBC to become Nigel Farage’s Director of Communications, here’s why he got the nickname ‘Gobby’. Follow him on Twitter at @westminstergoby.
5 Dec 2014 at 14:49
Appearing on The Andrew Marr Show is always fun, and so it was last Sunday. The previous time I reviewed the papers on it, earlier in the year, my co-reviewer was the actress Sheila Hancock. Suffice it to says that we didn’t get on.
Last Sunday, my paper reviewing partner was Stephanie Flanders. As it was the one before the Autumn Statement it was clear that there would be a lot of economically-related stories to talk about. And let’s face it, economics is not one of my main strengths – as evidenced by my disgraceful grade E at A Level.
My excuse was that it was the first time my school had taught the course. And I’m sticking to that excuse like a limpet. We didn’t get off to a good start when I said “million” instead of “billion”, but I think I escaped further ignominy after that.
After the show, all the guests are invited to breakfast, which in this case was quite a bizarre experience. George Osborne skedaddled, but Stephanie stayed, along with Marr, Joss Stone and Ed Balls. I have to say listening to Balls discussing the finer points of the Mansion Tax with Joss is something which will stay with me for a long time.
Thus wasn’t an Autumn Statement: it was a budget – a pre-election one at that. It was a politically clever one, too. Not only did Osborne pull a rabbit out of the hat with his Stamp Duty reforms; he shot Labour’s Mansion Tax fox at the same time – although you would never know that from Balls’s reaction. When I spoke to the latter he was positively salivating at the prospect of hitting the rich with two new taxes! Once a socialist, always a socialist.
One man who was very grouchy on Wednesday was Vince Cable – not that there’s anything new in that. I’ve done a couple of dozen of interviews with him over the years, and can honestly say I have never got anything out of him. I remember doing a 90 minute interview with him for Total Politics a few years ago: nothing apart from machine politician answers. I just couldn’t get under his skin at all.
On the day of the Autumn Statement, it was different. I had heard he was refusing to let his civil servants talk to the Treasury about planning further cuts after the election, so I put that to him – and off he went. Extraordinary. It transpired later that he had had a row with Danny Alexander in cabinet over a silly letter that he had written to the OBR. Ferrets in a sack.
And what about Nick Clegg boycotting the Statement because he doesn’t think being pictured sitting alongside Osborne and Cameron does his image any good? Pathetic child. He should realise the die is cast now, and there’s b*gger all he can do to change anyone’s perception of him. I’ve always thought of him as quite a courageous politician, but I’m rapidly revising that view now. He should look at the example of Alexander who was quite happy to be filmed coming out of Number 11 with the Chancellor.
We carried out a listener poll on economic competence on my show on Wednesday. By a margin of 71-29 per cent my listeners reckon that Ed Miliband and Balls would do better running the economy than Cameron and Osborne. And I get accused of spouting Tory propaganda to my listeners. Well, if I am doing that, it seems I am pretty useless at it!
I’m typing this on an iPad – so apologies for typos which the ConservativeHome team miss. (And ours too – Ed.) My Lenovo laptop screen went white on Wednesday, and this for the second time – so it can’t be used. I’m the first to complain about bad customer service experiences, so let me give praise where praise is due, and say that Lenovo have been brilliant in getting it sorted as quick as possible. So many thanks to Stuart in their customer services team who hasn’t left a stone unturned in helping me through the sorry situation.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. John Bercow seems to have taken that quite literally when he released a letter he had received concerning an allegation of rape against Mark Pritchard, the Conservative MP. I’m sure that Pritchard telling him back in 2011 “You’re not f*ck*ng royalty, Mr Speaker” had absolutely nothing to do with the latter’s decision to release the letter. It’s just that I can’t recall a letter like that ever being publicly released before. Astonishing chain of events, if true.
Twenty four points and in fifth place after 14 games. It’s a happy time for West Ham fans. Last Saturday, for reasons I won’t bore you with, I got to sit in the Directors Box for the first time. Indeed, I got to sit in the front row, in the seat normally occupied by the posterior of Sir Trevor Brooking.
I took great pleasure not only from that, but from the fact that I was sitting in a better seat that Russell Brand, who was at the end of the row behind. At half time, they asked if I’d like to be introduced to Brand. I declined. I may be many things but unlike him, I’m not a hypocrite. I keep thinking that as a fellow Hammer I should cut him some slack. But the feeling soon goes away.
5 Dec 2014 at 09:44
A last chance for parliamentary colleagues to catch up on some of the excellent books that have been published since the summer. (For those seeking guidance on books published before the summer recess I refer them to the Summer Reading List). Some of these books will provide relaxation and stimulation over the Festive Season whilst others can be stored up for the rigours of the lengthy General Election Campaign. As usual, this selection is personal and the emphasis is on history, military history and politics.
The Mayor of London, now selected as the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Uxbridge, and possibly a leader in waiting, has turned his literary attentions to Winston Churchill. The Churchill Factor How One Man Made History (Hodder and Stoughton £25) is published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Great Man’s death in January. If the reader wants a traditional one volume biography then that of Roy Jenkins is best of the bunch. The Churchill Factor is very much a personal view and is about the power of personality. It is a rollicking good “Bojo” read which ducks and weaves through Churchill’s life, and its publication provides a back story to the author himself.
Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds has written a well received biography of Attlee, and has now turned his skills to Nye The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan (I.B. Tauris £25). He steers a middle course between two previous biographies, the intimate and personal hagiography of Michael Foot, and the more critical one by John Campbell.
Modern British generals are in the habit of writing their memoirs and General Sir David Richards follows in the footsteps of his two predecessors – Mike Jackson and Richard Dannatt – as Chief of the General Staff. Taking Command (Headline £20) is very much the military life and times of David Richards who combined extensive operational experience in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan with staff work in NATO and Whitehall. It would be fair to say that both senior officers and ministers come in for criticism.
Martin Wolf is Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times and previously author of Why Globalisation Works. His latest book is The Shifts and Shocks What we’ve learned – and have still to learn – from the financial crisis (Allen Lane £25). This is an excellent explanation and analysis and Wolf examines the merits of coordinated monetary and fiscal policy. Something for the stockings of George Osborne and Ed Balls?
The problem with many books is that to politicians and hacks frequently they are too long and too academic. Now Philip Cowley and Robert Ford have come up with a simple but not simplistic answer. In Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box (Biteback £14.99) they have compiled some fifty-one short political essays by political scientists on everything from the influence of the internet to how the wording of a question in an opinion poll can dramatically change the outcome. A must for every political anorak.
Robert Tombs is a Professor of History at Cambridge University and has written extensively on French history and Franco-British history. Now in a door stopper of a volume (1,024 pages) he has written The English and their History (Allen Lane £35). This is a superb narration of 2,000 years of English history with analysis and stimulating insights that resonate in today’s debates about nationhood.
We have some formidably good women historians who combine scholarship with ability to express themselves to the public either in books or on TV. Helen Castor is a distinguished medievalist and authoress of books on the Pastons (Blood and Roses) and the women who ruled England before Elizabeth (She-Wolves). Now she has turned her historian’s skills to the Maid of Orleans, and her Joan of Arc A History (Faber&Faber £20) is a skilful reassessment.
Dan Jones is another historian who combines scholarship with presentational skills and is author of The Plantagenets. Now in a popular history continuing the story from the Plantagenets to the Tudors he has written The Hollow Crown The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors (Faber&Faber £20)
Following the Restoration of Charles II there was a comprehensive campaign to hunt down the regicides who had signed the death warrant of Charles I. Charles Spencer has written previously books on the Battle of Blenheim and Blenheim Palace. His Killers of the King the Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I (Bloomsbury Publishing £20) is a fascinating if gruesome account of the fate of the regicides. Perfect reading for members of the Whips Offices.
A N Wilson has written extensively on the Victorians and has now turned his skills to Victoria A Life (Atlantic £25). Perhaps more than any other biographer Wilson has humanised Victoria and used her voluminous correspondence to examine her relations with her family, politicians and servants.
It is a joy to handle and read a beautifully printed book that is well illustrated. For sheer eccentricity as well Sofka Zinovieff The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me (Jonathan Cape £25) ticks all the boxes. Centred around Farringdon in Oxfordshire, the Mad Boy is Robert Heber-Percy, Lord Berners is Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, an eccentric gay aesthete who was Robert’s partner and benefactor. Me is the authoress, and Robert Herber-Percy might have been her grandfather. Evelyn Waugh meets Nancy Mitford!
David Kynaston has been writing a comprehensive and fascinating political social and cultural history of Postwar Britain. His latest volume is Modernity Britain Book Two : A Shake of the Dice 1959-62 (Bloomsbury Publishing £25). Kynaston commands a wide range of original sources including diaries, letters, newspapers and the wider media, and covers high politics as well as everyday life.Engel’s England Thirty-Nine Counties, one capital and one man (Profile Books £20) is a very personal travel book about England, and follows in the footsteps of Defoe, Cobbett and Priestley. Matthew Engel is a Financial Times journalist and beginnng in 2011 visited all the English counties and London, to discover what we now call localism, but also history, culture and roots. Every county is covered and if his chapter on Norfolk, my home county, is anything to go by, captures the distinctiveness of each even in these days of conformity and local government reorganisation. A must for Eric Pickles.
Adrian Goldsworthy is a prolific writer on Roman history and in his latest book Augustus From Revolutionary to Emperor (Weidenfeld&Nicolson £25) examines a man who rose from relative obscurity to become emperor and effectively a dictator and whose rule set the template for our understanding of the Roman Empire. Augustus was Julius Caesar’s adopted son who out- manoeuvred his rivals and gave Rome a period of stability. A welcome counter to Robert Graves portrait of Augustus in I Claudius and the BBC adaption with Brian Blessed as the Emperor.
There is no Anglophone historian who knows more about Philip II of Spain than Geoffrey Parker. For over thirty years he has produced consistently good major works on Philip II, and Imprudent King A New Life of Philip II (Yale University Press £25) is an updated biography based on access to new documents.
The defining characteristic of modern politicians is their desire to manage the media and control the message. Many people assume this is a modern phenomenon, but as Harold Holzer shows in an exhaustive and dense but highly informative book Lincoln and the Power of the Press The War for Public Opinion (Simon&Schuster £24) “Honest Abe” was a past master. Early on in his political career he wrote articles under a pseudonym and smooched editors of newspapers. This became crucial when he became President and in the battle for public opinion during the Civil War. Like most politicians he had to endure various attacks and caricatures in the press almost on a daily basis, but on the whole he was ahead most of the time.
Successive generations have been fascinated by “the Great Game”, the rivalry and at times conflict between the Russian and British Empires fought out over Central Asia and the borderlands on the frontiers of Afghanistan. Reginald Teague-Jones was a British Indian Intelligence Officer before, during and after the First World War. Implicated in the execution of some twenty Bolshevik commissars he was forced to change his name and eventually served in MI5 in the USA during the Second World War. Taline Ter Minassian, a French historian of Transcaspia in the 1920s has searched the archives to establish the life and career of this middle ranking intelligence officer. Most Secret Agent of Empire Reginald Teague-Jones, Master Spy of the Great Game (C Hurst Co £25) is translated from French and reads like something from the Boy’s Own Annual.Challenging other biographies, Stephen Kopkin’s Stalin Volume One: Paradoxes of Power 1878-1928 (Allen Lane £30) offers a different interpretation of Stalin. The author places less emphasis on his childhood and family life and more on his relentless ambition and determination to match the ruthlessness of Lewin. At 976 pages this is no light read and a further volume is awaited.
Roger Moorhouse is an historian of Nazi Germany and wrote a very good book on Berlin at War Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-45 (2010). His The Devil’s Alliance Hitler’s Pact with Stalin 1939-1941 (Bodley Head £25) breathes new life into an old story. Moorhouse explains the motives of both Hitler and Stalin and the consequences of their Pact for Poland and the Western Powers. Something for President Putin’s stocking.
Constantinople or Istanbul as it became has always been a centre for ethnic, cultural and religious conflict as well as espionage. Charles King has managed to combine all these themes in Midnight at the Petra Palace The Birth of Modern Istanbul (WW Norton and Company £18.99). Using the old Petra Palace Hotel as a centre piece and a vehicle to discuss developments in Turkish history in the first half of the twentieth century.
There is a danger that we assume that conflict and horror ends with an armistice or unconditional surrender. The aftermath of the First World War extended beyond the 11th November 1918 and the Second World War beyond the surrender of Germany in May and Japan in August 1945. Victor Sebestyen in his 1946 The Making of the Modern World (Macmillan £25) shows how if anything conflict intensified after the formal ending of the Second World War.As Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor has established a formidable reputation as a writer, lecturer, broadcaster and exhibitor. His History of the World in 100 Objects managed to combine scholarship with an easy style and to synthesise a complex subject. His Germany Memories of a Nation (Allen Lane £30) repeats the formula in a weighty tomb which presents history, politics, culture, landscape, architecture and symbols in a way which encourages the reader to think. Something for a Eurosceptic stocking.
Our National Archives is one of the most remarkable collections of documents in the World, holding 120 miles of documents. In 2010 the staff were invited to select their favourite document and many of these have been included in Secrets of the National Archives The stories behind the letters and documents of our past by Richard Taylor (Ebury Press £25) including the Magna Carta and King Edward VIII’s letter of Abdication. A wonderful book to browse through on Boxing Day.
Admire him or despise him Henry Kissinger is a giant of academic and political conduct of international affairs. In World Order Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History (Allen Lane £25) his career moves in a full circle back to his research on the Congress of Vienna and the search to build a world order amongst contemporary instability and dangers.The film director and producer Ken Burns was responsible for the multi-episode film series on the American Civil War released in 1990. It came in for criticism of interpretation but it was a magnificent achievement. Other documentary series have followed and now he has produced The Roosevelts which examines Teddy, FDR and Eleanor and is accompanied by a large coffee table book by Geoffrey C Ward and Ken Burns The Roosevelts An Intimate History (Alfred A Knopf £50), The film series on DVD combines photographs, film footage, artefacts and talking heads of historians, and is about one extended family who dominated American politics, had a concept of public service, took on vested interests, faced enormous political and personal challenges and tried to exude optimism. The DVDs and the book should be a must for David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.
Robin Renwick was British ambassador to the US between 1990-1995 and was a good friend to the Clintons. In Ready for Hillary (Biteback £17.99) he attempts to describe what makes her tick and what one might expect from a President Hillary – if she is nominated and wins. Something for UK “Senator” Simon Burns MP – if he hadn’t already bought it.
Thoughtfully, provocative, stimulating and opinionated, the political journalist and writer Peter Oborne has a great love of cricket. In a very readable but magisterial book Wounded Tiger The History of Cricket in Pakistan (Simon&Schuster £25) he shows how from the establishment of Pakistan as a country cricket has been as much about national identity as the noble game. The author’s knowledge of cricket, interviews with many players and politicians provides him with the basis of fascinating story.
My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of books written about Afghanistan and the continuing war, nearly all by Western politicians, military developers and academics. Now Anand Gopal, an American journalist has looked at the war in Afghanistan from the perspective of Afghan people, and his No Good Men Among the Living America, the Taliban and the War through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books £17.99) should be read by all of us in the so-called west. Not just as recent history but as a warning about failure to understand the culture and history of countries we may wish to intervene in and help. A stocking filler for Rory Stewart – if he hadn’t already reviewed it in the current issue of The New York Review of Books.
Andrew Roberts, historian, commentator and journalist has written before about Napoleon – either in tandem with Wellington or through a study of Waterloo. Now he has let loose his full admiration in Napoleon the Great (Allen Lane £30). This is the case for the prosecution against all those who have attempted to diminish the achievements of the “Corsican tyrant” which include not only his military skills but political, diplomatic and constitutional successes with the author claiming long lasting legacies. Provocative, but a real tour de force although many readers will disagree with at least some of his conclusions.
The period of European history from 1789 to 1848 covers the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, the counter-revolution and then the revolutions and counter- revolutions of 1848-1851. Phantom Terror The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty 1789-1848 (William Collins £30) by Adam Zamoyski is not another history of this turbulent period, but rather an account of why governments overreacted to the slightest peril and the peaceful demands for reform, resorting to repression through the military, police, informers and spies.In These Times Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 (Faber&Faber £25) Jenny Uglow has written a social history from the viewpoint of a wide range of people living in Britain based on original letters and diaries with themed chapters. We are used to reading books about war and the home front for the two World Wars but not on this period.
Next year will see the bicentary of the Waterloo Campaign and there are a wide range of books on this subject being published. The centenary of the Waterloo Campaign Commemoration in 1915 had to be postponed because of another war. The great irony was that in 1915 the British were allied with the French fighting the Germans whilst in 1815 the opposite was true. It is still possible to find contemporary Brits – some of them in parliament – who are reluctant to recognise that the Duke of Wellington commanded a coalition army with European partners. Over sixty per cent of Wellington’s army were German, Dutch and Belgian troops even before Blucher and his Prussians arrive in penalty time. Wellington’s German troops were in the Kings German Legion, or Nassauers, Brunswickers and Hanoverians. A combination of subjects from the Harroverian dynastic possessions of the British royal family and Germans who had fled before Napoleon. In a short book, The Longest Afternoon the 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo (Allen Lane £14.99) Brendan Simms examines the German dimension to British military power and specifically the role of the 2nd Light Battalion of the Kings German Legion and its valiant defence of the crucial Le Haye Sainte farmhouse at the centre of the allied line – a kind of German Rorke’s Drift. Now there is something for David Cameron and Angela Merkel to celebrate.
A welcome study of the Waterloo campaign is Paul O’Keeffe Waterloo The Aftermath (Bodley Head £25). The author covers the barbaric plundering of the dead and wounded at the end of the battle, events in Brussels and Paris, the ruthless pursuit of the remnants of the French Army by the Prussians and the retribution by the Bourbons of those who had deserted them and rallied to Napoleon.
The centenary of the First World War continues to see new books and reprints appearing on a vast scale. In this selection just a few interesting ones have been highlighted. Asquith’s wife Margot had a marmite personality, and her virtues and many faults can be seen in Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-1916 The View from Downing Street (OUP £30) edited by Michael and Eleanor Brock. This should be read in conjunction with Anne de Courcy Margot at War Love and Betrayal in Downing Street (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20) which is very much the world as seen from Margot’s perspective including her strained tolerance of Asquith’s infatuation with young women. On this subject the reader is directed to H H Asquith Letters to Venetia Stanley (OUP £19.99) edited by Michael and Eleanor Brook and originally publish in 1985 causing quite a stir.
On Platform One of Paddington Station in London there is a statue of an unknown soldier of the First World War reading a letter. This summer the public were invited to write that letter, and thousands of people of all ages responded with thoughts and views, some of them contemporary. A selection of these has been edited by Kate Pullinger and Neil Bartlett in Letter to an Unknown Soldier A New Kind of War Memorial (William Collins £14.99) The selection is very revealing about the public’s perceptions of the First World War and its commemoration.
The so-called Christmas Truce in 1914 when British and German soldiers met in no-man’s land, exchanged gifts, took photographs and played football has become symbolic of the desire for peace and the futility of war. Of course it was more complex and such truces had often gone on in history and rarely lasted very long because commanders stopped it and the ferocity of fighting hardened most soldiers. Malcolm Brown originally wrote about the Christmas Truce in 1984 and this has now been updated and expanded with Shirley Seaton as Christmas Truce The Western Front December 1914 (Macmillan £12.99). Best read as an antidote after watching the tear jerker of a supermarket advert for 1914 Belgian chocolate.Local history on the First World War is having a renaissance and the History Press have begun a series of paperbacks written by historians in their Great War Britain series. I have been impressed by Norfolk Remembering 1914-18 (£19.99), my own county, and so far in the series there are books on Middlesbrough, Swindon, West Sussex, Oxfordshire, Derby , Exeter, London, Guildford, Shropshire, Birmingham and Kidderminster. Further volumes will appear over the next four years covering most towns and counties. Ideal for schools. Many schools are organising exhibitions and publishing books about their staff and pupils during the First World War including those who served in the armed forces and were killed. Emanuel School in South West London was a public school which drew its pupils from the professional middle class – no Eton or Winchester this school, but more typical of many. Daniel J Kirmatzis and Tony Jones have researched and compiled letters, diaries, photographs, memorabilia about the School, pupils and staff covering both World Wars to accompany an exhibition. The companion book Emanuel School at War The Biggest Scrum That Ever Was (Matador £30) is a magnificently produced and very comprehensive study and a template for other schools working the same period. Amongst the memoirs of British First World War soldiers those written close to events probably have the most value, as “old men forget”. One of the outstanding memoirs is that by Frank Richards who had been a coal miner in Wales and then served as a regular in the Royal Welch Fusiliers before 1914. Recalled as a reservist he served continuously in the 2nd Battalion on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918 as a private winning the DCM and MM. He decided to write about his experiences because the memoirs he read in the 1920s were mainly by officers who had had a different experience to his own. He contacted his former platoon commander, Robert Graves, who encouraged him and the outcome was Old Soldiers Never Die (1933) and then Old Soldier Sahib (1936) about his service in India before the war. This is a true working class soldier’s account of army life and war service, often politically incorrect by today’s standards but a real gem. Modern paperback editions can be found on the internet.
Two novels about the British Army and the First World War have just appeared in new editions. C S Forester, author of the Hornblower novels, wrote The General which was published in 1936 and now by William Collins (£16.99) with an introduction by Max Hastings. It recounts the life of a cavalry officer who served in South Africa and then on the Western Front until wounded in 1918. Forester received advice from Basil Liddell Hart, the military historian, who was very critical of British generalship. Biased but has the merit of getting in the mind and political and social milieu of the regular officer class.An outstanding novel of the First World War is John Harris Covenant with Death (1961) and now republished by Sphere (£18.99). It follows the story of a “Pals” battalion, which although not named, was from Sheffield, through its recruitment, training and ultimate destruction on 1st July 1916. Well researched history and believable characters. It is surprising that it has never been made into a film.
Putting the First World War beyond Britain and the Western Front is Alexander Watson Ring of Steel Germany and Austria-Hungary at War 1914-18 (Allen Lane £30). This young historian has mastered the languages and archives of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Poland. This is a superb book which covers political, military, economic and social factors and provides the reader with new insights into both why the Central Powers staggered on until 1918 and why they eventually collapsed.
Now for some stocking fillers. At the expensive but political and artistic end is Peel in Caricature The “Political Sketches” of John Doyle (‘HB’) edited by Richard A Grant (The Peel Society £40). Beautifully illustrated, these coloured caricatures and cartoons are accompanied by detailed explanations for their context.
Peter Jones is a classicist who has written both learned and popular books including Latin Crosswords and Veni, Vidi Vici Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Romans But Were Afraid To Ask. Now he has written Eureka Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About the Ancient Greeks But Were Afraid to Ask (Atlantic £19.99).
Fittingly for MPs and the Press Gallery is Jeffery Richards The Golden Age of Pantomime Slapstick, Spectacle and Subversion in Victorian Britain (I B Tauris £25) Richards describes how pantomime evolved from the medieval period and how it was both vulgar and topical and thus still has its attractions today with many of our finest actors and actresses happy to tread the boards at the traditional Christmas Panto. One for Penny Mordaunt MP.
Lee Jackson, crime writer of Victorian London and author of books on Dickens and London has now turned his attention to how London coped with its refuse – human, animal and industrial. In Dirty Old London The Victorian Fight Against Filth (Yale £20) Jackson describes the state of London and the attempts of reformers to clean it up. Eventually Parliament was moved to support a clean up because it was threatened by appalling odours, seeping sewage and the fear of cholera.
Keith Simpson MP
30 Nov 2014 at 20:15
I had some brilliant news yesterday. Mango Groove are coming to London to play a concert at the Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday 7 March 2015. So who are Mango Groove, I hear you asking. Well, they are probably the best band South Africa has ever produced. I first got to know their music in the 1990s and have been a devoted fan ever since. I’ve put some Youtube videos of some of their work at the end of this post. They present a unique mix of South African pennywhistle music which someone combines brilliantly with a western pop sound. They’ve played an important part in South Africa’s development into a democracy.
From their first, multi-platinum release in 1989, the band has gone on to sell over a million copies in South Africa alone, and has garnered a host of South African and international music and recording awards. As a young non-racial music group formed in 1985, the band has gone on successfully to straddle the tumultuous decades of ‘80’s South African protest pop, the miraculous transitional years of ’90’s South Africa, and the post millennial shaping of a truly representative South African music culture.
To this day, Mango Groove continues to occupy a very special and unique place in South African music history. It performs to capacity concerts in South Africa and continues to touch the hearts and minds of all South Africans of all ages. Today the group stands proud as a powerful symbol of the great South African journey: where the country has come from, and where it is going.
The group’s many career highlights have included the following:
• Providing the sound track to the worldwide broadcast of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years.
• Headlining the concert celebrating Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as the first ever democratic president of South Africa
• Performing at the Hong Kong Handover concert in 1997
• Playing at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, linked by satellite to London, and broadcast to over a billion people
• Performing to over 200 000 people at the SOS Racisme concert in Paris.
• Receiving several encores at the iconic Montreux Jazz Festival
• Claire Johnston’s strong association with SA Rugby through the years: performing the national anthem at several international rugby tests, and recording the official 2003 Rugby World Cup song
• Headlining the legendary Oppikoppi Music Festival in South Africa in 2013, drawing the festival’s single biggest crowd ever to one stage, and receiving one of the only encores in Oppikoppi’s 20 year history.
• Selling out the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with their own concert in 2013.
The longevity of Mango Groove is certainly something astonishing, and it bears strong testimony to the band’s ongoing popular appeal. Mango Groove has both retained the huge loyalty of its original fan base while continuing to reach new markets and new generations. Many factors have shaped this success through the years, of course, but a lot of this is to be found in the Mango Groove Sound: an utterly unique and bewitching blend of influences that is unmistakeably South African and yet amazingly universal.
The eclectic pop cocktail that is Mango Groove is instantly recognisable: A rich blend of contemporary pop styles combined with South African Kwela and Marabi influences from the townships of South Africa in the ‘40’s and 50’s. The bittersweet sound of the pennywhistle, the big brass arrangements, the lashings of doo-wop harmonies and the thundering swing and gumboot rhythms… Feed into this a modern pop sensibility and front it with the inimitable and soaring voice of Claire Johnston and the end result is a sound that is utterly infectious and utterly unforgettable. Quite simply, nothing sounds like Mango Groove!
You can buy tickets from the Hammersmith Apollo HERE
30 Nov 2014 at 12:28
28 Nov 2014 at 14:39
I spent most of Sunday to Tuesday with Valerie Trierweiler, former First Lady of France, who was over in London publicising her book, which I have published. Virtually the whole time she was here, she was followed by the French press pack. Most of the time they kept a discreet distance, but I was constantly astonished at how they seemed to know where she would be and when. Even before she arrived they were harassing customers at Hatchards Bookshop on London’s Piccadilly. One matronly type was happily answering their questions until even she became exasperated and blurted out: “Well if you French could keep it in your trousers, there wouldn’t be any need for a woman to write a book like this!”
I dread and hate booksignings, mainly because you can never guarantee if anyone will show up. I well remember organising a signing for Ted Heath at Politico’s twelve years ago or so. His memoirs had not received huge critical acclaim and I remember trying to make polite chit chat while my colleagues attempted to find people who might actually like to procure a signed copy. They weren’t very successful. In Valerie’s case I needn’t have worried, as there was a nice long queue of people eagerly waiting her arrival at Hatchards on Tuesday lunchtime.
One person who might not have been so pleased was the new French Ambassador to the Court of St James, who, at the very time the booksigning was taking place, was presenting her credentials to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Normally the French press contingent in London would have been there, but instead, they were at Hatchards. I wonder if the Queen asked the Ambassador if she had read the book. One can but hope. I imagine the Ambassador, having presented her credentials to the Queen, left with the words “Merci pour ce moment”! Or maybe not.
I was interested to read Paul Goodman’s piece on the apparent leadership ambitions of Theresa May and Sajid Javid [add link http://www.conservativehome.com/thetorydiary/2014/11/may-and-javid-a-tale-of-two-future-conservative-leaders.html ]. After eight years in the job, it is hardly surprising that people are speculating on a successor to David Cameron. The only surprise is that there isn’t more speculation and that it has only started happening this year in any meaningful way. Margaret Thatcher suffered from in almost from Day 1. Although Paul Goodman only talks about May and Javid, the other two current frontrunners would surely be Boris Johnson and George Osborne. The Chancellor’s chances of inheriting surely rely on a Conservative victory in 2015 and Cameron deciding to step down in 2018. If Cameron loses the election it is difficult to believe that Tory MPs will ask for more of the same. By contrast Boris Johnson’s best chance of becoming leader is if Cameron loses in May and steps down immediately. His chances of success partly depend on whether the new intake of MPs, and indeed the current batch, see him as an election winner. Boris has made precious little effort to schmooze MPs, and he would do well to remember that it’s not automatic that he would come in the top 2 among MPs. I have little doubt that he would win the majority of party members, but he’s got to get to that stage. The only MPs that really know Boris are those who served with him in Parliament between 2001 and 2010. And believe me, not many of them liked what they saw. How far that will damage his chances, I don’t know. But coupled with the fact that very few of the 2010 or 2015 intake will have ever met Boris, let alone got to know him, you’d have to say he might have a battle on his hands to get through the initial stage.
“I’d like to see taxes at the lowest level possible. I didn’t go into politics to tax people.” Who said that? Ronald Reagan? Margaret Thatcher? Douglas Carswell? Nigel Farage? Nope. Guess again. It was Labour’s Chuka Umunna on my LBC show on Wednesday. I do hope he has a word with some of his colleagues whose only policy ideas seem to involve new or increased taxes. Chuka really is setting himself up as a modern day Tony Blair – someone who won’t frighten Tory voters. Good luck with that.
Make sure you get this week’s Sunday Telegraph. They’re serialising the referendum diaries of their Scottish Editor, Alan Cochrane. His book ALEX SALMOND: MY PART IN HIS DOWNFALL is published next week and to say it’s very readable would be somewhat of an understatement. I’ve described it before as Alan Clark on crack. No sex, but hilarious anecdotes, great gossip and real insight from a man who seemed to be at the centre of every single important meeting or event in the campaign. You can’t learn to be a great diarist. You just are, or you’re not. Gyles Brandreth is. David Blunkett isn’t.
Talking of Scotland, this announcement that the Scottish government will be able to set income tax rates and bands but not the threshold is about as good an equivalent to a dog’s breakfast as you can get. And it surely makes independence at some point in the future more likely. It will also make people like me much more shouty about powers for England, which the three main parties dismiss as if the argument is madness personified. The SNP must be laughing their heads off at the idiocy of their counterparts south of the border, who continue to play into their hands.
23 Nov 2014 at 13:52
It’s been quite a weekend for my company Biteback Publishing. Bearing in mind we are a company of 14 people, with a publicity department of 2, the coverage for our books in the media this weekend has been little short of outstanding, and something I doubt many of the big publishers could compete with. Today e had three separate newspaper serialisation for different books, plus three feature national newspaper interviews with Valerie Trierweiler, who also appeared on Andrew Marr. yesterday we had four books in the Telegraph Books of the Year. Well done to our publicity director Suzanne Sangster and her assistant Sam Deacon, and also to my deputy James Stephens who negotiates our serialisation deals. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what has happened this weekend.
VALERIE TRIERWEILER – THANK YOU FOR THE MOMENT Buy HERE
Front cover of the Saturday Times Magazine and lengthy feature interview, Times editorial & Extract (next extract on Monday) – Read HERE
Interview on the Andrew Marr Show – Watch HERE
Interview with Elizabeth Day in The Observer – Read HERE
Interview with Gyles Brandreth in the Sunday Telegraph – Read HERE
Mention in the Rachel Johnson column, Mail on Sunday
YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN – REFUSE THE VEIL Buy HERE
Extract in the Sunday Times – Read it HERE
PETER LLOYD – STAND BY YOUR MANHOOD Buy HERE
And next week we have Alan Cochrane’s Diaries, ALEX SALMOND: MY PART IN HIS DOWNFALL to look forward to. It never stops!
23 Nov 2014 at 11:26
Valerie Trierweiler was interviewed by Sophie Raworth this morning on the Andrew Marr Show. Tomorrow night she is on Newsnight.
You can order signed copies of Valerie’s book HERE
Following the controversial article in the Observer by Julie Burchill, Iain discusses what it's like to be a member of the transgender community in the UK today.
21 Nov 2014 at 14:02
I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come up to me in the last couple of weeks and in whispered tones asked if I think there will be 46 MPs writing to Graham Brady after the Rochester & Strood by-election. I look at them as if they have lost complete leave of their senses, shake my head in a slightly patronising manner and then say “er, no”, and then add for good measure, “not unless the Conservative Party has a collective deathwish”. There may be one or two knuckledraggers who commit a masturbatory act of self-indulgence on a grand scale, but Christ knows what they think the consequence would be, apart from sending a message to the electorate that they don’t care how disunited the Conservative Party appears six months before a general election. There is clearly no helping some people.
If you were rather bored by news bulletins yesterday, blame Ofcom. On a by-election day broadcasters aren’t allowed to broadcast any real political news for fear of affecting the result. So I couldn’t do a phone-in asking listeners what they think of UKIP’s immigration policy or the Mansion tax. Instead we have to ask really searching questions like ‘what do you think of the weather this time of year?’ OK, I exaggerate to make a point. But of course the newspapers can print what they like and you can say what you like on social media. Well, at least you can, but I can’t. The rules governing what can be broadcast at election times really do need to be overhauled, along with those which govern political advertising. It is ridiculous that a political commercial can be shown in cinemas, but not on TV, for example. The electorate continue to be taken for fools.
Think about this. We keep being told by UKIP that when they have won Rochester & Strood, there are at least two Tory MPs ready to defect. They may well be right, but think about the mentality of someone who waits to see which way the political wind is blowing before they make the leap. Weak, weak, weak. The backbone of a goldfish and the principles of a harridan. Anyone who defects in those circumstances is a political opportunist and would command little respect from their new comrades. Let’s put it this way, they are not people you’d go tiger hunting with, are they?
Talking of potential defectors, John Baron’s name seems to come up a lot as a possibility. It was therefore quite nauseating to hear the Prime Minister crawling to him in PMQs this week, going out of his way to say he would take seriously his request for £25 million for veterans of the 1950s nuclear tests. It was so over the top my colleague nearly passed me a sick bag. Needs must, I suppose. Is £25 million the going rate to stop a defection? It seems so. I wonder what little wheezes some of the others have up their sleeves. Philip Hollobone is the bookies 2/1 favourite to be the next defector but I wonder whether he’s got the balls to do it. Of the names being mentioned in despatches, if you want to place a small wager on someone who has demonstrated courage in the past, I suspect you could do no better than Gravesham MP Adam Holloway. I hear he is not a happy boy.
I’ve had my new car for two months now, and only this week have I realised that you have to press the remote button twice, rather than once, to set the alarm. So if you wanted to nick the car, you’ve had your chance…
This weekend former French First Lady Valerie Trierweiler arrives in the country to promote her book THANK YOU FOR THIS MOMENT, which my company, Biteback, is publishing. There’s been a huge media interest in the book and she will be appearing on Andrew Marr on Sunday and on Newsnight on Monday, with a string of print interviews over the weekend as well, including Saturday’s Times Magazine. Seeing as she has given no interviews whatsoever to the French press, you can imagine the storm this is creating in Paris. It seems the French media is in thrall to the Elysee in a way it would be impossible for Downing Street to control the media here. It is clear to me that an order went out from Hollande’s advisers to “get Valerie”, so you can hardly blame her for not doing any interviews with them. They have blamed her for Hollande’s unpopularity and even for the rise of Marie le Pen. There’s only one person to blame for both – and he lives in the Elysee. Hollande is a very weak and egocentric man. I was about to suggest that before casting aspersions he ought to look himself in the mirror. Trouble is, being very vain, he probably does too much of that anyway.
If you’d like to meet Valerie and happen to be in London on Tuesday she will be doing a booksigning at Hatchards on Piccadilly from 12.30 to 1.30pm. I’ll be there acting as bouncer. Although, on second thoughts, last time I took on that role it didn’t work out too well, did it? If you can’t make it, but would like a signed book, there will be copies for sale on the Biteback Publishing website next week.
On Tuesday I spoke to a small fundraising dinner for Lynne Featherstone, the LibDem Home Office Minister. Yes, traitor, turncoat, tosser – throw the insults if you like. I did it because she’s a friend and as a recognition for what she did on equal marriage, and I have no regrets. I also explained at the dinner that I’d also do it for other politicians in all parties who were friends and whose political achievements I respected. Politics is still a very tribal sport, and sometimes tribal loyalties tend to blind us to the fact that there are good people in all parties.
20 Nov 2014 at 21:45
I’ve presented some pretty astonishing hours in my four years on LBC but very few would top our 5 O’Clock hour tonight. We started off with an interview (by Tom Swarbrick) with Vishambar Mehrotra, the father of 11 year old Vishal, who was allegedly murdered as part of a paedophile ring back in 1981. We then talked to Jackie Malton, the inspiration behind Dame Helen Mirren’s character in the ITV series Prime Suspect, who headed the investigation into the murder. Following her I interview Mark Watts from Exaro News, who have led the investigation into the Westminster Paedophile ring and what went on at Elm House in Barnes.
But it was then that our collective mouths were left gaping open when we has two calls from ex-policemen, who proceeded to tell us that they were part of investigations into child sex abuse in the 1970s and 1980s and both were inexplicably shut down.
You can listen to the whole hour HERE (well, it’s 37 minutes minus all the news, travel, ads etc).
Or here are some of the component parts of the hour.