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Is it a bird, is it a plane?

Peter Clarke, 18 May 1989

The Pleasures of the Past 
by David Cannadine.
Collins, 338 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 00 215664 4
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... Sometimes in the London Review of Books I find the sort of review that grabs me by the throat: a review that bowls me over, staggers and stuns me, dazes and dumbfounds me, astounds and astonishes me – in short, exhausts the thesaurus to impress me no end (do wonders, work miracles, surpass belief, beggar all description and beat everything). Then again, in the New York Review of Books I sometimes discover this same dash and élan, this zest and vim, this fire and mettle, this fizz and verve, this pep and go, this vehemence and violence, this thrust and push and kick and punch ...

Enemies Within

Peter Clarke, 7 February 1985

... The showing of the SDP in the last General Election cannot entirely be explained on the supposition that it enjoyed widespread support from readers of the LRB, but they have as much right as anyone to know what has happened to it since. Let us begin by acknowledging that it is not yet a fit subject for ‘Where are they now?’ and to that extent things could be much worse ...

History’s Revenges

Peter Clarke, 5 March 1981

The Illustrated Dictionary of British History 
edited by Arthur Marwick.
Thames and Hudson, 319 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 500 25072 3
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Who’s Who in Modern History, 1860-1980 
by Alan Palmer.
Weidenfeld, 332 pp., £8.50, October 1980, 0 297 77642 8
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... It is doubly true these days that the experts are the last people we can rely on. We rely on them because the compartmentalisation of knowledge in every field means that they are the only guides left. The last people, however, because they have retreated into their specialised enclaves, content to communicate with each other rather than a lay public ...
... By the time the sun is up on Friday 10 June we shall all be a lot wiser – and sadder too, quite likely. Either we shall have found out that the Iron Lady is impregnable or she herself will have been found out. Margaret Thatcher is the favourite politician of those who like an exciting life. Her maxim in politics – she has claimed it as Thatche’s Law – is that the unexpected always happens ...

Maastricht or no Maastricht

Peter Clarke, 19 November 1992

... When a Government loses the confidence of its own nominal supporters it is plainly in a bad way. There is a good deal of difference, however, between a chronic malady and a terminal collapse. The Maastricht vote was not the first crisis the Major Government has faced since its unnervingly recent electoral victory. Nor is it likely to be the last. But though these are disturbing symptoms, there are good reasons why they should be seen as debilitating rather than fatal, presaging Major’s decline rather than his fall ...

Reproaches from the Past

Peter Clarke: Gordon Brown, 1 April 2004

The Prudence of Mr Gordon Brown 
by William Keegan.
Wiley, 356 pp., £18.99, October 2003, 0 470 84697 6
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... deficits unparalleled in British history. As it turned out, when Brown took over from Kenneth Clarke in 1997, the economy was on the mend, having shed the ERM, and the public accounts were already heading towards surplus. Further reflection, however, prompts the thought that, as a potential prime minister, Brown might have been better placed for the ...

Here we go

Peter Clarke, 21 October 1993

... and debilitating process which is likely to take its toll sooner rather than later. Kenneth Clarke, when he takes over, will benefit from the same temporary and misplaced public relief which his predecessor enjoyed; and will in any case be better able to look after himself, if not our interests. All this makes it the more necessary that the opposition ...

Blair Must Go

Peter Clarke: Why Tony Blair should go, 11 September 2003

... the captain. The football idiom here is not just a metaphor: it’s more serious than that. When Peter Stothard was allowed to follow Blair for the month that saw the Iraq war begin, he quickly had to learn the argot, as his revealing book recounts.* Campbell duly makes his dig against Jack Straw, who is the MP for Blackburn: ‘What do Saddam Hussein and ...

Only Lower Upper

Peter Clarke: The anti-establishment establishment Jo Grimond, 5 May 2005

Liberal Lion: Jo Grimond, a Political Life 
by Peter Barberis.
Tauris, 266 pp., £19.50, March 2005, 1 85043 627 4
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... Jo Grimond, the leader of the Labour peers said, was ‘a man who gave politics a good name’. Peter Barberis has written a book that endorses this judgment. It is a well-researched account of Grimond’s career, presenting a sympathetic view of him while not flinching from asking some awkward questions, though generally on matters that would be regarded ...

Hoylake

Peter Clarke, 30 March 1989

Selwyn Lloyd 
by D.K. Thorpe.
Cape, 516 pp., £18, February 1989, 0 224 02828 6
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... family’s trajectory of escape from the confines of Wesleyanism. But although he became known as Peter from undergraduate days onward – ‘Selwyn’ must have spelt social death at Magdalene – he never seriously purported to be other than he was. He exhumed his Christian name in post-war politics and made it into a distinctive trademark, whereas to ...

Diary

Peter Clarke: True or False?, 16 August 1990

... True or false? 1. Winston Churchill sent in troops against striking miners at Tonypandy. 2. Stanley Baldwin confessed with ‘appalling frankness’ that he did not rearm because he would have lost the 1935 General Election. 3. Ernest Bevin said of the Labour Party’s relations with the Soviet Union: ‘Left can speak to Left.’ 4. Nye Bevan called Hugh Gaitskell ‘a desiccated calculating-machine ...

Jews on horseback

Peter Clarke, 10 May 1990

Disraeli 
by John Vincent.
Oxford, 127 pp., £4.95, March 1990, 0 19 287681 3
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... He remains one of the great outsiders and rogues in British politics: a man who lived down his earlier reputation as a radical to bring his biting sarcasm to the service of the Tories, always able to command an appreciative audience, albeit one with greater relish for his wit than respect for his political judgment. So much for John Vincent, the brilliant author of The Formation of the Liberal Party who became the populist professor of the Thatcherite tabloid press ...

Whipping the wicked

Peter Clarke, 17 April 1980

The Optimists: Themes and Personalities in Victorian Liberalism 
by Ian Bradley.
Faber, 301 pp., £12.50, January 1980, 0 571 11495 4
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... Most of the great positive evils of the world,’ John Stuart Mill asserted in 1863, ‘are in themselves removable, and will, if human affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced to within narrow limits.’ This sort of confidence in the reality and efficacy of progress now seems to set the 19th century distinctively apart from our own. In calling his study of Victorian Liberalism The Optimists Ian Bradley seeks to make good a more specific claim ...
The Shorter Strachey 
selected and introduced by Michael Holroyd and Paul Levy.
Oxford, 288 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 19 212211 8
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Lytton Strachey 
by Michael Holroyd.
Penguin, 1143 pp., £4.95, December 1979, 0 14 003198 7
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... It is odd that Lytton Strachey did not manage to strike up much fellow-feeling for Prospero. In an essay of 1904 on Shakespeare’s final period we find the puncturing remark (uncharacteristic of later deflationary measures only in the diffidence of the opening phrase): ‘To an irreverent eye, the ex-Duke of Milan would perhaps appear as an unpleasantly crusty personage, in whom a twelve years’ monopoly of the conversation had developed an inordinate propensity for talking ...

Who ruins Britain?

Peter Clarke, 22 November 1990

Friends in High Places: Who runs Britain? 
by Jeremy Paxman.
Joseph, 370 pp., £16.99, September 1990, 0 7181 3154 1
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The Sunday Times Book of the Rich 
by Philip Beresford.
Weidenfeld, 336 pp., £18.95, October 1990, 0 297 81115 0
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... revealing section on the social frisson provoked by the intrusion of arriviste Thatcherism. Peter Jay, with his impeccable pedigree in the aristocracy of Labour, appointed by his father-in-law to the Washington Embassy in the era that closed in 1979, speaks with peerless assurance about the lower middle class who were subsequently to supplant him and ...

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