‘Dear Bill’ is the autobiography of William Deedes who has been a journalist, soldier, Member of Parliament, government minister and a Lord. ‘Dear Bill’ was first published in 1997 when Lord Deedes was in his 80s, he still writes for the Daily Telegraph in his 90s. He is the living witness of a bygone age and the traumatic events that changed the world during the 20th Century. As a soldier during the Second World War, he took part in the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation, where he witnessed the death and destruction of war at first hand.
William Deedes was born into an aristocratic family that had fallen on hard times. He does not give his exact date of birth in the autobiography, but does talk about a photograph - which is displayed in the book - taken of him when he was three at Aldington, Kent in 1915. William Deedes’s father had been invalided out of the First World War due to ill health caused by previous military service in the Boer War. Shortly after the First World War the family moved into the then dilapidated Saltwood Castle, which had belonged to the Deedes family since the 18th Century. Although William Deedes had been sent to Harrow, his father’s financial difficulties following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 meant he was taken out of school early and Saltwood Castle was sold. The family was helped at this time by William’s Uncle Sir Wyndham Deedes.
It was one of Sir Wyndham Deedes’s contacts that helped William secure a reporter’s job at the Morning Post in 1931. In those days the Morning Post was a relic of the Victorian era, as William Deedes explains in his own words:-
‘When the great houses advertised for a butler, for footmen, cooks, valets or maids, they chose the Morning Post as their medium. We were the sort of paper that butlers ironed before laying us along the breakfast dishes. Correspondingly, those seeking employment as butlers, footmen, cooks or maids bought copies of the Morning Post to discover the opportunities. Our classified advertising was posh and lucrative.’
In July 1935 the Morning Post sent William Deedes to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) as a war correspondent, shortly before the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. He was accompanied on the voyage from Marseilles to Dijbouti by a group of journalists, one of whom was the Daily Mail’s correspondent Evelyn Waugh. The experiences of the journalists in Abyssinia became the basis of Evelyn Waugh’s novel called ‘Scoop’.
In 1937 the Morning Post closed and William Deedes was taken on as a political correspondent with the Daily Telegraph. His journalistic careers was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.
He joined the Territorial Army in the Spring of 1939 and by August 1939 had been called up into the regular army. He received a commission and became a second lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Whilst with the regiment stationed in the North Riding of Yorkshire he met his future wife Hilary Branfoot. In June 1944 William Deedes took part in the Normandy Landings with the 8th Armoured Brigade. In a letter to his mother of 26th August 1944 he described the conditions on the front line:-
‘I hope never again to set eyes on the sight of the German Army as we saw it a few days ago. It was a triumph but a messy triumph. And most of us felt fairly sick, three of my crew have been sick the last 48 hours, due mainly to shock and stink. However, as I view it, it brings the day when B Company is sitting on the damnable bomb sites which worry you a good deal closer, and to that end I am prepared to see a lot more slaughter and carnage. Many of our new chaps have never seen death before, and I am afraid they have had a bad day.’
After returning home from the war in 1945, William Deedes resumed his career in journalism with the Daily Telegraph. He became the Conservative Member of Parliament for Ashford, Kent in 1950 and whilst a back bench MP was able to continue as a journalist on the Peterborough column of the Daily Telegraph.
William Deedes has witnessed huge social, political and technological changes during his lifetime. He was Minister without Portfolio, responsible for government public relations under Harold Macmillan in the early 1960s. During that time the Profumo Affair came to light in 1963, concerning a sexual relationship between the Secretary of State for War, Jack Profumo and a call girl named Christine Keeler. This became a huge scandal, because Christine Keeler also had an affair with a Russian naval attaché Captain Eugere Ivanov, at a party hosted by Lord Astor at Cliveden, thus compromising national security.
The public saw the hypocrisy of the establishment, as the old Tory government attempted to hide the Profumo Affair, which contributed to Labour winning the general election in 1964. Many people think that this scandal marked the end of deference, when people no longer trusted their leaders. William Deedes in his autobiography puts down the publics mistrust of the ruling classes to an earlier date. In his own words:
‘It has always been my belief that the British ruling class lost its authority on the Somme in 1916. “Lions led by donkeys,” as Max Hoffman observed to General Ludendorff. After 1 July, 1916, when the British Army suffered 60,000 casualties in a single day, men would never again trust their leaders in the same way. The war cost us a generation of leaders at every social level. Glance at any village war memorial. You will find the names of families which are part of the history of the village. Those loses, though discounted as the years went by, have had profound consequences for the history of this country during the past seventy-five years.’
In recent years William Deedes has done much work with CARE, to highlight the plight of refugees in Africa and Asia. He has also campaigned against land minds, and was with the reporters who accompanied Princess Diana to Angola in January 1997, which brought the world’s attention to the victims of land mines. As a man who still writes and travels in his 90s, William Deedes is an inspiration and role model for every journalist.
On reading ‘The Insider’ by Piers Morgan your opinion of the rich and famous will probably sink pretty low if it wasn’t low already. If there was ever a piece of evidence to show that wealth and power bring out the most vile characteristics in human nature, then this book is it. Some of the people depicted in the book certainly appear to be callous, ruthless and evil low life, who could otherwise be described servilely as the great and the good of politics, business and sport.
As editor of the News of the World from 1994 to 1995 and the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004, Piers Morgan had direct access to these people and with it the ultimate sanction over their careers: the decision of to publish or not to publish. ‘The Insider’ is in effect a diary covering that period, containing a mixture of the trivial, serious, sordid, scandalous and damn right hilarious.
The most unscrupulous and hypocritical of the lot appear to be the politicians, as no act is too base for them in the ultimate pursuit of power. Take for instance the time Tony Blair was anointed as next Prime Minister by the owner of News International, Rupert Murdock at Hayman Island in 1995. In this context it is worth quoting Piers Morgan’s diary entry for Tuesday 18th July 1995:
“Tony Blair made a keynote speech to the conference delegates here today, and went down an absolute storm. He spoke passionately of his ‘new moral purpose’ - particularly with regard to family life - and vowed to set the free media companies from ‘heavy regulation’ and allow them to exploit their ‘enterprise’. All just what Mr Murdock wanted them to hear.”
Further on in an entry from 26th March 1997, Piers Mogan again quotes a conversation with Tony Blair which illustrates Blair’s deference towards the press baron:
“ ‘Piers, I had to court him,’ said Blair. ‘It is better to be riding the Tiger’s back than let it rip your throat out. Look what Murdock did to Kinnock.’
“ ‘I understand that but I don’t want the Mirror squeezed in all this,’ I replied. ‘How did you swing his vote then?’
“ ‘Well, I think a meeting I had with him about Europe was the vital one; he wanted to hear that I’m not too pro. But I said no Tory would ever pull out of Europe, whatever they say. We’re in it now and always will be.’ ”
So much political comment in the media depends upon commercial rivalry between newspapers and television channels. For example, although the Daily Mirror supported New Labour in the 1997 general election, the newspaper started to become more critical of the New Labour government following the general election of 2001. This has often been put down to the Daily Mirror’s opposition to the build up of the War in Iraq in 2002 and 2003, but another cause might be favouritism shown by New Labour towards The Sun the Daily Mirror’s greatest rival. As Piers Morgan wrote on 24th October 2001:
“A leaked minute from a secret Labour fringe conference has come into our possession, which reveals former No. 10 spindoctor Lance Price confessing they deliberately leaked the 2001 election date to the Sun because winning their favour at the Mirror’s expense was a price worth paying.”
The Insider was published in 2005 and is very much a story of our times and relevant to the public interest. It is therefore surprising why it should be withdrawn from stock in a public library and sold after being only two years on the library’s shelves. This is a book that many of the rich and famous would hope you don’t read.
Even after 400 years the words: “All that glitters is not gold,” taken from William Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ are apt at describing the way we can so easily be deluded by the appearance of something once motivated by emotion or greed. ‘Business Blunders’ by Geoff Tibballs is packed
with anecdotes of how easily people are susceptible to delusions of grandeur when it comes to sinking money into a dodgy business venture. Of these many accounts the mass hysteria of the Tulipmania which gripped Holland in the 1630's and the South Sea Bubble which gripped England in 1720, remind the reader that it is not always best to follow the crowd when making decisions of a financial nature.
The theme of ‘Business Blunders’ is therefore more than just business failure, or scams directed towards the gullible, but as in ‘Strange People’ previously reviewed on this website, equally the irrationality of human nature. It is therefore hardly surprising that an account of the fraudster Victor Lustig appeared in both books. Lustig was the man who in 1925 duped a group of businessmen into believing that he had authority to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal.
Not everyone profiled in this book had dishonest intentions. There were those such as Sir Clive Sinclair with the C5 or Sir Freddie Laker with Skytrain, who had previously been successful and thought they were on to the next big idea. It appears that these types of entrepreneurs as well as aiming to make a profit, also wanted humanity to benefit from their invention, product or service. However, when it came to putting the idea into practice the vision was greater than reality.
Jamie Stokes’s book ‘Strange People’ contains 36 chapters with titles such as ‘Spring-Heeled Jack’ and ‘The Ancient Map Makers’, recording disparate incidents of weirdness surrounding the human species over the centuries. The book could easily have been called: ‘Strange People and the strange things that happen to people’, because it not only gives accounts of the lives of bizarre and extraordinary people such as Rasputin, but others such as Kaspar Hauser who were the victims of extraordinary circumstances and events. In the case of Kaspar Hauser, he suffered the abuse of being locked up in a dark room for the first 16 years of his life only being fed bread and water.
The instances of people behaving strangely is not only relegated to those on the fringes of society. Often a distasteful cultural practice might be something prescribed by a community for a religious purpose. Jamie Stokes describes in his chapter ‘The Bog Killers’, how iron age society in Denmark and Germany just outside of the boundaries of the Roman Empire used to perform human sacrifices to a goddess called Nerthus. The bodies of the victims were thrown into lakes after they had been killed. Centuries later in the 1952, Danish peat diggers found the nearly perfectly preserved body of a man at Grauballe, where the body had had its throat cut, skull smashed in and legs broken. Other ancient bodies with similar injuries have been found in the boggy terrain of Denmark. Another bizarre social phenomenon covered by Jamie Stokes in the book is cannibalism.
‘Strange People’ opens the mind to human weirdness and is the type of book which should appeal to people from any country or social background. The book is both educational and easy to read, its only fault is that it doesn’t have an index, but its strength is it helps one understand human nature.
‘In Search of The Edge of Time’ introduces some of the science and philosophy behind our understanding of time in the Universe, and the theoretical possibility of a time machine. However, as John Gribbin recognizes the practical possibility of travelling backwards in time would only be achievable by a civilization much more technically advanced than our own.
The book gives an account of the lives and work of some of the scientists who have devoted their lives to the human understanding of space, matter and time. During the 17th Century men such as Johannes Kepler and Sir Isaac Newton made discoveries about our own Solar System: Kepler found that the planets make an elliptical orbit around the Sun, and Newton discovered the inverse square law of gravity. During the 18th Century the Rev. John Mitchel wrote about dark stars 500 times bigger than the Sun (what we would today call black holes). These dark stars have an escape velocity which is greater than the speed of light. This means that if something is to escape from the gravitational pull of the dark star, then it must be able to pull away from the dark star at a speed faster than the speed of light. During the 19th Century the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell discovered that electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light. In 1905 the German Jewish scientist Albert Einstein developed the Special Theory of Relativity, where the speed of light is constant wherever you are.
Unfortunately, because many of the concepts in the book are so abstract it is very difficult to follow in places. John Gribbin may have made it slightly easier to follow for readers unfamiliar with advanced mathematical and scientific principals, if he had included a few more diagrams and some examples of the calculations he otherwise describes in words. The diagrams he does have in the book are helpful, but there are not enough of them. However, ‘In Search of The Edge of Time’ does introduce astronomical phenomena such as black holes, pulsars, quasars, white dwarfs and neutron stars, which should always create interest for further reference.
This review of Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ is of a modern Penguin reprint. The book was first published in two parts by J.S. Jordan in 1791 and 1792. Thomas Paine’s writings were extremely influential amongst progressive radical thinkers during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. He originally wrote ‘Rights of Man’ as a reply to another book written by Edmund Burke called ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’. Burke criticised the French Revolution in his book, whereas Paine made the case for the Revolution in ‘Rights of Man’. Thomas Paine was in America at the time of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, and also in France on 14th July 1789 during the storming of the Bastille in Paris. His writing influenced both revolutions, as he had previously written ‘Common Sense’ which advocated independence for America as a republic.
In ‘Rights of Man’ Thomas Paine describes what a Constitution should be. He quotes the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens’, declared by the French National Assembly in 1789. The three main principles of this declaration were based on the concept of human rights and formed the cornerstone of the French Constitution. These are:
‘I. Men are born free and always continue, free, and equal in respect of their rights. Civil distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on public utility.
‘II. The end of all political associations, is, the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression.
‘III. The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any individual, or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.’
Thomas Paine was a critic of the institution of Monarchy and the hereditary principle, whereby political power is handed down through a family. Today, sovereignty in the United Kingdom is still in the hands of the Monarch, and not in the hands of the people through the people’s representatives. The Monarch: now Queen Elizabeth II was not chosen by the British people through an election. She became Head of State in 1952 through the hereditary principal of being a descendant through one particular line from William the Conqueror. The Queen as Head of State still has it in her power to deny ascent to any Act of Parliament, to dissolve Parliament and appoint the Prime Minister. However, today it is very unlikely that the Queen would use these powers without the advice of her government ministers. These powers used independently of government, would only be exercised in a time of national crisis when government and Parliament were ineffective.
Over centuries monarchs when put under pressure have conceded powers to Parliament, however the process of reform has been extremely slow. Equally the rest of the aristocracy have been unwilling to allow ordinary people the right to chose representatives in Parliament. Only through political pressure during the 19th and 20th Centuries did reform allow more people the opportunity to vote and chose their representatives in the House of Commons, however the other chamber of Parliament: the House of Lords, is just as undemocratically appointed today as it was in the time of Thomas Paine. Tony Blair’s government may have scrapped the system of hereditary peerages, but not one person in the House of Lords has been elected to that chamber by universal suffrage.
The ‘Cash for honours’ scandal has highlighted the weakness in British democracy, following a police investigation into allegations that peerages in the House of Lords were sold for multi-million pound donations to political parties. If reforms to the House of Lords had been conclusive, then perhaps the second chamber of Parliament would have been renamed The Senate and all its members chosen by the electorate. This would have prevented a private system of horse trading for peerages, because the decision of who becomes a senator would be made by the public through an election.
‘The Anatomy of Greed’ by Brian Cruver is the story of the collapse of the energy giant Enron: the company estimated in the year 2000 to be the 7th largest company in the United States. At that time its revenue had also been estimated at around $100 billion. On Monday 2nd December 2001 Enron filed for bankruptcy after its share price had dropped to $0.26 on the New York Stock exchange the previous Friday. This bankruptcy - brought about by the fraudulent actions of Enron’s senior executives - is examined by Brian Cruver an ex Enron employee, who worked at the company’s headquarters, nicknamed ‘The Death Star’, at Houston, Texas from March 2001 until he was laid off in December 2001. Andy Cruver was told at his induction when he joined Enron, that the company’s core values were: ‘Respect, Integrity, Communication, Excellence’. However, he and thousands of other Enron employees later found out that these values were not put into practice by Ken Lay, the Chairman; Jeff Skilling, Chief Executive Officer; Andy Fastow, Chief Financial Officer and other Enron executives.
Enron could have been described more as an empire than a company, in this respect it was like any other global corporation, which has acquired various subsidiaries around the world through acquisitions and mergers. Enron came about when two natural gas pipeline companies: Houston Natural Gas (HNG) and InterNorth, merged in 1985. This merger created one controlling entity, which now had at its disposal an entire network of gas pipeline covering the whole of the continental United States. From that time onwards the Enron empire expanded overseas as it built power plants and pipelines in different countries such as the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. However, as this happened the company often cut corners with regards to health and safety. The consequence of this negligence would lead to tragedy.
In ‘Anatomy of Greed’, Brian Cruver gives an account of a conversation he had with an Enron executive, who in the book is given the pseudonym of ‘Mr Blue’. The conversation took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston and Mr Blue had been drinking quite heavily and was remorseful about Enron company policy. Mr Blue brought up the subject of the San Juan Gas explosion which had killed 33 people in San Juan, Puerto Rico in November 1996. Mr Blue had written a report in 1995 warning there were leaks in the San Juan gas pipeline, but his report was ignored by senior management, and he was transferred to another part of the world. The culture at Enron in Mr Blue’s words was “no bad news”, even when “bad news” had to be dealt with in order to prevent death and destruction. Shortly before Enron’s collapse another tragedy happened involving an Enron subsidiary at Teesside in the North of England. In August 2001 an explosion at the power station in Teesside killed three people.
Enron’s financial crisis was brought about by Enron’s debt being hidden from investors by the creation of artificial companies registered in the Cayman Islands. In October 2001 $1.2 billion was wiped off shareholders’ equity, this was the beginning of the end for Enron. It was after this that knowledge of the true extent of the fraud perpetrated by Enron executives came into the public domain. The artificial companies known as special-purpose vehicles (SPV) had been set up by Andy Fastow as a method of secretly borrowing on Enron’s behalf, thus hiding important information as to the true value of the company’s assets from Enron’s investor’s. The senior executives at Enron had used the SPV’s for their own enrichment in addition to their Enron salaries and bonuses at the expense of everybody else.
The culture at Enron was very much like a religion, in this case a religion of capitalism. Like any religion it relied on unquestioning faith. However, as often happens when people follow a cult, there comes a time when the truth gets out and they realize that they have been duped. This happened to thousands of Enron employees in November 2001, when they realized the company they had given their souls to, was going to collapse leaving them unemployed and destitute. As Brian Cruver said:
‘Something happens to the “best and brightest” when their religion turns out to be a hoax: the stunned faces, the bizarre behaviors, and the desperate measures.’
This book comes as a warning to everybody of the unrestrained forces behind big business.
Maurice Saatchi, the author of ‘The Science of Politics’ has been a spin doctor for the Conservative Party during several general elections. He founded the advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi along with his brother Charles and Jeremy Sinclair. Their company was behind the successful Conservative election campaign which brought Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979.
‘The Science of Politics’ gives an analysis of why the Conservatives lost the general election of 1997, and how Tony Blair and New Labour have taken some Tory economic policies and used them as their own. The Labour Party - which had traditionally been the party of the working class - was perceived to be good at caring for the disadvantaged of society but weak at managing the economy. Whereas the Conservative Party - which was originally the party of the aristocracy and later also that of the mercantile industrial elite - was perceived to be good at managing the economy but cruel when it came to caring for the most disadvantaged in society.
The Conservatives had won general elections in the 1980’s and early 1990’s with tax cutting agendas, but at the expense of cutting public services such as education and health. Labour had lost these elections because the electorate perceived that the Labour Party would raise taxes to pay for better public services. This situation changed in 1997 because public perception now saw that New Labour would not raise taxes but still improve public services.
Maurice Saatchi is critical of New Labour’s tax system as he describes it in the book: ‘At present, the government first taxes people on low incomes; then it means-tests their income to satisfy itself that they are in need; then it offers them benefits to restore their income back to where it was before they paid the tax; then, finally, it taxes the benefits.’
Maurice Saatchi in his chapter entitled ‘The New Enlightenment’ recognizes the profound technological and social changes which have been taking place in the world due to developments in the processing power of computer chips and biotechnology. He discussed the expectations that people now have from their government when he said: ‘They realize that information is knowledge, and that knowledge is power. And they asked themselves, why should all this knowledge be shared only among the elite? Why shouldn’t it be shared among all the people? Why should the people stay in the dark?’
Unfortunately, he omitted to talk much about peoples’ scepticism of big business and the growing disparity between the extreme wealth of those funds managers who can exploit global markets and the extreme poverty of the low paid working majority who are exploited everywhere.
The story of ‘The Global Conflict’ by C.J.Bartlett begins with the expansion of already large European empires, throughout the world during the last decades of the 19th Century. Although there was peace in Europe between 1871 and 1914, the rivalry and ambitions of the great powers would lead to diplomatic and military brinkmanship which was often referred to at the time as ‘the great game’. C.J. Bartlett talks about ‘the militant nationalism of the middle classes’ being a driving force behind this imperialism. He thus explains their mentality in the following sentence: ‘Armies, navies, imperialism and an assertive foreign policy seemed to have a special appeal for those who felt menaced by socialism and trade unions from below and big business from above.’ This appears to have been the common jingoistic sentiment in the powerful nations of Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia although the author recognises that the causes which lead to the global conflicts in the twentieth century were numerous and complex.
History is as much about the study of social, environmental, economic, technological and political conditions which caused events, as it is about arrogant and disingenuous people who got into power and brought about the deaths of millions. An obscure long forgotten politician such as Sergei Witte who became Russia’s Minister of Finance in 1892, may have had as much influence over the course of history, as infamous tyrants such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Witte was an exponent of both the Trans-Siberian Railway opening up China to Russia, and Russian industrialisation. His policy was financed by borrowing from other countries, however, this did have other costs as C.J.Bartlett describes in the second chapter of ‘The Global Conflict’:
‘The living standards of the masses suffered. Lionel Kochan concludes concerning Witte: his policy “of robbing the present for the sake of the future, of guns before butter, of establishing Russian greatness by impoverishing the proletariat was most intimately linked to the progress of the Russian revolution”’.
‘The Global Conflict’ is a detailed account of the many events which brought about the First World War then the Second World War and later the Cold War. This book takes time to read but is well worth it, because it gives a rich texture to history and history can only be understood if we know about the complexity of conditions as opposed to simplistic explanations using the word evil.
‘Stalker’ was written by the one time Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, John Stalker who in May 1984 was asked to investigate the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Northern Ireland. His investigation was into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of six men, who were shot by the RUC in three separate incidents during November and December 1982.
The first incident took place at Tullygally East Road outside of Lurgan on 11th November 1982, in which three unarmed men: Eugene Toman, Sean Burns, and Gervaise Mckerr were shot dead while they were in a car. The second incident took place in a hayshed at Ballyneery Road North outside of Lurgan on 24th November 1982, in which a 17 year old youth, Michael Justin Tighe was shot dead and his friend Martin McCauley aged 19 was seriously injured. The third incident took place at Mullacreavie Park housing estate in Armagh on 12th December 1982 in which two men, Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll were shot dead while they were in a car. All six men were IRA terrorists suspects at the time, although the youth Michael Tighe had no history of involvement with the IRA.
The subsequent trials and acquittals of RUC officers involved in two of these shooting incidents, did nothing to dispel rumours that the RUC was pursuing a ‘shoot to kill policy’. Evidence of a conspiracy came with the admission of Constable John Robinson, at his trial in April 1984 for the murder of Seamus Grew, that he had been instructed by senior RUC officers to lie in official statements. It was following this revelation and the breakdown of public credibility in the RUC, that John Stalker was asked to conduct an independent enquiry into the events surrounding the shootings of the six men.
John Stalker’s book is the story of how he was obstructed throughout the enquiry, between May 1984 and May 1986, by the RUC’s Chief Constable Sir John Hermon and other senior RUC officers. One crucial piece of evidence in the case of the shooting of Tighe and McCauley in the hayshed, was that the hayshed had been under surveillance by MI5 for several weeks and a tape recording had been made of the shootings of Tighe and McCauley. On several occasions Sir John Hermon had denied John Stalker access to this tape. Finally John Stalker was removed from the enquiry without ever being allowed to listen to this tape. At the same time he was also removed from duty as Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police. Allegations had been made against John Stalker that he had associated with a criminal called Kevin Taylor. However, it was later proven that Kevin Taylor who was a friend of John Stalker, had never been involved in crime. The allegations against Stalker and Taylor had been used as a pretext to remove Stalker from the enquiry because he was getting too close to the truth. John Stalker was allowed to return to his duties as Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police in August 1986, but he would never be allowed to complete his investigation into the RUC in Northern Ireland.
‘Stalker’ was written in 1988 and since that time the peace process in Northern Ireland has moved on, with the IRA and other paramilitary organizations giving up violence, and a new power sharing process in place. However, there are still sectarian tensions between the Catholic and Protestant communities within the Province. This book should not be read to resurrect old bitterness, but rather as a guide to dealing with corrupt and obstructive officialdom within any society. John Stalker was given the remit of investigating the RUC but had to suffer obfuscation and prevarication all of the time he was involved with that investigation. As well as being a historical account of events in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s, it could also be seen as a reference book for anyone who has experienced similar obfuscation and prevarication from a disingenuous manager behind a desk, irrespective of whether that manager works for: a government department, any form of limited company, institution, organization or individual.
Peter Wright’s autobiography ‘Spycatcher’ was first published in the United States in 1987. The book caused a sensation at the time, not only because of its main allegation that a former head of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis had been a Soviet agent, but also by the British government’s attempts to get the book banned.
Peter Wright had been recruited by MI5 as Scientific Officer in 1955. He had previously worked for the Admiralty Research Laboratory (ARL) during the Second World War under Sir Frederick Brundrett and Stephen Butterworth. His responsibility during the war had been to degauss Royal Naval warships, which was the process of neutralising a ship’s magnetic field to protect it from mines. Just after the war he worked as a Principal Scientific Officer at the Services Electronics Research Laboratory (SERL).
The Security Service commonly known as MI5 is part of the state’s secret security apparatus. Until the 1990’s it had no legal status as it did not officially exist, although everyone knew of its existence. MI5 differs from MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) in that it concentrates on espionage and counter-espionage within the United Kingdom, whereas MI6 engages in espionage overseas.
As Scientific Officer at MI5, Peter Wright was responsible for building and installing an array of surveillance devices used by MI5 to monitor suspected Soviet agents. The job involved breaking and entering into private premises such as embassies, offices and homes, to install bugging devices.
Peter Wright worked for MI5 from 1955 to 1976 at the time of the Cold War: the ideological struggle between Capitalism in the West and Communism in the East. The security services belonging to each side were trying to penetrate the security of their rivals. Hence, Peter Wright also as a counter intelligence officer, investigated the reason why the spies Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt were able to operate for so long undetected.
The book contains many different anecdotes and theories, which makes it essential reading for anyone who is interested in conspiracy theories. One allegation is that Hugh Gaitskell, one time Leader of the Labour Party, was murdered by the KGB. Gaitskell died of lupus disseminata in January 1963. Gaitskell’s doctor became suspicious that Gaitskell had been poisoned, so he contacted MI5, but an investigation at the Ministry of Defence’s laboratory at Porton Down was inconclusive according to the story. ‘Spycatcher’ also talks about the plot in the 1970’s, by members of the British establishment to overthrow the Labour Prime Minister Harrold Wilson by means of a coup.
On five occasions between 1997 and 2004, the Prime Miinister, Tony Blair, took Britain to war. These were: air strikes against Iraq in 1998; the Kosova War 1999; Sierra Leone 2000; Afghanistan 2001; and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. ‘Blair’s Wars,’ by John Kampfner is the story of how Tony Blair: a man with little understanding of foreign affairs, managed to persuade - with the help of an inner circle of advisors - his party and the public to trust his integrity in these decisions. However, there was great opposition to the 2003 war in Iraq: with a mass demonstration in London in February 2003 as the prospect of war became inevitable; and the resignation of the Cabinet minister, Robin Cook just days before the conflict began. Clare Short later resigned from the Cabinet in May 2003 in relation to the war and the way Tony Blair was handling foreign policy in general.
Tony Blair told Parliament and the nation, that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat by his weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s). Weapons of mass destruction were given as the reason for going to war against Iraq, but this proved to be a spurious pretext, because following the defeat of Saddam’s forces in April 2003, no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons were found by American or British forces. Saddam’s weapons programmes had already either been destroyed or dismantled as a result of the 1991 Gulf War and years of subsequent inspections by Unmoved (United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission).
Blair’s Wars, gives an insight into how Blair operated through a coterie of favoured advisors, while at the same time members of his own Cabinet and senior civil servants at the Foreign Office were marginalised. One member of Blair’s inner circle: Jonathan Powell, the Prime minister’s chief of staff remained in the shadows until the public became aware of him at the time of the Hutton Inquiry. John Kampfner describes Jonathan Powell’s influence over Tony Blair in the following words:
‘The statement had been cleared with Downing Street, but not the spin. When Powell heard what they were doing, he shouted to his colleagues in Number 10, “What a load of crap!” Blair was prepared to give Cook some latitude, but as soon as the Foreign Secretary tried to guide policy towards a leftist interpretation of human rights and antipathy towards arms sales, Blair was advised by his two senior aides, Powell and John Holmes, his principle private secretary, to rein him in. Blair agreed. This was not a strategy he was comfortable with.’
Another influential member of Blair’s inner circle was David Manning. Manning accompanied Blair on a visit to see George W. Bush at the President’s home at Crawford in Texas in April 2002. It was at this meeting that Blair secretly committed Britain to fighting a war along side the United States against Iraq, without consulting his Cabinet, Parliament or the British people.
Books are often written, published, discussed in public then forgotten about. They might gather dust for a number of years, before new events and circumstances make them relevant once again. ‘The Road to Number 10 From Bonar Law to Tony Blair’, by Alan Watkins, published in 1998 has recently been brought to such a juncture by Tony Blair’s announcement, during a visit to a school in north London on 7th September 2006, that he would have stood down as Prime Minister by the time of the TUC conference in September 2007. There is a possibility that his successor will be Gordon Brown, however if anything can be learned from Alan Watkins’s book it is that those expected to succeed the outgoing Prime Minister do not always do so.
The Road to Number 10, is a story of the events that have made politicians into prime ministers and leaders of their political parties. This book is very much focused on the process of selection and then appointment of the Prime Minister. The selection process is either when the electorate votes for a political party at a general election with the understanding that the party’s leader will be appointed as the next Prime Minister, or when a Prime Minister is forced to resign during a term of office due to ill health, crisis, scandal or intrigue and the selection is made by members of the ruling party. The Prime Minister is appointed when the Monarch asks a politician to form the next government.
In theory the Monarch could use the royal prerogative to appoint anyone as Prime Minister, but what usually happens is Buckingham Palace asks the outgoing Prime Minister to recommend a name. The name recommended is normally the winner of a general election or other selection process. The story in ‘The Road to Number 10’ begins with the appointment of Bonar Law as Prime Minister in 1922. In those days the democratic process was much more rudimentary than it is today. This would have made it easier for King George V to use the royal prerogative to exercise his own personal preference, or that of a small group of flunkies who had his ear, when it came to the appointment of a Prime Minister. This appeared to be the case, when Bonar Law was first asked by the King to form a government. However, Bonar Law who was a conservative, was unhappy about being offered the job of Prime Minister, because at the time Austen Chamberlain the half brother of Neville Chamberlain, was leader of the Conservative Party. Bonar Law only accepted the job after he himself had been elected by the Conservative Party as its leader.
Unfortunately some of Alan Watkins’s narrative is quite cumbersome, making the book tedious to follow in places. There are also a couple of historical errors. The first is in the following sentence: ‘Elizabeth II appointed Eden, the expected choice, in 1955, as her grandfather had appointed Chamberlain, the expected choice, in 1937 - though the former appointment was a longer drawn out affair.’ In fact it was the Queen’s father and not grandfather who appointed Neville Chamberlain in 1937. The second error refers to events that took place in October 1935 when it says: ‘Two days later Mussolini invaded Italy.’ Mussolini was leader of Italy in October 1935 at that time of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, so it probably should of read: Two days later Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. Apart from these faults, the detailed narrative with its cross references proves that the author had an extensive knowledge of his subject, making the book worth reading especially in the present political climate.
On 8th November 2006 an article on the BBC News website entitled: ‘Five ministers in honours probe’ reported that members of the cabinet were contacted by police in relation to the cash for honours investigation. If this investigation results in their arrests while they are in office, then there is a likelihood the issue will force resignations. It is also likely that Tony Blair will be interviewed by police in the coming days and weeks. It is very possible that events will force Mr Blair out of Downing Street sooner than was planned.
Road to Riches or The Wealth of Man, by Peter Jay, was written and published in 2000 as an accompaniment of a BBC television series of the same name. Both the book and the television series traced the story of how man became an ‘economic animal’, though the book is more detailed as the author says in his preface: ‘I say nothing important in the programmes that I do not think; and in the book I say many things that are not in the programmes.’
This book is not just a study of the history of trade and monetary systems, but also the conditions which brought them about. In the process it charts many of the important events affecting humans over the last 12,000 years such as the agricultural revolution, the rise and fall of great civilisations, the discovery of the New World, the industrial revolution and finally the information technology revolution. The book’s aim is to ask why and how man became an economic animal.
The story starts with how nomadic hunter gathering communities began to settle in one particular place because they discovered how to grow crops and domesticate animals. It was the beginning of the first great economic development: the agricultural revolution. Farming was a much more efficient method of bringing in food than hunting and gathering, which meant surplus food could be produced for those not involved in the agricultural process. This gave rise to the first divisions of labour and population growth with those actually doing the work in the fields having to provide for a hierarchy of warriors, priests, artisans and merchants. It happened between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent: the area around the Tigris River in what is today Iraq. However, when there is a surplus there is wealth, and wealth is usually fought over.
In Road to Riches, Peter Jay introduces the reader to the concept of the waltz as a three step cycle in the development of any economic advance. Step one is a new discovery or piece of technology such as the agricultural revolution, which creates an efficiency or surplus so creating wealth and prosperity. Step two is when predatory forces see the fruits of this wealth and want it without the effort or work needed to produce it. These are either ‘external raiders’ from outside of the society or ‘internal idlers’ within it. In step three the problem of step two creates a political response which could be military preparation, regulation or social reform. If the society fails to respond to the second step effectively then the society will eventually be destroyed.
Road to Riches, is as much about human nature as economics. Economic activity within human society appears to be obeying the same rules of natural selection as Charles Darwin discovered within the animal kingdom. However, the apparent winners in this struggle, the rich and powerful, are subject to the same natural forces as the losers. Climate change and environmental destruction, which is the result of excess carbon dioxide emissions from modern day industry and consumption, will effect everybody irrespective of their standard of living. Modern industry has created wealth for the winners, but unless future economic activity is sustainable we shall all be losers.
The climate of treason published in 1979 is a biographical account of three members of the Cambridge Spy Ring, recruited to spy for the Soviet Union while still students at Cambridge University during the 1930s. They were Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Harrold Philby (when he was a boy Harrold Philby had been given the nickname ‘Kim’ after the protagonist in Rudyard Kipling’s novel of that name). The Climate of Treason is also a historical narrative of the social conditions which put these men in positions of authority, so allowing them to betray their country.
It is an irony that these men who were so committed to the ideology of Communism and everything that went with it: the creation of a workers’ state and the overthrow of the old aristocratic and capitalist orders, were themselves ex-public school boys from the most privileged backgrounds. However, the public schools of that time were probably the type of places that a modern child protection agency would want to investigate. Although the British Empire had been ruled by men who had attended these institutions, public schools were not necessarily places that turned out intelligent and well balanced individuals. As Andrew Boyle says in the book’s prologue:
‘Reforms introduced originally at Rugby by the zealous Dr Thomas Arnold had since been copied or adapted in the oldest schools as in the new, from Eton, Harrow and Winchester to Haileybury, Cheltenham and Radley. The classics and a diluted form of Christianity were drummed into pupils; a frequent form of savage discipline was imposed to inculcate character and obedience to authority. Arnold had set his face against instruction in scientific subjects: “Rather than have physical science the principal thing in my son’s mind,” he said, “I would gladly have him think that the sun went round the earth…Surely the one thing needful for an Englishman to study is Christian moral and political philosophy.” The bias against the thorough teaching of science persisted, doing nothing to alleviate the competitive problems of British industry.’
It is hardly surprising after receiving such a warped education and upbringing at these elite public schools, that many of the young people who attended Cambridge for the first time appeared psychologically damaged. Malcolm Muggeridge who was a contemporary of Burgess, Maclean and Philby at Cambridge, but had not previously attended a public school himself was able to observe this social set from a distance. Being an outsider gave him the opportunity to make some candid observations about the English upper classes at the University during this time. Andrew Boyle quoted the following passage written by Muggeridge which makes the point:
‘Public schoolboys, whatever their particular school - from the most famous like Eaton, to the most obscure - had a language of their own which I scarcely understood, games they played which I could neither play nor interest myself in, ways and attitudes which they took for granted but which were foreign to me - for instance, their acceptance of sodomy as a more or less normal behaviour…The University, when I was there, was very largely a projection of public school life and mores, and a similar atmosphere of homosexuality tended to prevail. There was also a hangover from Wildean decadence, with aesthetes who dressed in velvet, painted their rooms in strange colours, hung Aubrey Bearsley prints on their walls, and read Les Fleurs du Mal. The nearest I came to being personally involved with these was when a High Church ordinand after dinner read to me from Swinburne’s Songs before Sunrise in a darkened room faintly smelling of incense. I emerged unscathed…’
It was not only Malcolm Muggeridge who observed the decadence of Oxbridge. Maxim Litvinov who was a Russian envoy to London in the early 1920’s and married to an English woman called Ivy Low, could see the cronyism at the heart of the old boy network was ripe for exploitation. If the Soviet Union recruited agents from within this social network then they would probably be able to operate for years undetected. As Andrew Boyle said in the book: ‘The last people to be suspected of disloyalty by the authorities would be young graduates already training to take their places on the lower rungs of the Establishment ladder.’
The farmer, soldier and journalist William Cobbett 1763-1835 was a man who loved England but hated its government. He lived at a time of great political, social and technological change, when Britain became the world’s most prosperous nation, but also a time when that prosperity was denied to the very farm labourers, factory workers and low ranking soldiers who made it all possible. The desperate hardship inflicted on the farm labourers and their families, due to the landowners policies of enclosing common land, and the introduction of new machinery which created unemployment, nearly caused a revolution in England.
As editor and publisher of the Political Register, Cobbett was critical of the corruption and nepotism at the heart of government which allowed the aristocracy to mismanage the affairs of state. At a time when there was very little democratic accountability due to the fact that only a small group of landowners were allowed to vote, both the House of Commons and Lords were full of aristocrats who had no desire to represent the interests of the poor. Due to these repressive political conditions it was inevitable that the authorities would prosecute William Cobbett for his anti-establishment prose in the Political Register. William Cobbett was imprisoned in Newgate Prison from 1810 to 1812 following a conviction for libel: the consequence of an article he wrote criticizing the way flogging had been used by the Army after an alleged mutiny at Ely.
Richard Ingrams’s biography of Cobbett: The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett, is a good introduction to the man and the times in which he lived. It traces Cobbett’s life from a poor farmers boy who scared birds off the fields, a soldier in Canada, an exile in the United States, a political journalist to his last years when he became Member of Parliament for Oldham following the election after the Great Reform Act of 1832. The biography also contains many quotations of Cobbett’s writing including the one below, written on the death of the reactionary Lord Castlereagh in 1822. The resentment expressed by Cobbett in this passage does not only reflect his own feelings, but also those of the public towards an arrogant and despotic politician:
‘Castlereagh has cut his own throat, and is dead! Let that sound reach you in the depths of your dungeon; and let it carry consolation to your suffering soul! As to compassion, as to sorrow, upon this occasion how base a hypocrite I might be to affect it! Nay, how base a hypocrite to disguise my satisfaction! The ruffians who continue to praise this man, tell us that the history of his life is found in the measures of the Government for the last twenty seven years; and that is true enough…it is written in a mass of pauperism, hitherto wholly unknown in England, and it is written in starvation to Ireland amidst overproduction. As to his family and connexions, look at the immense sums which they are now receiving out of the fruit of the people’s labour. And as to any compassion that we are to feel for them, we will feel it when an end to the sufferings of Reformers and their families will leave us a particle of compassion to bestow on everybody else.’