Reviews of some interesting books

The book reviews on this website written before March 2007 were first published on Jolyon Gumbrell's previous blog page

The Price of Victory, by Michael Charlton, published by the British Broadcasting Corporation, London in 1983, ISBN 0 563 20055 3

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  11th June 2013

The Price of Victory, by Michael Charlton consists of a series of transcripts of BBC radio interviews the author conducted with civil servants and politicians involved with Britain’s diplomatic relationship with European countries following the Second World War.  The theme of the book is Britain’s attitude to the project of European integration from 1945 to 1963.  The book ends with a discussion of why president Charles de Gaulle of France vetoed Britain’s membership of the European Community in January 1963.

Michael Charlton was editing this book in the early 1980s, a decade before the Maastricht Treaty and the creation of the European Union, which makes The Price of Victory an interesting historical primary source containing the views of the people who were involved in setting up the early European institutions - such as the European Coal and Steel Community, and then the European Community - that would one day be brought together as the European Union.  Many of the early architects of European integration wanted to eliminate the kind of divisions between the nation states of Europe which had caused the First and Second World Wars.  Although Britain did not initially commit itself to the formation of the European Communities, there were those in the government who saw that as the country went through the process of decolonization - a process that was also happening to other European colonial powers such as Belgium and France - Britain now had to form closer ties with Europe if it was to survive in the future.  This was the opinion of Harold Macmillan, who was quoted in the book as saying:

They did what the Greek city states did.  They tore themselves apart in two terrible wars, lasting ten years in my lifetime, in which they destroyed each other - for Africans, Asians, the Russians and all the rest to see.(Charlton, 1983, p.228)

Before the Second World War was even over, Winston Churchill was Writing to his Foreign Secretary about the possibility of a future single country of Europe made up of federal states.  Charlton quotes Churchill’s ‘Morning Thoughts’ which the wartime Prime Minister was writing around the time of the Battle of Alamein in October 1942.  If somebody read those notes without understanding the historical context, that person might not think that Russia was in fact Britain’s ally at that time in the struggle against Nazi Germany.  Churchill was clearly thinking about a post war settlement once the Nazis had been defeated when he wrote the following words:

I must admit that my thoughts rest primarily in Europe, in the revival of the glory of Europe, the parent continent of modern nations and of civilisation.  It would be a measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient states of Europe.  Hard as it is to say now, I trust that the European family may act unitedly as one, under a Council of Europe in which the barriers between nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible.  I hope to see the economy of Europe studied as a whole.  Of course we shall have to work with the Americans in many ways, and in the greatest ways, but Europe is our prime care ... It would be easy to dilate upon these themes.  Unhappily, the war has prior claims on our attention.(Charlton, 1983, p.13)

In the late 1940s it was not viewed as unpatriotic for an Englishman to advocate the formation of a United States of Europe.  Churchill lost the General Election to Clement Attlee immediately after the Second World War, but from Charlton’s account Churchill spent much of his time criticising the Labour Government of Attlee, for its lack of commitment towards European Unity.  Charlton has made some interesting observations in the following paragraph:

Sir Harold Wilson has reminded us that Churchill’s assault on Bevin and Attlee for their refusal to take part in the Schuman Plan negotiations had been ‘devastating’.  But by 1950 Churchill’s broad generalisations about Unity and his view that it could be brought about by acts of concerted good will, as Monnet put it, had proved insufficient for those who, like the author of the Schuman Plan, were determined to go beyond all past practices and embark, step by step, on the real functional integration of Europe.  Yet it had been Churchill, surely, who by his great speeches and the significance of his own presence upon ‘European’ occasions had largely formed the whole climate in which it was possible for Monnet and the Federalists, and the Americans too, to make the new concept of the Coal and Steel pool a matter of practical politics.(Charlton, 1983, p.125)

Many of the founding fathers of the European Community such as Jean Monnet were involved in the struggle against Hitler and Nazism during the Second World War.  In 1940 Churchill had considered uniting Britain and France in what would have been the beginnings of a United States of Europe, as a means of creating a powerful state to resist Nazi Germany.  Charlton said:

On 16 June Sir Robert Vansittart of the Foreign Office, General de Gaulle, and Jean Monnet sat down in London to draft those words and the declaration of Union.  It was sent by de Gaulle to the French Prime Paul Reynaud.  But it was too late.  The French government collapsed and France surrended to the German armies.  The architect of this proposal, which won the support of Churchill and of the British cabinet was Jean Monnet.  Monnet was in London as chairman of the Anglo-French coordinating committee and, as such, was directly responsible to both Churchill and Reynaud.(Charlton, 1983, p.36)

Jean Monnet was also a man who had used his contacts in the United States to promote the case for European integration as Charlton explained:

Jean Monnet was, in reality, more than a Minister.  He had been a British civil servant on the Joint Purchasing Commission during two world wars and had always worked closely with the Americans, with Roosevelt in particular in wartime.  And, a fact of the greatest importance, the American support for the concept of ‘integration’ owed a good deal to the force and clarity with which Monnet was heard in Washington.(Charlton, 1983, p.80)

After the war the Americans thought that NATO and a fully integrated Europe would be a means of preventing Western Europe being attacked or taken over by the Soviet Union.  The author interviewed Professor Richard Neustadt of Harvard who was an expert on Anglo-American relations.  Charlton quotes Neustadt as saying:

To think that European integration was necessary and desirable for reasons of recovery, opposing the Russians and containing the Germans - but to include Britain not merely as another government but as an earnest of this European entity, sustaining allied relations with America, and sustaining a global view.(Charlton, 1983, p.213)

Michael Charlton ends the story of The Price of Victory in 1963, a decade before the United Kingdom joined the European Community and two decades before he wrote his book.  The discovery of Charlton’s book by a Europhile today, would be very much like a Renaissance architect who discovered some medieval drawings of the original plans of an incomplete cathedral.  The Renaissance architect knew that he could not use the original plans in their entirety to complete the cathedral as some aspects of the designs needed to be changed, but they would have helped him to carry on with the job of building the cathedral.  Europe’s Cathedrals took generations to be built, likewise it will take generations to build a safe and united Europe.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2013

Nineteenth Century Britain 1815-1914, Second Edition, by Anthony Wood, published by Longman Group Ltd., London in 1982, ISBN 0-582-35310-6

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  12th June 2012

Anthony Wood’s Nineteenth Century Britain gives a detailed narrative of a century during which Britain saw huge economic, political, social, and technological changes.  For the author, the nineteenth century as a historical epoque, conveniently fits in between the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and the beginning of the First World War in 1914.  This book provides a good chronology of the major events to affect Britain during the nineteenth century.  It deals with themes such as empire, industrialistion, reforms which improved the conditions of workers in factories, reforms which slowly moved the country towards democracy, as well as the people who influenced the thinking and politics of the day.

One of the themes which runs right through the nineteenth century is that the British government wanted to pursue a free trade policy at home and overseas.  The idea of free trade itself could be put into a wider ideological framework of laissez faire capitalism as espoused by the eighteenth century political economist Adam Smith or the early nineteenth century Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham.  The laissez faire ideology believes that governments should not regulate markets, even if regulation is needed to protect consumers or workers.  Some of the most inhumane aspects of the Victorian era were the results of the application of this ideology.  Thus it was used as a justification of the workhouse because the Benthamites thought that paying the poor relief - to those who were unfortunate enough to find themselves unemployed - as an interference with the natural economic order.  The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 created a degrading situation of defacto slavery for anyone who was forced to become an inmate of the workhouse as a result of their unfortunate circumstances.  Wood quoted a royal commission report - which led to the creation of the workhouse system - as saying: “all those who receive relief from the parish should work for the parish exclusively, as hard and for less wages than independent labourers work for individual employers.”

The thinking of Benthamites such as Edwin Chadwick was that fear of the terrible conditions in the workhouse would make labourers “more diligent”, which would result in the employer paying better wages.  However, the reality of the situation was the exploitation of a captive working class.  As Anthony Wood said: “Wages did not rise.  With the threat of the workhouse the employer did not have to offer higher wages, and if anything they went down.”

During times of bad harvest and economic depression thousands of people were forced into the workhouses.  It is ironic that at a time when slavery was being abolished in Britain’s colonies as the result of anti-slavery campaigns by evangelical Christians, a new type of slavery was being created at home.

On the other hand free trade policy during Victorian times could also be seen to challenge the interests of the most powerful in the country, the aristocratic landowners.  The repeal of the Corn Law meant that tariffs on imported corn were abolished.  The Anti-Corn Law League - a campaign group whose members were northern manufacturers - wanted to repeal the Corn Law beacuse tariffs on imports of corn inflated the price of corn at times of bad harvests at home.  The factory owners had an interest in keeping food prices low, because their businesses relied on the labour of the growing population of the large industrial towns.

The invention of the railway, steamship, and telegraph transformed the world during the nineteenth century.  These innovations were first developed in Britain but later exported to the rest of the world.  The railway engineer Thomas Brassey who organised the building of railways around the world is mentioned in the book.  Wood said: “At one time Thomas Brassey had contracts in twelve different countries, and foreign railway requirements were responsible for one third of the annual export of iron; in 1869 alone 300,000 tonnes of railway iron went to the United States.”

One of the consequences of Britain’s free trade policy was that more imports were coming into the country than exports going out, during the later years of the nineteenth century.  Wood described this situation where: “Great Britain’s balance of trade still remained adverse and even at the height of the boom in 1875 £250 million of exports were outweighed by £300 million of imports.”

The British Empire was a curse on the majority of working class people living in Britain as it created poverty at home, because the bankers in the City of London were more interested in investing in gold and diamond mines overseas than industry back in Britain.  One of the critics of the Boer War was the writer J.A.Hobson, who understood that capitalism and the enrichment of a privileged elite was the motive behind the acquisitions of the British Empire.  Although Wood does not entirely agree with Hobson’s ideas, he does describe them quite well in the following passage: “To Hobson imperialism was merely a symptom of the inequitable distribution of wealth within the United Kingdom.  The low incomes of wage-earners meant that the home market could not reach its full potential and was therefore unattractive to financiers with surplus capital to invest, and the expansion of empire was the direct consequence of their search for more profitable areas in which to place it.”

Some people may ask why they should read a book about the nineteenth century.  The reason rests in the fact that history sometimes repeats itself in a similar way, and the events of the past are often relevant to the events in people’s lives today.  One of the warnings from history in this book is how destitute people were exploited as forced labour in workhouses, a situation which gradually undermined the pay and conditions of other workers in employment outside of the workhouse.  For anyone who has recently been forced to do unpaid work experience on the government’s work programme the historical comparison is obvious.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2012

Tangled up in Blue: Blue Labour and the Struggle for Labour’s Soul, by Rowenna Davis, published by Ruskin Publishing Limited, London in 2011, ISBN 978-1-780-72-068-5

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  13th December 2011

Tangled up in Blue: Blue Labour and the Struggle for Labours’s Soul, by Rowenna Davis is the story of how an ideology called Blue Labour came to influence the Labour Party.  The story begins in January 2009 at the time of the financial crisis, just three months after Gordon Brown had bailed out the banks with billions of pounds of tax payers money.

One man who had just lost his elderly mother, was shocked by What the Labour Party was doing.  For Maurice Glasman the bail out of the banks would be synonymous with the failure of New Labour, and the death of his mother who had always been a Labour supporter.  It was the defining moment for Glasman, in that the bail out represented the betrayal of his mother and everything that had gone wrong with the Labour Party.  Davis writes: “Now his mother’s party was in the process of bailing out the richest members of society at the expense of working people.”

Davis takes the narrative from this point through a conversation Glasman was having with his wife Catherine, where he coined the phrase “Blue Labour”.  The story of Blue Labour is not just one of the rise of a new ideology at the centre of a political party, it is also a human and psychological tale about a man who lived in a small flat in Stoke Newington in the London Borough of Hackney with his wife and their four children, and the relationships he was able to build which would project his ideas to influence the leadership of the Labour Party, and lead to his eventual enoblement to the House of Lords.

Tangled up in Blue allows the reader to become familiar with the Blue Labour ideology, which could soon become dominant in making Labour Party policy.  The ideology is similar to Phillip Blond’s Red Toryism in that its precept is against society being dominated by the market and the state, whereas according to the ideology civil society should be held together by charities, voluntary organisations, mutual societies, community groups, families, and faith groups.  Phillip Blond set up the think tank Res Publica and became an advisor to David Cameron before the 2010 general election.  It was Blond’s influence in the Conservative Party that led to the Conservatives using the term “Big Society” in their election campaign.

Although there are similarities between Blue Labour and Red Toryism, there are also differences.  Red Toryism has its origins in the Victorian paternalism of Disraeli, whereas Blue Labour has its origins in the workers’ movements, societies and unions which were fighting for justice against the power of capital.  Both Red Toryism and Blue Labour have changed the ideological dynamics at the centre of British politics, in that the new localism ideology of both movements changes the argument - from one of the left thinking the state is the solution while the right thinks the free market is the solution - to the new old idea that neither state nor free market is the solution to the country’s economic and social problems but perhaps voluntary organisations are.

Davis traces Glasman’s hatred of the power of the City of London and the financial sector back to a time when he was working as a professor at London Metropolitan University.  During the late 1990s Glasman and a colleague, William Taylor campaigned to save the historic Spitalfields fruit market from being developed into office space.  However, their campaign was unsuccessful as the Corporation of the City of London backed the developer, which resulted in a communal space where Londoners could walk being turned into a private space for the offices of a financial institution.

Glasman could see New Labour’s love affair with the wealth and power of the City at work when the City of London Reform Bill went through Parliament in 2001.  He had been angry with this because the legislation did not go far enough in making the City of London more democratically accountable.

Davis writes about Glasman’s involvement with an organisation called Citizens UK which would eventually lead to him meeting high profile Labour politicians including the brothers David and Ed Miliband.  Citizens UK is an umbrella organisation which brings together many community organisations and faith groups.  Through Citizens UK Glasman got involved with the living wage campaign and an anti-usury campaign.  Although Glasman is Jewish his religion has not got in the way of him working with Muslim groups on the anti-usury campaign.  According to Davis part of Blue Labour belief is plurality, where many different groups can be brought together within society to fight for the common good.  In the case of the anti-usury campaign it was the need to regulate the banks.

Glasman has become influential because he has been able to build relationships with many different people, through his one to one meetings with them.  There are places in the book where one feels Glasman is almost a psychoanalyst because he has a knack of finding out what is going on in peoples minds.  It is interesting to read about the relationship he built up with the Miliband brothers at the time when they were competing against each other in the leadership race of the Labour Party.

Whether you are a supporter of Blue Labour or you think there could be dangers attached to this ideology, Tangled up in Blue is an interesting book to read.  Rowenna Davis - although a member of the Labour Party - approaches this new ideology at the heart of her party with some impartiality.  Maurice Glasman helped set up Movement for Change which trained up Labour activists in community organising to help David Miliband’s leadership campaign.  Davis quoted a Labour activist called Jonathan Cox who said: “There were a few people who thought the community organising thing was verging on the cultish, too heavily linked to faith and we shouldn’t have any truck with it and they were always unhappy with it.”

Tangled up in Blue: Blue Labour and the Struggle for Labour’s Soul, by Rowenna Davis can be ordered from the publishers website at

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Codebreakers The inside story of Bletchley Park, Edited by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp, published by Oxford University Press, Oxford in 1993, ISBN 0-19-285304-X

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  9th October 2011

Codebreakers The inside story of Bletchley Park is a collection of personal written recollections of the people, who worked at the British Government’s secret codebreaking establishment, Bletchley Park during the Second World War.  The existence of Bletchley Park was not known by the public until 30 years after the war had ended.

Since the 1970s the code breaking establishment at Bletchley - also referred to as BP, Station X, or the Government Code and Cypher School (GC & CS) - has entered the public consciousness, as the place where the enemies’ encrypted messages were deciphered, which gave the armed forces of Britain and her Allies the military intelligence to defeat Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan.

In the introduction of the book, F.H. Hinsley discusses the contribution of Bletchley Park’s codebreaking operation towards the Allied victory.  He mentions the significance of the breaking of the German Enigma naval and airforce codes.  Two important successes during during the Second World War: the breaking of German naval codes in 1941 allowed the Admiralty to take decisive action against German U-boats that were sinking merchant shipping in the Atlantic; the breaking of the cypher used by the Italians allowed the Royal Navy to sink Italian supply ships in the Mediterranean that were supplying fuel and munitions to German forces in North Africa under the command of Rommel.

All of the people - whose memoirs are included in the book - were recruited to work at Bletchley Park, because they had special skills that could be used in the breaking and analysis of the enemies’ codes and cyphers.  The men and women who worked there were mathmaticians, scientists, engineers, chess players, linguists, historians, and administrators.  Some of those who found themselves at Bletchley were recruited directly from university, others had been called up into the armed forces and their appropriate skills and talents were recognised by commanding officers as being useful for codebreaking and intelligence work.

William Millward was an RAF intelligence officer recruited to Bletchley after having worked as a teacher before the war.  He was chosen to work at the secret codebreaking establishment because of his knowledge of German, French and Spanish.  He described the skills needed for intelligence work in the following passage: “It means reviewing known facts, sorting out significant from insignificant, assessing them severally and jointly, and arriving at a conlusion by the exercise of judgement: part induction, part deduction.  Absolute intellectual honesty is essential.  The process must not be muddied by emotion or prejudice, nor by the desire to please.”

Some of those who have contributed to the book, describe fairly technical processes associated with their work at Bletchley Park.  Alan Stripp described the operation of the Enigma machine, which was used by the Germans to encipher messages before they were sent by a wireless operator in morse code.  The recipient of the message would need another Enigma machine which was set in exactly the same way as the one that had enciphered the message, so the message could be deciphered.

Most German wireless messages were picked up by the British at interception stations on the south and east coast of England.  The work of those at Bletchley Park would be to recreate the settings of the Enigma machine in order to discover the contents of the message.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Empire How Britain Made The Modern World, by Niall Ferguson, published by the Penguin Group in 2003, ISBN 0-713-99615-3

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  27th September 2011

Niall Ferguson’s book ‘Empire How Britain Made The Modern World’ accompanied a Channel 4 television series of the same name, which traced the origins and history of the British Empire.  The book poses two interesting questions: how did the British Isles come to rule over the world’s oceans and a quarter of its land mass; and was that particular Empire a good or bad thing?

Ferguson begins the story of England in Tudor times when the country was an insignificant kingdom.  At that time Spain and Portugal were the world’s imperial powers, having discovered and conquered large parts of central and southern America.  Ferguson points to the religious rivalry between Catholic Spain and Protestant England following the Reformation that influenced the politics of the time.

Many of the early English explorers such as Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Ralegh were motivated to set sail for America by stories of gold and silver mines on that continent.  However, as the English were originally unsuccessful in setting up colonies, they often resorted to attacking Spanish ships and ports as a means of stealing gold and silver to pay for their own failed expeditions.  English piracy against Spain was convient for Queen Elizabeth I of England, because it was a means of profitable unofficial warfare against Spain.

Ferguson’s narrative describes how this type of state sponsored piracy or privateering led to the creation of a trading empire in the Caribbean in the 17th century, which sent sugar back to the English market.  The Welsh pirate Henry Morgan is described in the book.  Morgan became successful at attacking and robbing the Spanish colonial possessions of: “Portobelo in present-day Panama, Curacao (Caracus) and Maracaibo in what is now Venezuela.”

Morgan turned his plunder of Spanish gold into an investment of real estate on the island of Jamaica.  The term used today to describe this type of activity would be money laundering.  He was later knighter and became the Acting Governor of Jamaica.

Although Niall Ferguson does not avoid talking about the brutal and inhuman aspects of the British Empire - such as the wealth of the sugar plantations being built on African slave labour, or Cecil Rhodes’s use of the maxim gun against the Matabele in Africa in the 1890s, or the invention of the concentration camp - he is generally sympathetic to the idea of the British Empire.  His book covers 500 years of the world’s history including: the formation of the North American Colonies and how they fought and broke away from Great Britain to form the United States of America; how a trading company, the East India Company eventially became the government of India; the use of Australia as a penal colony; how the two world wars in the 20th century ultimately led to the break up of the British Empire; and how the British Empire has and still is influencing the post colonial era.  Ferguson’s argument appears to be that the British Empire was the least repressive of possible empires and regimes that could have ruled the overseas colonies.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Age of Greed The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1979 to the Present, by Jeff Madrick, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York in 2011, ISBN 978-1-4000-4171-8

Guest review by David Ian Gumbrell  24th September 2011

We all know that Francis Drake went on an expedition as a privateer, i.e. as a state sponsored pirate, in this case from sponsorship of the money of Queen Elizabeth I.  He returned with treasure that provided wealth for himself and the Queen and a knighthood from a grateful Elizabeth.

Also we know Sir Walter Raleigh went on an expedition to find El Dorado up the Orinoco River sponsored by King James.  His failed expedition achieved imprisonment when he returned home and eventually his beheadment by a disgruntled King.  From King James onwards control and regulation of British colonies has been exercised from England, eventually leading to the most prosperous and powerful empire that had been known up to that time.

Likewise we have seen after the Great Depression, the tight banking and financial control exercised by the Roosevelt New Dealers leading to the evential rise of a world superpower of immense wealth.

Jeff Madrick in his book the “Age of Greed” plots how this wealth was dissipated away by financial exploiters.  He shows how they - by encouraging deregulation - gathered immense wealth from prosperous America but in the process jeopardised its very foundations.  His book is important as Darwin’s Origin of Species which by careful study gave us the insight to realise our beginning from a chaotic environment.  His book gives us the background to question the pontifical utterances of the high priests of finance.

©David Ian Gumbrell 2011

Beyond The Crash Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation, by Gordon Brown, published by Simon & Schuster, London in 2010, ISBN 978-0-85720-285-7

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  8th September 2011

Gordon Brown uses the expression ‘Capitalism without Capital’ to describe the way banks were mismanaged before the collapse of the financial system in 2008.  As the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister at the time of the financial crisis, he was in the unenviable position of having to commit hundreds of billions of pounds of tax payers’ money to saving some of the country’s major banks.

Basically the capital reserves which banks need to take the shocks of bad loans had been drastically reduced.  At one time - when banks were better regulated - savers’ deposit accounts were the source of money in a bank’s capital reserve.  The bank would make its profits from the interest paid by businesses and individuals, who had borrowed money from it.  A responsible banker will always keep a much larger capital reserve in the bank’s own acccount, than the money which is being lent to the borrowers.  If a group of borrowers default on their loans, then there is enough money in the bank’s own system for the bank to continue operating.  However in the early years of the 21st century a culture of wreckless lending led to a situation, where the banks were lending more money than they had in their capital reserves.  The bankers were raising extra money from borrowing from other banks - or approaching the bond market or shareholders for more money - rather than solely relying on the money made in their normal business.  Banks became global organizations borrowing or lending to other financial institutions in other countries.  Billions of dollars of risky American mortguage debts were hidden and repackaged, and sold to British banks.  The leaders of the banks - motivated by greed and short term profits - failed to see the danger their banks were in.  The origins of the credit crunch can be seen when large numbers of borrowers began to default on their mortguage payments in the United States.  The banks stopped lending to each other as they could no longer operate because they had no capital reserves.

This was the situation Gordon Brown first had to deal with as a result of the collapse of Northern Rock in 2007.  He realised before the collapse of RBS and HBOS in 2008 that the banks needed to recapitalise.  Beyond the Crash is his version of these events and how he responded to them.  It is also his opinion of how a global recession should be fought with global regulation of the financial sector, as well as a global plan for growth.

On reading Beyond The Crash, one gets the feeling the Prime Minister was being held to ransom by the directors of the banks.  Whoever was in office at that time would have faced the same problem, because the Bank of England and the FSA had not provided effective oversight, supervision and regulation of the financial sector.  However, Gordon Brown needs to take responsibility for not pushing for tougher regulation of the financial sector, when he was previously Chancellor of the Exchequer.  In the book he does admit he made mistakes.

Very often it appears that the bankers who were advising Gordon Brown at the time of the crisis were looking after their own massive bonuses, rather than the interests of the country as a whole.  Mr Brown talks about a secret meeting held in October 2008 organised by his advisor Shriti Vadera: “She had arranged with Peter Sands, CEO of Standard Chartered, for him to host a secret meeting with her group and Peter’s finance director, Richard Meddings.  Tom Scholar, with whom she had privately been working very closely, was going to be there.”

By coincidence, at the time this book review was being written, an article appeared in the Financial Times on 7th September 2011 entitled: ‘Fears over jobs toll from new capital rules’.  In the article Peter Sands, the chief executive of Standard Chartered was quoted as saying: “There is an acute danger that the persuit of financial stability imposes too great a cost on economic growth and job creation at a fragile time for the world economy.”

As an advisor to the British Government in October 2008, Mr Sands should know that the opposite of his recent statement is the reality: because lack of regulations failed to impose financial stability, the whole financial system was brought down requiring trillions of pounds and dollars of public money to save it, which has imposed too great a cost on economic growth and job creation.

The directors of the banks knew that if the state allowed their institutions to go out of business; not only would savers and investors lose their money, but the whole economy would collapse as a result.  Unfortunately the depression we are now living through is a direct consequence of the financial crisis, in spite of all the public money that was thrown at it.  The billions of pounds of tax payers money lent to or given to the banks has become a massive public debt, which is now being paid for by the most severe public spending cuts in British post war history.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

The Selfish Capitalist Origins of Affluenza, by Oliver James, published by Vermilion, London in 2008, ISBN 978-0-091-92381-5

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 26th August 2011

From the title on the cover of the book, one might think that ‘The Selfish Capitalist’ by Oliver James is soley a political essay criticising our political and economic system.  However the book is written by a psychologist examining the effects of Selfish Capitalism - the author explains the difference between Selfish Capitalism and Unselfish Capitalism - has on our psychological wellbeing.  The essence of this book poses the question: does Selfish Capitalism cause emotional distress in the form of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and impulsivity?  The author quotes from the work of different psychologists, and a WHO survey comparing levels of emotional distress and inequality in different populations among leading industrial nations.

The book makes the case that the more materialistic a society is, the higher its levels of emotional distress among its populatiuon.  The term ‘Selfish Capitalism’ is used to describe the neo-libralist free market ideologies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, which have been put into practice in the English-speaking world since the 1970s.  As these Selfish Capitalist ideologies were put into practice, the result was greater inequality between rich and poor, as the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer.  The book does not just focus on the emotional distress suffered by the poorest and most vulnerable people in a Selfish Capitalist society, but also the emotional stress suffered by those who have gained the most out of this type of society, ie the ‘Selfish Capitalists’ themselves.

Oliver James makes the distinction between survival materialism and relative materialism.  Survival materialism is when people live in absolute poverty and are materialistic, because they are struggling - often unemployed or in very low paid employment - to provide for their own basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter.  These people will put significant importance on money and consumer goods, because these are so hard to obtain.  Relative materialism is when wealthy people are materialistic, and pursue an indulgent lifestyle spending large amounts of money on expensive consumer goods.  James makes the following statment about the relative materialists: “In making decisions about people, including their social lives, they put the pursuit of status ahead of decency or other attributes likely to result in intimacy of friendship.”

The author challenges the argument that mental illness - including emotional distress - is caused by a persons genetic inheritance.  He makes the point that emotional distress is often caused by a persons social environment.  Generally speaking if a child was physically or sexually abused, that child will be more likely to fail or turn to crime in later life.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Churchill’s Unexpected Guests Prisoners of War in Britain in World War II, by Sophie Jackson, published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire in 2010, ISBN 978-0-7524-5565-5.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 11th August 2011

Churchill’s Unexpected Guests focuses on an aspect of the Second World War and its aftermarth, which is rarely dealt with by British military historians, namely what happened to the Germans and Italians who were taken prisoner during that conflict.  Thousands of these men captured during the war, were housed in POW (prisoner of war) camps around the British Isles.  The story of the lives of these men during their time in British captivity gives extra context to our general understanding of the Second World War from a cultural, economic, social, political, and psychological as well as military point of view.

Sophie Jackson begins her book talking about the Geneva Convention.  The Geneva Convention was supposed to be an agreement among nations whereby enemy prisoners of war would be protected and not killed, tortured or be subjected to degrading treatment.  The author writes: “The German prisoners themselves tended to see the Geneva Convention as a law that could be enforced by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and punishments were imposed for infringements.  In truth, the Convention had no standing in international law, the regulations were principles which the nations that had signed were only morally obliged to hold to.”

All belligerant nations involved in the Second World War contravened the Geneva Convention at sometime or other.  There was an incident in 1942 where the British put German soldiers in shackles during British raids on Sark and Dieppe.  In reprisal to this the Germans put British POWs in shackles.  The Swiss government tried to negotiate between the belligerent nations to resolve the issue, but the shackling of POWs came to an end because it was not practical to enforce this type of punishment in a POW camp.

Generally the Germans and Italians were very well treated by the British, and some surviving elderly Germans still have fond memories of their time as POWs in Britain.  However, there were abuses in some British detention facilities such as the London Cage, where prisoners were tortured.

The situation of having to find accommodation for so many captured enemy troops must have been a logistical nightmare for the British authorities in a time of war.  In 1941 the Minestry of Health was worried that Italian POWs might bring diseases such as malaria into Britain which would spread to the local population.  There were other concerns such as fears of prisoners escaping, problems of keeping order in the camps, and friction between prisoners and the local community.

During the war the military authorities would have taken the opportunity to find out as much about the enemy through the prisoners in the camps.  An account is given in the book of how the capture of a U-boat - the U35 - and her crew in January 1940, allowed the British to gather vital information on the Enigma machine used by the Germans to encrypt military messages.

The British were very interested in understanding the psychology of their enemy.  Jackson writes: “Understanding the German military psyche and the way officers were selected would be vital to the British and to their POWs.  When plans for re-educations commenced near the end of the war, misunderstandings of the psychology of the German prisoners could prove extremely detrimental to the programme.”

Following the D-Day landings in Normandy, France in June 1944, the Allies would have captured thousands of Germans as the forces of the Wehrmacht were pushed back towards the borders of Germany.  Very often temporary holding camps were set up by the British Army in Continental Europe, before the POWs were shipped over to England to be sent to camps around the British Isles.

Once the German prisoners arrived in England, they were questioned and segregated according to their political beliefs.  Jackson describes the grading of the prisoners as: “Grade A (white) were considered anti-Nazi; Grade B (grey) had less clear feelings and were considered not as reliable as the ‘whites’; Grade C (black) had probable Nazi leanings; Grade C+ (also black) were deemed ardent Nazis.  ‘Blacks’ were usually housed in special camps, often situated in remote areas where escape was harder.”

Amongst the Germans themselves there was a real hatred between the ardent Nazis and non-Nazis.  In spite of attempts by the British to segregate the different political factions mistakes were made, and sometimes this led to tragic consequences for the men concerned.  If a non-Nazi found himself in a camp where the majority of men still had strong sympathies for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, then the non-Nazi would feel very unsafe.  Fanatical Nazis would not think twice about beating up another German if they believed he wasn’t a supporter of National Socialism.  Jackson describes in a chapter in the book entitled ‘Nazi murder on British soil’, of how two men in two separate camps were murdered, because they were non-Nazis who found themselves outnumbered by Nazis.

Many of the younger Germans in the British camps were not released and repatriated until 1948, three years after the end of the war.  Some of these men would have previously been completely brainwashed by the nazi propaganda they had been subjected to since childhood, and the British felt that the men now needed to be taught how to think for themselves, so the Germans would never again become so susceptable to such simplistic racist and militaristic ideology.  It is interesting to read Jackson describing Wilton Park which was a special university set up for the German POWs in England: “Wilton Park was set up like most POW camps, though the courses were run in a deliberately liberal way to encourage independent thought in the men.  Every lecture ended with the opportunity for criticism and discussion - for many of the younger men this was a novel experience.”

There were other reasons why the men may not have been repatriated earlier:  The British government would have seen the POWs as a source of cheap labour to help rebuild Britain after the war.  German labour on farms in the UK was particularly important and many German agricultural labourers worked for many years on English farms after the Second World War.  I personally knew one German called Herman Redlich who was asked to stay in England after the war, he married an Englishwoman called Pearle and worked on several farms in Hertfordshire untill his retirement in 1987.  Many of the men couldn’t return to their home towns and villages, because they came from areas that were now in the Russian sector and faced persecution if they went back.  Germany had lost territories such as Silesia and East Prussia, which after the German defeat were given to Poland and the Soviet Union.  Germans were generally expelled from territory taken from Germany in Eastern Europe after the Second World War.

Churchill’s Unexpected Guests is a good reference book for anyone who wants to become familiar with an area of history which is often overlooked.  The book gives extra details for scholars of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War.  This book could also be of interest to readers in Germany and Italy whose fathers and grandfathers were in British POW camps.  It would be worth the publisher of this book making translations of it available in German and Italian.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Londongrad from Russia with cash: The inside story of the oligarchs, by Mark Hollingsworth & Stewart Lansley, published by Fourth Estate, London in 2009, ISBN 978-0-00-727886-2.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  26th July 2011

Londongrad by Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley is the story of how the oligarchs - a powerful Russian elite, who made their wealth from the privatization of Russian state assets following the collapse of communism - used London as a place of business, excessive consumption, and refuge, when the political tide turned against them under President Vladimir Putin.  The book profiles the lives and business dealings of famous Russian billionaires such as Roman Abramovich, Boris Berezovsky, Oleg Deripaska, and Alexander Lebedev who have used London as a base.  The story of Londongrad is also about members of the British establishment, who have become virtual servants of these oligarchs.

One of those who represented the interests of the oligarchs was a British lawyer called Stephen Curtis.  Stephen Curtis was killed in a suspicious helicopter crash at Bournemouth Airport on the evening of 3rd March 2004, along with the pilot Max Radford.  Although the men’s death was given a verdict of accidental death at an inquest at Bournemouth Town Hall, many people believe the two men were murdered because Max Radford was a competent pilot, and in the weeks before the crash Stephen Curtis had received anonymous threats.  The question remains, was their helicopter brought down by sabotage?

According to the authors of Londongrad, Stephen Curtis had done work for both Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  On reading Londongrad one learns about the offshore companies Curtis set up on Khodorkovsky’s behalf.  Curtis was killed shortly before Khodorkovsky was due to face a fraud trial in Russia.  Mikhail Khodorkovsky had set up Bank Menatep in the late 1980s, and had used the bank as a means of taking control of the giant Russian state oil company Yukos, at the time of the privatization of Russian state assets under President Yeltsin.  Bank Menatep collapsed in 1998 while many of the ordinary Russian depositors lost all their money.  The authors of Londongrad said: “Menatep might have appeared to have crashed but most of its assets, including Yukos, had already been safely deposited abroad in hard currency largely through the offshore networks set up by Curtis.”

Khodorkovsky would have pocketed billions of roubles for himself, while millions of his own countrymen were left destitute.

Londongrad is interesting because it examines the relationships between British politicians and businessmen and the oligarchs.  We learn that the aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska is a close friend and business associate of the banker Nat Rothschild.  It was through his friendship with Nat Rothschild that Deripaska was introduced to the New Labour politician Peter Mandelson, who was at the time European Trade Commissioner.

Hospitality appears to be a strategy often used by oligarchs to influence business and political decisions.  The authors of Londongrad said: “On the afternoon of Friday 22 August [2008], Mandelson and Osborne were invited onto Deripaska’s yacht for drinks and that evening the three attended a dinner party at Chateau Rothschild.  The Shadow Chancellor, the European Trade Commissioner, and the Russian oligarch all sat at the same table.  They discussed Russian and British history and politics and Osborne appeared to be impressed by Deripaska.”

Londongrad is a guide book to the murky world of the business dealings and politics of the Russian super-rich in London.  Although the book was published just two years ago - as so much has happened since then - it could be worth Hollingsworth and Lansley writing a new edition, updating us on some of the changes that have happened to the individuals involved.  Take for instance Boris Berezovsky whose life is extensively covered in Londongrad: at the time of writing this review it was announced in the British media that Berezovsky had divorced his second wife Galina Besharova.  The divorce settlement paid by Berezovsky was said to be the largest ever in English legal history.  The exact amount has not been revealed but is thought to be more than £100 million.

Boris Berezovsky is probably the wealthiest person granted political asylum living in the United Kingdom.  During the 1970s and 1980s Berezovsky was a scientist and in 1991 was appointed a member of the Russian Accademy of Sciences.  In 1989 he went into the automobile industry: setting up a company called Logo Vaz which ran the dealership of Lada cars.  During the 1990s the auto dealership business made Berezovsky a very wealthy man, but it also made him the target of organized crime.  In 1993 Berezovsky survived an assassination attempt in which his chauffeur was killed.

Berezovsky later acquired other business interests in Aeroflot, ORT, and Sibneft.  In the 1990s Berezovsky became a government minister under President Boris Yeltsin and helped bring Vladimir Putin to power.  However, Putin and Berezovsky would fall out, as Putin wanted to be seen as the populist nationalist champion who stood up to the oligarchs.  Many Russians who had been pushed into poverty as the result of western economic reforms, blamed the oligarchs for the theft of Russian state assets and infrastructure as a result of the privatizations.  Ever since Berezovsky fled Russia in 2003, Putin has been trying to get Berezovsky extradited back to Russia to face trial.

President Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitri Medvedev have been accused of human rights abuses, and of destroying Russian democracy.  Many people believe that the murders of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow in 2006, and the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London in the same year, were carried out on the orders of the Kremlin.

It is interesting to note that the authors of Londongrad described the global media mogal Rupert Murdoch as being Boris Berezovsky’s hero.  Murdoch attended Berezovsky’s 60th birthday party at the hired venue of Blenheim Palace on 23rd January 2006.  Berezovsky had previously been a guest at Murdoch’s wedding to Wendi Deng in New York in 1999.  Here is a question the authors may wish to ask Boris Berezovsky for a future edition of Londongrad: “Following the recent phone hacking and police bribery scandal to engulf News Corp, do you still hold Rupert Murdoch in such high esteem?”

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Breaking The Shakespeare Codes The Sensational Discovery of The Bard’s True Identity, by Robert Nield, Assisted by Kate Vereker & Joan Robinson, published by C.C. Publishing in 2007, ISBN 978-0-9490001-34-4

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 25th February 2011

Breaking The Shakespeare Codes investigates the true identity of the author of the collection of English literary works traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare.  Robert Nield presents a strong case that the author of the literary canon could not have been the poorly educated merchant from Stratford-upon-Avon called William Shakespeare.  Mr Nield has also used mathmatical methods to decipher anagrams from Shakespeare’s Sonnets to reveal that the author of the works was a man called William Hastings, who - due to the identity of his parents - had to live a secret existence.

If the theory - that William Hastings was the author of Shakespeare’s works - could also be proven by other historians and investigators, then our whole understanding of Elizabethan and Jacobean history would be altered.  The claim of Mr Nield’s book is not just that Shakespeare’s works were written by William Hastings, but also that Hastings the author, was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester.

One of the most important questions posed by the book, is why did none of William Shakespeare’s contemporaries ever mention him as being a writer during his lifetime?  From contemporary documents we know that the Stratford man called William Shakespeare, was at one time living and working in London as an actor with a theatrical company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later named the King’s Men after King James I came to the English throne.  There are no primary source documents mentioning that William Shakespeare ever left England.  However, the author of the plays: Hamlet; Romeo and Juliet; The Merchant of Venice; Orthello; The Tempest; Henry V; and Macbeth, would have travelled extensively in Europe and also to the New World in an age when the average person barely travelled more than a few miles from their own village in their entire lifetime.  The author of these plays understood the politics and customs of foreign countries, as well as having the time and resources to dedicate himself to writing these great works.  If Shakespeare had been such a prolific writer, it is strange he did not mention his literary work in his will.  Although Shakespeare left his “second best bed” to his wife, there is no mention in the will of anyone receiving any items associated with a writer.  Why did Shakespeare not leave any books, manuscripts, writing desk, ink-well, or quill to somebody after his death?

Breaking the Shakespeare Codes is not the first book to challenge the myth, that William Shakespeare wrote the great literary works attributed to his name.  However, this book is probably the first to suggest that the author of the canon was the secret illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leichester.  The evidence presented in this book is compelling so it is surprising that this book has not created more debate in the mainstream media.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, A Confidential Report, by Iain Sinclair, ISBN 978-0-141-01274-2, published by Penguin Books 2010

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 18th December 2010

Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, by Iain Sinclair is a mosaic of historical and mythical accounts of the London Borough of Hackney.  The author takes the reader around places such as Kingsland High Street, Dalston Lane, Mare Street, London Fields and Victoria Park - introducing us to film makers, writers, artists, barbers, market stall holders, housewives, hippies, gangsters, war veterans, revolutionaries, terrorists, misfits, tramps, corrupt officials, shady businessmen and many other categories of people.  Iain Sinclair often allows the people he interviews in this book, to tell their own stories in their own words.  We therefore see the London Borough of Hackney through many pairs of eyes, as well as those of the author himself.

One of those interviewed by Iain Sinclair is a solicitor called Bill Parry-Davies, who campaigns to save historic buildings in Hackney.  Bill Parry-Davies is involved with the OPEN Dalston group, which draws public attention to the loss of Hackney’s architectural heritage.  In the interview Mr Parry-Davies talks of the underhand way old properties around Broadway Market, were sold by Hackney Council - over the heads of the tenants - to an offshore company called Dalston Lane Investments Limited.  Unfortunately it was impossible for the campaigners hoping to save the buildings, to find out who the owners of Dalston Lane Investments were.  Mr Parry-Davies said:

“They bought, at auction, sixteen Georgian houses in Dalston Lane for £1.8 million.  They also brought a load of properties in Broadway Market.  Broadway Market Investments Hackney Limited.  Different names, same people.  The finance is mainly from Dubai.  Al-Hilal Investments Limited.  The prospectus put out by Hackney for Dalston Lane stated: ‘Although these buildings are of historic interest, if they can’t be refurbished, if it is not financially viable to refurbish, we will consider another scheme.’  The landlords put in a proposal to demolish the lot.  What they did was to divide the buildings.  Dalston Lane Investments retained some, then they split the portfolio.  The reason being that if you have one big development you are required to provide a certain proportion of social housing, public affordable housing.  If you make the split, each separate development is smaller and there is less requirement to provide public affordable accommodation.  Both of the companies involved with Dalston Lane put in planning applications to demolish the lot.”

Although appeals were made against the demolition of the buildings, during the time of the appeals process there were mysterious fires in Dalston Lane.  Mr Parry-Davies said:

“Eight fires.  All of them on sites that had applications for redevelopment.  There hadn’t, before this, been a fire on Dalston Lane within living memory.”

Throughout Ian Sinclair’s book there is a sense of mystery, sadness and a constant struggle to save the memories of events that effected those documented in Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire.  The book is full of so many different stories about different people, and the common strand is the London Borough of Hackney which infuenced their lives.  Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire is a fascinating book to read.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2010

3,096 Days, by Natascha Kampusch, translated by Jill Kreuer, published by Penguin Books in 2010, ISBN 978-0-670-91999-4

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 29th September 2010

3,096 Days, by Natascha Kampusch is the story of how one woman survived: abduction, captivity, solitary confinement, violence and slavery for eight and a half years.  Natascha Kampusch, a ten year old Austrian schoolgirl was kidnapped on her way to school on 2nd March 1998.  Her abductor Wolfgang Priklopil confined her to a dungeon under his house - in the middle class suburb of Strasshof in Vienna - forcing her to work as a domestic slave in his home, subjecting her to beatings and psychological torture.  Against all the odds she survived her captivity and managed to escape on 23rd August 2006.

3,096 Days, is Natascha Kampusch’s biography as well as being the testimony of a witness and a victim of a serious crime.  Throughout the years of her captivity, the only person Ms Kampusch had any contact with was her abductor Wolfgang Priklopil.  Ms Kampusch’s book is important because it not only describes her survival mechanisms, but also describes how a violent bully such as Priklopil operates.  From this testimony a psychological profile can be made of the sick mind of Priklopil.  Although Priklopil was a loner - the only other people he had any contact with were his mother Waltraud Priklopil, and his friend and business partner Ernst Holzapfel - the characteristics of Priklopil could belong to any type of individual who uses fear to hold power over those weaker than themselves.  The question could be asked: how many tyrants throughout history had personalities similar to that of Priklopil?

In the first chapter of 3,096 days, Ms Kampusch gives a vivid description of her childhood prior to her abduction.  She lived with her mother on the Rennbahnsiedlung council estate on the outskirts of Vienna.  Ms Kampusch’s parents separated when she was a small, and on the day prior to her abduction, she had been at her father’s holiday home in Hungary.  Her father was late getting her back home on the night before she was due to go to school, and her mother was angry about that.  On the morning of her abduction, Natascha left home without saying goodbye to her mother.  During her years of captivity, she would always regret not having said goodbye to her mother on that fateful morning.

It is a tragic irony that on the first day Natascha was allowed the freedom to walk to school on her own, that freedom was taken away from her by Wolfgang Priklopil who threw her in the back of his white van.  One of the questions that arises from this book is did Priklopil have any accomplices in his crime?  Ms Kampusch said on the day of her abduction Priklopil drove her around in his van for hours, and spoke into his mobile phone as if to individuals he was going to hand her over to.  At the time she feared that she was going to be handed over to a group of peadophiles who would rape and murder her.  However, Priklopil may have used the talk of ‘the others’, as his first weapon of psychological torture against her.  She was taken back to his house and held prisoner in a small secret underground dungeon.

Priklopil was probably acting alone, however Ms Kampusch does give one remark - which an historian might describe as a piece of unwitting testimony - that other people could have been involved.  She writes:

“To me at least, the kidnapper did not behave like a man who had been preparing for years to abduct a child and whose long cherished wish had just been fulfilled.  Quite the opposite: he seemed like someone whom a distant acquaintance had suddenly saddled with an unwanted child, and who did not know what to do with this little creature that had needs he did not know how to cope with.”

During the time when she was locked in the dungeon, Ms Kampusch would not have known who Priklopil was meeting or talking to upstairs.  Her abductor told her that his mother stayed in the house at weekends.  It is difficult to imagine that Waltraud Priklopil didn’t once notice that there was something different about the house, during the eight and a half years Natascha Kampusch had been held in the secret dungeon?  This raises other questions:  Before Ms Kampusch was abducted, how did Priklopil keep the digging and building work on the dungeon secret from his mother? Where did he take the spoil from the hole he was digging under his property?  Had any other person been held captive in Priklopil’s dungeon before Natascha Kampusch was held there?  How much did Ernst Holzapfel know about Priklopil’s illegal activities? Was Mrs Priklopil in fear of her own son? Wolfgang Priklopil’s planning must have been meticulous to have kept the knowledge of Ms Kampusch’s captivity from his mother and Holzapfel.  However, we know the underground dungeon was sound-proof and sealed with a reinforced concrete door.

Ms Kampusch describes how her abductor was living in absolute fear that his crimes would be detected.  She describes the mental condition of Priklopil in the following paragraph:

“He in turn vacillated between his pathological paranoia, his fear of having his crime discovered, and his dream of a normal life where we would have to get into the outside world.  It was a vicious circle, and the more he felt backed into a corner by his own thoughts, the more aggressively he turned against me.”

During the time that Ms Kampusch was forced to work upstairs - either doing housework or heavy renovation work on the upstairs rooms of the house - Priklopil would inflict physical pain on her for the slightest perceived error.  In the following passage she described how Priklopil treated her:

“A couple of days after the incident with the sack of cement, he ordered me to hand him a plasterboard panel.  He thought I was too slow - he grabbed my hand and twisted it round, rubbing it so hard against one of the plaster panels that I had a burn on the back of my hand that took years to heal.  Again and again the kidnapper would rub open the wound - on the wall, on plasterboard panels; even on the smooth surface of the sink he succeeded in rubbing my hand with such force that bood seeped through my skin.  Today, still, that spot on my right hand remains raw.”

In spite of the terrible cruelty that the abductor subjected her to, Ms Kampusch does describe some moments when Priklopil did show her humanity.  She talks about the small presents he brought he in the dungeon, the books and videos he gave her, the celebrations of her birthday, Christmas and New Year.  Ms Kampusch recognises that even in a violent criminal such as Priklopil there is a small amount of kindness - nobody is completely evil just as nobody is completely a saint.  When Ms Kampusch tries to be rational in this way, people often label her as having Stockholm Syndrome.  The Stockholm Syndrome label is something that angers her.  Ms Kampusch lets us know there is no such thing as the typical criminal or victim when she writes:

“Our society needs criminals like Wolfgang Priklopil in order to give a face to the evil that lives within and to split it off from society itself.  It needs the images of cellar dungeons so as not to have to see the many homes in which violence rears it conformist, bourgeois head.  Society uses the victims of sensational cases such as mine in order to divest itself of the responsibility for the many nameless victims of daily crimes, victims nobody helps - even when they ask for help.”

Likewise we should remember that Austria is not the only country where vulnerable people are physically and sexually abused:  Many muslim girls are forced into arranged marriages by their own relatives, where they are treated in a similar way to how Natascha Kampusch was treated.  The scandal of child abuse by Roman Catholic priests has happened in many countries such as Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  The Haut de la Garenne child abuse scandal in Jersey, brought public attention to the abuse suffered by children in the care of children’s homes in the Channel Islands.  There are probably millions of other examples.  The respectable suburb of Strasshof in Vienna is probably similar to London suburbs such as Hendon or Hounslow.  We do not know how many people at this moment are being held illegally in London, even behind the beautiful facades of Belgravia, Chelsea, Kensington or Mayfair?

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2010

Beckford of Fonthill by Brian Fothergill, published by Faber & Faber Limited 1979, ISBN 0-571-10794-x

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 10th November 2009

William Beckford (1760-1844) was the heir of a Jamaican sugar plantation dynasty, whose wealth had been built on the exploitation of slave labour.  In his own lifetime Beckford became an infamous social outcast, for a homosexual affair he had with William Courtenay.  Beckford gained a mythical reputation not only for his fabulous wealth and a sex scandal, but also for the building of Fonthill Abbey on his estate in Wiltshire.  The Abbey was a gothic palace constructed over a number of years, which included a tower that reached almost 300 feet into the sky.  Its construction became Beckford’s own Tower of Babel, almost bringing him to financial ruin.  He sold his Fonthill estate in 1822 in order to repay his debts.  Beckford was lucky in this, as three years later the tower which had been poorly constructed collapsed.  Brian Fothergill in ‘Beckford of Fonthill’ takes the reader beyond the myth of Beckford, to those influences that manifested themselves at Fonthill Abbey.

Fothergill‘s biography of William Beckford begins with Beckford’s christening at the parish church of Fonthill Gifford in Wiltshire on 29th September 1760.  William‘s father was Alderman William Beckford, who went on to become Lord Mayor of London.  Alderman Beckford was descended from Peter Beckford, a ruthless colonist who in the 17th century went out to Jamaica, established sugar plantations there and also became the island’s Governor.  William’s mother Maria Hamilton was a grand-daughter of the sixth Earl of Abercorn.  The marriage of William’s parents was typical of the method used by an aristocratic family to perpetrate its wealth and power, by taking into its midst a mercantile family such as the Beckfords, who had acquired a fabulous fortune.  William - as the Alderman’s eldest legitimate son - was set to inherit the vast Beckford estates and fortune, as well as the aristocratic social connections needed for a political career.

In spite of William Beckford’s glittering prospects, the story of his life has the theme of isolation.  This situation was not helped by the death of William’s father when William was aged 9, and the overbearing nature of his mother, who was keen to impose a strict Calvinist doctrine on her son.  His mother’s ideas contradicted the classsical education he was receiving from his private tutors, and from an early age William became interested in the arts.

Like many 18th century aristocratic men, William Beckford went on the Grand Tour.  This included the Netherlands, German principalities, Austrian dominions, France, and Italian city states including Venice and Naples.  It was while Beckford was on his Grand Tour in the years 1780 and 1781, that he visited the shrine of St. Antony at Padua.  Although Beckford was a Protestant, his sympathies were Roman Catholic - probably as a reaction against his mother’s Calvinistic beliefs.  This may be why Beckford became so obsessed with St. Antony of Padua.  His devotion to the saint proved useful when he was in Portugal a few years later, following his self imposed exile from England as a result of the Courtenay scandal.  He had been snubbed by Robert Walpole, the British Minister in Lisbon, but gained the approval of the Roman Catholic clergy in that city, when he was seen praying to the saint in a church.  He was then introduced to the Marquis of Marialva, who helped him during his stay in Portugal.

Although Beckford had married Lady Margaret Gordon in 1783 - with whom he fathered two daughters - his homosexual tendencies proved dangerous for him.  The scandal of his relationship with the 12 year old William Courtenay very nearly ended in Beckford’s prosecution, after Lord Loughborough - a man who was politically hostile to Beckford, and the husband of Courtenay’s sister Charlotte - got hold of some compromising letters between the young William Courtenay and Beckford.  Although Beckford escaped arrest and trial by luck and one or two powerful allies working on his behalf, his social ostracism meant that he would be shunned for the rest of his life.

Brian Fothergill’s biography is an interesting psychological study of William Beckford.  The book enters into the fine detail of the influences that shaped Beckford, and the way Beckford influenced those around him.  As well as building Fonthill Abbey for which he commissioned the architect James Wyatt, Beckford was also an author, musician and collector.  Beckford’s novel ‘Vathek’ inspired Lord Byron and Benjamin Disraeli.  Beckford had the money to live in his own fantasy world, he was decadent and extravagant but also mysterious.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2009

The shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, ISBN 978-0-141-02453-0, published by Penguin Books in 2008

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 2nd January 2009

‘The Shock Doctrine’ is about how the ideology of total free market capitalism was put into practice around the world.  This book is a reappraisal of the last 40 years of history, and tells the story of how violent means were often used to impose economic reforms on the people of many countries.  New harsh economic conditions: removing workers’ rights; deregulating big business; and privatising state industries, were forced on the populations of Chile and Argentina during the 1970’s.  Similar economic reforms have also been inflicted on other countries after natural disasters, when big business takes the opportunity to impose its will on a society when the population is least able to resist.

The architect of these economic policies was Milton Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicargo from the 1950’s to 1980’s.  The fundamental belief that Friedman and his students espoused was that the state should have no role in the regulation of markets, as they believed markets were natural mechanisms that would balance themselves.  Their ideology was one of extreme capitalism, where the state was not allowed to: protect workers; set the minimum wage; regulate markets to protect comsumers; provide social housing; provide social welfare in times of need; or run infrastructure utilities such as water, electricity and public transport.

Although this extreme form of capitalism is diametrically opposed to Marxism, the Chicargo Boys - as Friedman’s followers became known - reserved their true hatred for the Keynesian economic model.  Under the Keynesian economic model there is a mixed economy where capitalism plays its part in providing goods and services, but government prevents the business world from damaging the social fabric of a country.  Under the Keynesian system, in times of economic depression the state steps in to invest in public works that will put the unemployed back to work.

Until the 1970’s the Chicargo Boys were unable to put their ideology into practice.  However, following the CIA backed military coup in Chile in 1973, the Chicargo School economic experiment became the basis for the economic policies of the new military government in Chile under General Augusto Pinochet.

‘The Shock Doctrine’ as a narrative is important because it makes connections between the implementation of Friedman’s free market economic policies, and the cost in blood of those who were rounded up tortured and murdered in Latin America by the military regimes.  Likewise Naomi Klein analyses the reasons behind the Tiananmen Square masacre in China in 1989, and finds that the Communist government was in the process of introducing market reforms.  The students and factory workers protesting against the government in Tiananmen Square, were unhappy about the way these reforms were being introduced.  Naomi Klein makes an interesting point when she says:

“The demonstrations were not against economic reform per se; they were against the specific Friedmanite nature of the reforms - their speed, ruthlessness and the fact that the process was highly antidemocratic.  Wang says that the protesters’ call for elections and free speech were intimently connected to this economic dissent.”

On 3rd June 1989, when the leadership of the Chinese Communist government ordered troops to fire upon unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square, it appears that the aim of the Chinese government was to impose the free market capitalist economic model on the people of China by force.

During the 1980’s, Milton Friedman’s economic doctrine was taken up by conservative governments in the United States and United Kingdom which led to the privatisation of many state assets.  In Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s policy of selling off council houses was inspired by Friedman’s ideology.  The result of this would lead to house price inflation and the heavy burden of mortgage debt for many people on low incomes.

It is ironic that ‘The Shock Doctrine‘ was first published in 2007, shortly before the most recent economic crisis became apparent.  The global economic crisis brought about by the greed of unscrupulous speculators and the unrestrained excesses of global capitalism, means that the warning of Neomi Klein’s book has become even more relevant over the past year.  The irresponsible lending practices of banks in the United States and the United Kingdom was allowed to happen because governments were following Friedman’s ideological position that markets worked best when they were unregulated.

‘The Shock Doctrine’ leaves little to the imagination, when it comes to the consequences of the implementation of Friedman’s ideology on a global scale.  These extreme free market policies have allowed an elite of superrich corporate executives, a free hand to take what they want at the expense of a dispossessed population.  This book gives a voice to the victimes of Friedmanite capitalism, and ensures that history will remember Milton Friedman as an advisor to dictators, corrupt politicians and robber barons.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2009

Blowing the Whistle by Paul van Buitenen, ISBN 1-90230-146-3, published by Politicos Publishing in 2000

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 11th December 2008

‘Blowing the Whistle’ by Paul van Buitenen is a personal account of a whistle blower who discovered a culture of corruption at the heart of the European Commission.  Although the subjects of this book are fraud and mismanagement within one of the institutions of the European Union, these types of problems are not unique to the European Commission.  They occur in many other organizations both in the public and private sectors.

Paul van Buitenen was an assistant auditor for the European Commission's Financial Control Directorate, when in December 1998 he informed a member of the European Parliament about internal irregularities and fraud.  Since 1990 he had worked in several directorates - the word directorate refers to a department in the Commission - where the unwritten rule was to turn a blind eye to the misappropriation of EU tax payers money by senior European Commission officials.  Over the years Mr van Buitenen had tried to take his concerns about fraud within the European Commission through all the official channels, but each time his complaints were ignored.  Mr van Buitenen’s letter of 9th December 1998 to Magda Aelvoet, a Green MEP, was a last resort in his efforts to get somebody to take responsibility for corruption within the European Commission.

The letter was entitled ‘How the European Commission deals with its irregularities and fraud’.  According to Mr van Buitenen the purpose of the letter was: “to show that although many irregularities in the Commission were known about and even well-documented too little was done about them after that”.

‘Blowing the Whistle’ goes into the details of several corruption cases that took place in various directorates of the European Commission during the 1990’s.  The most notorious case is that of René Berthelot otherwise known as Edith Cresson’s dentist, who was awarded a contract as a scientific advisor on AIDS for which he was unqualified to carry out.  Mr Berthelot was awarded the contract in 1997 when Edith Cresson, with whom he shared the same address, was a European Commissioner.  Mr Berthelot did not do any work for this contract with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre for which he was paid over £125,000 of EU tax payers money through an offshore company called Kensington.

Fraud often happened in the European Commission, at the time contracts were awarded to outsourced companies in the private sector.  Although the tender process was meant to ensure that the best firm was selected for the contract, favouratism would often play a part when those with inside knowledge were able to circumvent the tender process.

Paul van Buitenen had many concerns about the way contracts were being awarded for the Leonardo programme.  The Leonardo programme was supposed to support vocational training initiatives in member states.  When programmes are run for a directorate such as the Directorate-General for education, training and youth in this example, an outside company with expertise in the field is awarded the contract to organise the programme.  The technical term used by the Commission for an outside contractor is TAO which stands for Technical Assistance Office.  Mr van Buitenen made the following observation of the way the TAO had been awarded for the Leonardo programme:

“I found out that Agenor had set up a TAO especially for Leonardo programme before this programme had been announced publicly.  It had already been working on the Force programme and had prepared for the contract well beforehand- and actually won it.  Was that chance?  Not according to some of the TAO staff.  They told me the Agenor’s selection in the TAO tendering procedure had been rigged.”

The problem for the whistle blower is knowing who to complain to, when their superiors are involved in the fraud itself or are just allowing it to continue.  This was the dilemma for Paul van Buitenen, and the reason why he informed the European Parliament of what was going on at the European Commission.  Unfortunately disciplinary action was taken by the Commission against him for his disclosure, being suspended from his job on half pay for four months.  When he was allowed to return to work, he was no longer allowed to work as an auditor.  It is sad that Paul van Buitenen was punished for conscientiously having done his job, whereas those who were involved in the fraud appeared to get away with it.  However the letter to the European Parliament, led to an investigation by a Committee of Independent experts into what had been going on in the European Commission.  The Committee’s written report also known as the Wise Men’s Report, resulted in the European Parliament voting no confidence in the European Commission, which forced all of the European Commissioners to resign.

‘Blowing the Whistle’ is an interesting book because it tells the story of how a culture of corruption at the heart of any organization can cause real damage.  The only real faults with this book are it does not have an index and glossary, which make it difficult to use for reference purposes.  This is a book which one might want to refer to again.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

The Economic Consequences of Peace, by John Maynard Keynes, published by Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920. Published in electronic format by The Project Gutenburg eBook, 2005

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 18th August 2008

John Maynard Keynes was a civil servant working for the British Treasury during the First World War, who attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as the Treasury’s official representative.  The Economic Consequences of Peace is Keynes’s Account of the Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles.  Keynes resigned from the delegation at the Peace Conference, because he felt that the terms and conditions of the Treaty would lead to a catastrophy for Europe and the World.  The Economic Consequences of Peace gives the reasons why he was so concerned.  Although only written a few months after the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the book proved remarkably prescient at forcasting the economic conditions, that would allow nationalism to reassert itself in Germany, which brought about the Second World War.  If John Maynard Keynes’s warnings had been heeded, then perhaps the conflict could have been avoided.

The purpose of the Paris Peace Conference was seen by the Allies of Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States as one of making Germany pay amends for starting the First World War.  However, Keynes could see that having lost her merchant navy, overseas colonies, overseas investments, major coal and iron mineral producing territories, as well as the loss to her labour force caused by the death and injury of men during the war; Germany could no longer function as a trading nation and would therefore find it impossible to pay the scale of reparations demanded of her by the Allies.

The reparations that Germany had to pay, was overseen by a bureaucracy set up by the Allies called the Reparation Commission.  The first payment demanded from Germany was $5 billion due to be paid to the Commission by 1st May 1921.  Keynes believed it would be impossible for Germany to meet this payment, due to her loss of resources and economic collapse exasperated by the fact that Germany’s population was malnourished and psychologically damaged as a result of the war.  This prediction proved correct as Germany defaulted on reparations payments in May 1921.  In response to Germany’s failure to make reparation payments, British, French, and Belgium troops occupied the Ruhr region of Germany in 1921 and the French would again occupy the Ruhr in 1923 for the same reason.

The Economic Consequences of Peace is an interesting book for anyone wanting to understand the background to the causes of the Second World War. Keynes argued that the reparations imposed on Germany would cause so much suffering that despair would overtake reason.  With prophetic words Keynes wrote: “The power of ideas is sovereign, and he listens to whatever instruction of hope, illusion, or revenge is carried to him on the air.”

It was precisely under these conditions that Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party gained power in Germany in 1933.  John Maynard Keynes warned the World that the consequences of the ill thought out Treaty of Versailles would be catastrophic.  He was proved correct in his prediction.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

Touché, by Agnès Catherine Poirier, published by Pheonix in 2007, ISBN 978-0-7538-2170-1

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 17th April 2008

Touché, by Agnès Catherine Poirier is about Britain and France, and how their cultures, politics and societies are different.  This book is written by a French émigré who settled in London in 1995, first as a student at the London School of Economics, and then as a freelance journalist writing for both British and French publications.  The book analyses many of the different idiosyncrasies displayed by the British and French.

In examining the social norms of both societies, Agnès lets the reader know which values are important to one country, but not another.  For instance the French are interested in politics, while the British seem indifferent.  The French strive to protect their culture, whereas the British would be prepared to allow their own to be treated as a commodity.  The French like abstract ideas and concepts, whereas the British hate theory but pride themselves as pragmatists.  However, she recognises that national stereotypes are not always accurate and some individuals do not necessarily conform to type, when she says: ‘So I simply had to come to terms with the fact that cinema, like everything else cultural in Britain, wasn’t taken seriously, at least not in public.  There are, of course, serious art- and film-lovers in the UK, but they seem to have to hide, like the early Christians in pagan Rome.’

One of the main differences between Britain and France is the way things are run.  In Britain the private sector and free market are omnipotent, while the public sector and state are weak.  In France it is the other way around, with a powerful state ready to protect the social welfare of the people against the arbitrary nature of the business world.  However, Agnès recognised when she wrote Touché that things would change if Nicolas Sarkozy got elected as the President of France.

In the chapter ‘Death of the Independents’, Agnès explains how state regulation protects small independent family run businesses in French town centres against over powerful business corporations.  This is why when you go to France, you see a variety of independently owned shops such as the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker etc., in town centres there.

On the other hand in the United Kingdom, where there are few planning restrictions on where big supermarket chains such as Tesco, and franchises such as Next, Mac Donalds and Starbucks can relocate, small shops are often pushed out of business by the conglomerates selling cheaper, but poorer quality products and services.

Since Touché was published Nicolas Sarkozy has become President of France.  Sarkozy is famous for being a disciple of the free market ideology so favoured by the American and British establishment.  It is surprising that the French electorate were duped by Sarkozy in May 2007.  If they had looked towards the English side of the Channel, they would have seen that privatization doesn?t make the trains run on time.  Some English observers could see that Sarkozy had a secret agenda to create a paradis fiscal or tax free haven for the super rich in France, just as Thatcher and Blair had done in Britain, while at the same time making life harder for people on low or middle incomes.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

The New Front Line: Security in a changing world, by Ian Kearns and Ken Gude, published by The Institute of Public Policy Research (ippr) in February 2008.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 25 th February 2008

‘The New Front Line’ informs the reader that in the 21 st Century the security threats to the United Kingdom are far wider than those of military or terrorist attack.  The dangers facing the UK’s population are also applicable to those facing the global population in an interdependent world.  The report lists the threats to global stability which would impact on the UK as: Globalisation and power diffusion; Global poverty and failing states; Climate change; The Growth of political Islam; and Social-economic vulnerability.

‘The New Front Line’ describes how power is shifting from some states towards others, just as power is generally moving from state to non-state actors.  Economic power is moving from North America and Europe towards Asia, as the economies of China and India expand.  According to the report China?s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is now the world?s fourth largest, which has allowed that country to accumulate huge foreign currency reserves.  The report estimated that: “China?s foreign currency reserves soared past US$1 trillion in early 2007 and kept racing up to more than $1.3 trillion by the middle of the year.”

The massive expansion of China’s industrial production in turn has made her a major energy consumer and therefore the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.  The report made the point that: “China surpassed the US as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007 and its no exaggeration to say that without the cooperation of both China and India, a successful response to the challenge of climate change cannot be found.”

The report also talks about the power shift towards oil and gas producing states such as Russia, Nigeria, Iran, Qatar, Algeria and Venezuela.  As the UK is now dependent on importing her energy requirements there is a risk that she could be blackmailed by these and other energy producing states, if the supply of oil and gas is used for political leverage.

The non-state actors are military firms, terrorist groups, organised crime and some national political movements.  The report does not specifically mention global corporations and financial institutions, but these too are non-state actors.  Many of the themes dealt with in the report are interconnected, for example under the subheading ‘Socio-economic vulnerability’, weaknesses to the UK?s infrastructure are discussed.  Part of the problem here has been due to privatization as the report recognises: “David Omand, [former security and intelligence coordinator in the Cabinet Office] for example has noted that 80 per cent of the UK?s critical national infrastructure is in private hands, not all of it owned by UK companies.”

The aim of this report is to challenge perceptions of what are security threats.  For example the consequences of climate change: the displacement of millions of people due to drought in some areas and rising sea levels in others.  These population displacements will lead to mass migrations from Africa and Asia towards Europe and the UK.  The issues covered in ‘The New Front Line: Security in a changing world’, are so important that urgent public attention should be given to this report now.  The full report can be read on the ippr?s website at .

© Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

Elizabeth the Great, by Elizabeth Jenkins, published by The Companion Book Club (Odhams Press Ltd.) in 1958

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 22nd December 2007

‘Elizabeth the Great’, by Elizabeth Jenkins is a biography of Queen Elizabeth I, which focuses not only on Elizabeth I as Queen of England between 1558 and 1603, but also her personal life and the traumas of her childhood, which would influence her as Queen.  This well researched and detailed narrative of Queen Elizabeth I’s life makes us feel quite sympathetic to the Queen, who might otherwise be judged by history as someone who was cantankerous and spiteful.

The story of the Queen’s life poses the question: how does a girl then a woman cope with the knowledge that her father killed her mother, Ann Boleyn?   How does she cope with the fact that her father then went on to kill her stepmother, Catherine Howard?  These circumstances in Elizabeth’s life meant that she had privately made the decision never to marry, not even when she was Queen to her favourite courtier Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.

On reading ‘Elizabeth the Great’ one realizes just how precarious Elizabeth’s position was on several occasions throughout her life.   After her mother’s execution the account for Elizabeth’s clothing allowance had been closed down and the little girl’s governess, Lady Bryan, had to write to one of the King’s ministers asking for new clothes for the child.

Things were particularly difficult for Elizabeth after her father, King Henry VIII’s death in 1547 when she was 14.  Her younger half brother Edward became king, but the country was then run by the new King’s guardian and uncle, Edward Seymour.  Edward Seymour made himself the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector, and appointed his brother Thomas Seymour as Lord High Admiral.  The accession of such a young boy as Edward VI to the throne, marked the beginning of several years of struggle between various factions at court vying to gain control of the Kingdom of England and Wales.  By the time of Edward VI’s death in 1553, John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland was in control of the king. According to Henry VIII’s will, Elizabeth’s half sister Mary Tudor, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was next in line for the throne. However, the Duke of Northumberland had been part of a plot to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.  This coup against Mary failed, with the conspirators ending up in the Tower of London, where they were later executed.

For Elizabeth, Queen Mary’s reign from 1553 to 1558 was especially unpleasant.  Mary resented Elizabeth because the latter was the daughter of Ann Boleyn.  Shortly after Mary’s accession, Elizabeth was implicated in a plot led by Thomas Wyatt to overthrough Mary.  Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London, but managed to persuade the Earl of Sussex that she was innocent of any involvement.

During the 16th Century, in an undemocratic age, when all government was subject to royal prerogative, the main concerns of statesmen were questions of war, royal succession and religion.  King Henry VIII had broken the Church of England away from the Church of Rome.  Years later his daughter Queen Mary, an ardent Roman Catholic, wanted to re-establish the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.  When Mary married King Philip II of Spain, the Protestants feared that Mary and Philip’s children would be Catholic heirs to the English throne.  However, the couple were unsuccessful in producing an heir, so on Mary’s death the Protestant Elizabeth became Queen.

Protestant Privy Councillors such as William Cecil, knew that the survival of the Protestant kingdom depended on a Protestant heir or successor to Elizabeth, as well as ensuring England was not invaded by a Catholic power such as Spain. Although Queen Elizabeth I never married, she did enter into marriage negotiations with various European Princes such as the Duke of Alen?on.  These marriage negotiations were very much a diplomatic strategy in order to protect her realm and her position as Queen.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, ISBN 0-141-01486-5, published by Hamish Hamilton 2004/ Penguine Books 2005

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 20th November 2007

Alain de Bottom the philosopher and author has written ‘Status Anxiety’, which is a handy guide analysing the elements of status and why we fear the lack of our own status. The book is divided into two parts: ‘Part One Causes’ and ‘Part Two Solutions’.

In the first chapter of Part One of ‘Status Anxiety’, Alain de Bottom finds that love is the primary goal of high status, with wealth and power being the means to that end. This type of love is different from sexual love or the unconditional love a parent has for their child. The type of love which is the goal of high status is social approbation: of being deferred to, listened to, of getting noticed and not being ignored.

The phenomenon of the fear of low status within society has its origins in the late 18th Century when political, economic and technological events brought huge social changes in the western world. It is ironic that the revolutions in North America and France, whose aim it was to free those countries from the arbitrary rule of hereditary monarchs and create democracies, should in the process create meritocracies that were very unforgiving of those who failed to achieve high status.

Alain de Bottom lists some of the inventions over two centuries that contributed to the growth of our consumer society. Some of these such as sanitation: the invention by Doulton in 1846 of glazed stoneware sewage pipes and then George Jennings’s ‘pedestal vase’ toilet in 1884, have allowed us to live longer and more healthily. While on the other hand the inventions of such things as department stores and shopping malls have made us envious and discontented with our lot, as we attach too much importance to material things.

One of the most unpleasant aspects of a ‘prosperous society’ is the way that it treats those at its base, who have been unable to achieve great financial status. Alain de Bottom has included in his book some quotations, which show up the prejudice directed towards the weakest in society such as the poor and unemployed. Below is an example of such a quotation which came from the Victorian English Social Darwinist, Herbert Spencer:

‘It seems hard that the widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately, but in connection with the interests of universal humanity, the harsh fatalities are seen to be full of beneficence - the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents...Under the natural order of things society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillating, faithless members. If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well that they should live. If they are not suffiently complete to live, they die, and its best they should die’.

‘Status Anxiety’ in Part Two shows us how we can deal with such prejudices through philosophy, art, politics, Christianity or Bohemia. If we feel that others look down on us, we can either take up pursuits which cannot be judged in the same way, or free ourselves from what others think of us. We can enjoy the genre of the Greek Tragedy, where the wealthy or powerful ruler is reduced in honour and status to that of a beggar through some mistake on his part.

This book is written by an author who doesn't have a political axe to grind, but does show up how we have become enslaved by the social anxiety of our status. This book is both educational and entertaining, and is well worth reading whatever your social position.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Last of the Line, by Patricia Gumbrell, ISBN 1-904445-12-8, published by Whitles Publishing in 2005

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 19th October 2007

In reviewing ‘Last of the Line’ Jolyon Gumbrell has got to state an interest, in that the book's author is his mother Patricia Gumbrell. However, irrespective of the book’s subject matter being about his ancestors' history as lighthouse keepers, the reviewer always tries to be impartial and approaches the book as if he had only just opened it for the first time.

‘Last of the Line’ is the history of three lighthouse keeping families: the Darlings, Halls and Knotts, who were connected by marriage of which the Darlings and Halls are the ancestors of Patricia Gumbrell nee Hall. Although the Corporation of Trinity House is still responsible for lighthouses and other navigational aids around the coasts of England, Wales and the Channel Islands; the profession of lighthouse keeper no longer exists, as all lighthouses along these coastlines are now automated. ‘Last of the Line’ is written from the perspective of the keepers and their families, who once lived and worked at these remote coastal locations.

The book begins with the story of the Hall family, who lived at Dale in Pembrokeshire towards the end of the 18th Century. During that time, Thomas Hall born around 1734 who originated from the Northeast of England was a mariner, as was his son John Hall. John Hall drowned at sea in 1810, just a few weeks before his own son also called John was born. It was John Hall (1810 to 1881) who became a lighthouse keeper and served at St. Ann's head in the 1830's and then moved to the Skerries lighthouse off Anglesey in 1841. John Hall was married to Elizabeth Jones in 1831 and two of their children married into lighthouse keeping families of Knott and Darling. Their daughter Ellen Margaret Hall married Henry Knott and their son Thomas Owen Hall married Grace Horsley Darling. Grace was the niece of the famous Grace Darling of the rescue of the survivors of the Forfarshire. Thomas Owen Hall and Grace Horsley Darling are the great grandparents of Patricia Gumbrell.

The last lighthouse keeper in the family to serve Trinity House was Patricia's father, Harold Owen Hall. ‘Last of the Line’ covers his life in some detail, which includes accounts of two occasions when his life was in danger, because bad weather had prevented supplies of food from being brought by boat to remote rock lighthouses. On the first occasion when he was a boy living with his parents at Coquet Island during the First World War, the lifeboat was needed to bring emergency provisions to the Island to prevent the keepers and their families from starving. On the second occasion, Harold was serving as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper at the Wolf Rock off the Cornish coast in 1922. When the relief boat failed to arrive, the keepers had to survive on limited reserve rations for another two weeks. When the crew of the lighthouse were finally rescued by the relief boat, two of the light keepers had to spend time in hospital, while Harold was put on a special diet by the doctor in order to make a full recovery.

Patricia Gumbrell’s account of her own childhood also gives the reader a good idea what life must have been like for the wives and children of lighthouse keepers. It was often difficult for the children to settle in any one place, because the nature of their parents occupation meant that the families could be transferred to another part of the country at short notice. It also meant that a lighthouse keeper would have to live away from his family, when he was stationed on a rock lighthouse such as Beachy Head, while his wife and daughter would have to live in lodgings in a place like Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Probably one of the most inconvienient things about this type of life for a family was having their furniture in storage whilst looking for a new home to rent. By the time that Patricia's mother Josephine had found a house or flat then Harold might be given orders to transfer to another lighthouse, so the family would have to inform the new landlord that they could not take the house because they were being forced to move on again because of the job.

‘Last of the Line’ is interesting because it gives an historical account of the everyday lives of people who proudly followed an occupation, which in recent years has been made obsolete by modern technology. For generations their professionalism kept the mariner safe from rocks and sandbanks in our coastal waters.

‘Last of the Line’ is still in print and a copy can be purchased from your local bookshop or by contacting Whittles Publishing at

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Brainwashing The Science of thought control, by Kathleen Taylor, ISBN 0-19-920478-0, published by Oxford University Press in 2004.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 4th October 2007

Kathleen Taylor the author of ‘Brainwashing The science of thought control’, is described on the page before the frontispiece of the book as: ‘a research scientist in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford.’ The book has been published by Oxford University Press, which points to the fact that the author is a neuroscientist, who can comment from a professional perspective on a subject which is extremely complex, controversial and emotive.

Kathleen Taylor begins her book by talking about the history of brainwashing. The expression brainwashing was coined by a CIA operative called Edward Hunter in 1950, at the time of the Korean War. Hunter had investigated why American soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Communists in North Korea, had been converted to believe in communist ideology, retaining these communist beliefs after their release and return home to the United States. However, as Kathleen Taylor points out in her book, the process of changing other peoples beliefs by force or much more subtle means, has a far older history than the Korean War.

The book analyses some of the notorious cases, where brainwashing has been used by charismatic cult leaders such as Charles Manson or the Reverend Jim Jones with fatal consequences for the cults' victims and followers. We find out how a dictator, politician, religious fanatic, or any other influence technician can use abstract or ethereal ideas to manipulate emotions to gain control over people’s minds. These ethereal ideas such as ‘freedom, a State, or God’, are often more important to a society than individuals within or outside of the group.

‘Brainwashing The science of thought control’ introduces the reader to scientific terms, used by neuroscience to describe the parts and workings of the human brain. Reading this book should help any individual to protect himself or herself against brainwashing or other influence techniques.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Dear Bill W.F. Deedes reports, by W.F. Deedes, published by Macmillan in 1997, ISBN 0-333-71386-9

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 20th June 2007

‘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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

The Insider, by Piers Morgan, published by Ebury Press in 2005, ISBN 009190849-3

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 14th May 2007

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Business Bluders, Dirty Dealing and Financial Failure in the World of Big Business, by Geoff Tibballs, published by Robinson Publishing Ltd., 1999, ISBN 1-84119-011-x.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 28th March 2007

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Strange People, by Jamie Stokes, published by Parragon in 2000

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 6th February 2007

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

In Search of The Edge of Time, by John Gribbin, published by Quality Paperbacks Direct, 1992, CN 5462

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 24th January 2007

‘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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine, published by Penguin Books 1984, ISBN 0-14-039015-4

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 6th January 2007

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2007

Anatomy of Greed The Unshredded Truth from an Enron Insider, by Brian Cruver, published by Hutchinson, 2002, ISBN 0-09-179528-1

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 24th December 2006

‘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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

The Science of Politics, by Maurice Saatchi, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001, ISBN 0-297-60768-5

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 11th December 2006

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006.

The Global Conflict: The international rivalry of the great powers, 1880 - 1990, Second Edition, by C.J.Bartlett, published by Longman Group UK Limited, 1994, ISBN 0-582-07029-5

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 4th December 2006

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

Stalker, by John Stalker, published by Penguin Books, 1988, ISBN 0-14-011051-8

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 28th November 2006

‘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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

Spycatcher The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright, published by Viking Penguin INC. 1987, ISBN 0-670-82055-5.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 21st November 2006

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

Blair’s Wars, by John Kampfner, published by Free Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7432-4830-9

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 17th November 2006

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

The Road to Number 10 From Bonar Law to Tony Blair, by Alan Watkins, Published by Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1998, ISBN 0-7156-2815-1.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 10th November 2006

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

Road to Riches or The Wealth of Man, by Peter Jay, Published by The Orion Publishing Group Ltd., 2000, CN 6568.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 3rd November 2006

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.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

The Climate of Treason, by Andrew Boyle, Published by Hutchinson & Co. Ltd 1979, ISBN 0-09-139340-x

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 28th October 2006

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.’

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006

The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett, by Richard Ingrams, published by Harper Perennial in 2006, ISBN 0-00-638825-6

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 23rd October 2006

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.’

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2006.

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