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That Man Griffith

John Griffith, 25 October 1990

Lord Denning: A Biography 
by Edmund Heward.
Weidenfeld, 243 pp., £15, September 1990, 9780297811381
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... that we come from a narrow background – it’s all nonsense – they get it from that man Griffith.’ Lord Reid was a distinguished top judge. In 1972 he wrote: ‘Those with a taste for fairytales seem to have thought that in some Aladdin’s cave there is hidden the Common Law in all its splendour and that on a judge’s appointment there descends ...

Do we need a constitution?

Peter Pulzer, 5 December 1991

The Constitution of the United Kingdom 
Institute for Public Policy Research, 128 pp., £20, September 1991, 1 872452 42 6Show More
A People’s Charter 
Liberty, 118 pp., £7.99, October 1991, 9780946088393Show More
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... the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.’ Motion by John Dunning, passed by the House of Commons, 6 April 1780. A constitution is a device for limiting the power of the executive. That ought to answer the question whether Britain needs one. For most of the 20th century, indeed ever since the Parliament Act of 1911 ...

Post-Bourgeois Man

Peter Jenkins, 1 October 1981

Arguments for Democracy 
by Tony Benn, edited by Chris Mullin.
Cape, 257 pp., £6.95, September 1981, 0 224 01878 7
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Manifesto 
by Francis Cripps, John Griffith, Frances Morrell, Jimmy Reid and Peter Townsend.
Pan, 224 pp., £1.95, September 1981, 0 330 26402 8
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... He has come a long way. Born the Hon. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, he inevitably became by public-school nickname ‘Wedgie’ and later, by his own socialist deed-poll, plain ‘Tony Benn’. Today he is more often referred to simply as Benn – a hard word spat out like ‘Lenin’. Benn puzzles and alarms people because he is at the same time frightfully English and frighteningly un-English ...

In a Boat of His Own Making

James Camp: Jack London, 24 September 2014

Jack London: An American Life 
by Earle Labor.
Farrar, Straus, 439 pp., £21.99, November 2013, 978 0 374 17848 2
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The Sea-Wolf 
by Jack London.
Hesperus, 287 pp., £9.99, August 2013, 978 1 78094 200 1
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... In his off hours, London ‘wanted to be where the winds of adventure blew’, as he wrote in John Barleycorn, his ‘alcoholic reminiscences’. He was a child labourer in Oakland at 14, a Bay Area pirate at 15, a transcontinental hobo at 16, an able-bodied seaman at 17, a New York State prisoner at 18, a California ‘work beast’ at 20 and a Yukon ...

First Movie in the White House

J. Hoberman: ‘Birth of a Nation’, 12 February 2009

D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ 
by Melvyn Stokes.
Oxford, 414 pp., £13.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 533679 5
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... marks been more superfluous than in the subtitle of Melvyn Stokes’s informative book. What did Griffith bring into the world? Imagine an unholy combination of The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie as violent and sentimental as Saving Private Ryan and as tricksy as Forrest Gump, landing with the force of Titanic in the nickelodeon universe ...

Long March

Martin Pugh, 2 June 1983

Renewal: Labour’s Britain in the 1980s 
by Shadow Cabinet, edited by Gerald Kaufman.
Penguin, 201 pp., £2.50, April 1983, 0 14 052351 0
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Socialism in a Cold Climate 
edited by John Griffith.
Allen and Unwin, 230 pp., £2.95, April 1983, 9780043350508
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Liberal Party Politics 
edited by Vernon Bogdanor.
Oxford, 302 pp., £17.50, April 1983, 0 19 827465 3
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... The trouble with timely books is that time is apt to run out rather suddenly for them. No doubt when the 20 members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet planned the essays in Renewal they expected them to thicken the political debate during the six to nine months run-up to a general election. As it is, they have been overtaken by events: shortly we shall have the more clipped and precise promises of the real Manifesto instead of the discursive and sometimes cloudy compositions presented here ...

Judges and Ministers

Anthony Lester, 18 April 1996

... left enduring scars, especially on the left of British politics. In The Politics of the Judiciary John Griffith provides more recent material to support his thesis that a white, male, Oxbridge-educated judicial élite is not to be trusted to decide the questions which would arise if we had a modern Bill of Rights, broadly defining the limits of state ...

How we declare war

Conor Gearty: Blair, the Law and the War, 3 October 2002

... has never been about law in the way that written constitutions usually are: it is what John Griffith calls ‘a political constitution’, so that what counts is not what long dead founding fathers or living dead lawyers say you can do but what the electorate will, in your judgment, allow you to get away with (perhaps eventually thanking you ...

On the Move

Stephen Sedley: Constitutional Moments, 8 October 2009

The New British Constitution 
by Vernon Bogdanor.
Hart, 319 pp., £45, June 2009, 978 1 84113 671 4
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... get what you pay for. Each concept has acquired constitutional legitimacy in its time – for, as John Griffith famously observed, the constitution is what happens. So when you pick up The New British Constitution and ask what new constitution that might be, one answer is that the British constitution, because it is always changing, is always new. But ...

Falling Stars

Alan Coren, 5 November 1981

Richard Burton 
by Paul Ferris.
Weidenfeld, 212 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77966 4
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Peter Sellers 
by Alexander Walker.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77965 6
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... about his hero: these include Claire Bloom, Alexander Cohen, Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, Sir John Gielgud, Hugh Griffiths, Joseph Losey, James Mason, Vincente Minnelli, Mike Nichols, Rachel Roberts, Daphne Rye, Jean Simmons, and three of his wives, Sybil Christopher, Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Hunt. I particularly enjoyed the parenthesis Mr Ferris ...

Wigs and Tories

Paul Foot, 18 September 1997

Trial of Strength: The Battle Between Ministers and Judges over Who Makes the Law 
by Joshua Rozenberg.
Richard Cohen, 241 pp., £17.99, April 1997, 1 86066 094 0
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The Politics of the Judiciary 
by J.A.G. Griffith.
Fontana, 376 pp., £8.99, September 1997, 0 00 686381 7
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... the latter-day champion of ‘fundamental freedoms’ Mr Justice Laws curtail in his long stint as John Laws QC, the Thatcher Government’s chief court lawyer? Joshua Rozenberg’s not entirely original view is that elected politicians should make the laws and judges should administer them. He advises the two sides to stop attacking each other: politicians ...

When Ireland Became Divided

Garret FitzGerald: The Free State’s Fight for Recognition, 21 January 1999

Documents on Irish Foreign Policy. Vol. I: 1919-22 
edited by Ronan Fanning.
Royal Irish Academy and Department of Foreign Affairs, 548 pp., £30, October 1998, 1 874045 63 1
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... of the Sinn Féin party – founded earlier in the century by the non-violent Nationalist Arthur Griffith but from 1917 led by the senior survivor of 1916, Eamon de Valera – this new radical movement won 73 of the 105 Irish seats at Westminster in the December 1918 General Election. Assembling in Dublin on 19 January 1919, those elected members not in ...

House History

John Sutherland, 24 January 1980

Allen Lane: King Penguin 
by J.E. Morpurgo.
Hutchinson, 405 pp., £9.95, November 1980, 0 09 139690 5
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... designs, sober covers and superior typography (hangovers, as Morpurgo demonstrates, from John Lane’s Bodley Head). The Penguin aura was of solid, durable literature and (as Pelicans) sensible discussion. To work the paradox to death, one might claim that Penguins were paperbacks which, for most of their history, successfully passed themselves off ...

Disaster

Ronan Bennett, 16 December 1993

De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow 
by Tim Pat Coogan.
Hutchinson, 772 pp., £20, October 1993, 9780091750305
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... If they remind Catholics to keep Clear of Republicanism, killings like these can be useful, as John Taylor, an MP from the ‘respcetable’ side of Unionism and a Minister of Home Affairs in the days of Stormont, has acknowledged. Another Stormont MP, now very happily deceased, took the logic of his strong feelings about Northern Catholics a stage ...

Bob Hawke’s Australia

Michael Davie, 6 October 1983

... in circumstances that had a lasting effect. On 11 November 1975 the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Whitlam as Prime Minister, dissolved both houses of parliament, and installed the leader of the opposition, Malcolm Fraser, as head of a caretaker government pending immediate elections. It was the gravest crisis in Australian history. Hawke ...

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