Archive for the ‘publications’ Category

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A Brief Update

29 July 2011

I haven’t abandoned this blog, though various other commitments have prevented me from writing more in-depth reviews of the books I have been reading. However, I’ve dusted things off long enough to tidy up my Publications list, which should now be fully updated with all of my current and forthcoming publications.

I hope to have more pertinent content soon. No firm promises on what sort of content it will be or when it will appear, but I do have quite a few books in the queue!

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Commentary: Sir Humphrey on Newsnight

29 April 2010

As part of Newsnight‘s Election 2010 coverage, Yes, Minister co-creator Sir Anthony Jay has written a set of three new sketches featuring the quintessential civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Henry Goodman (who will be portraying Sir Humphrey in the new Yes, Prime Minister stage play opening in May at the Chichester Festival Theatre). According to the BBC’s description: ‘In three episodes we will see him flick through the main party manifestos and offer his unique advice for any incoming minister on handling, or getting around, aspects of potential future policy.

For now, the clips are available here: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Labour [to be aired on 4 May].

Overall, I found the writing to be fairly clever, with some good turns of phrase in the best mandarin style. Though it is nigh-impossible to live up to the memory of Sir Nigel Hawthorne’s performance, I would say that Henry Goodman’s portrayal is well up to par — though I do wish he hadn’t said ‘Lib Dem’, which would be far too crude for the Sir Humphrey Appleby I recall. But my primary reservation about these sketches is that they would be a good deal more funny, and more in keeping with the spirit of the original series, if we weren’t told which party’s manifesto was actually being read.

One of the most prized aspects of the series was that it carefully avoided party-political issues in favour of highlighting the underlying conflict between government and administration, an approach that allows it to have continued relevance more than three decades later. It doesn’t seem entirely appropriate to have Sir Humphrey, always so scrupulous about drawing the line between the sordid world of party politics and the tidy machinery of the Civil Service, offering commentary in this muddled grey area between the policy and the policymakers. Sir Humphrey himself would be the first to say that to the Civil Service, it barely matters what party is in power…or rather, in government, because no party is ever truly in ‘power’ in that sense of the word.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, so perhaps I’m somewhat protective of the original series and resistant to the prospect of its ‘modernization’ in this fashion — even when modernised by the creators. But even setting that aside and attempting to judge the sketches purely on their own merits, they seem somewhat lacking in the classic Yes, Minister message that first attracted my interest.

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A Companion to International History 1900–2001, edited by Gordon Martel

12 January 2010

I believe this is the last of the reviews I wrote for the September 2008 issue of Political Studies Review. The next new review should be ready for posting by next week.

A Companion to International History 1900–2001, edited by Gordon Martel

The intent of the Blackwell Companions to History series is to provide compact collections of writings that address the most important, overarching concepts in particular historical fields and look at the changing ways in which historians have approached these concepts. In that tradition, the contributors to Blackwell’s A Companion to International History 1900–2001 have given the editors a volume of concise, well-written historiographical and interpretive essays dealing with both specific areas of interest and broader themes in twentieth century history.

The essays in this volume cover the full span of the twentieth century, looking back to the early years of the century to examine the origins of the First World War and continuing all the way through to the events of 11 September 2001. Broader themes explored include nationalism and imperialism, as well as the changes wrought on the diplomatic world by the shifting balances of power and ideological realignments of the past 100 years. The more area-specific essays look into the topics that are the staple of most any international history survey — the crisis periods of the two world wars and the Cold War, overviews of pre-war and inter-war European alliances and post-war European integration, regional studies of the roles played by Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the post-war world, and even several essays on post–Cold War politics and the effects of globalisation and terrorism. The guides to further reading, located at the end of each chapter, provide briefly annotated lists of selected books and articles for those who are interested in going deeper into a particular subject.

Many of the contributors will be familiar to those who have made a study of contemporary international history, and the quality of the contributions is uniformly excellent. In a collection of such first-rate work, it is difficult to highlight any one or two individual entries as particularly worthy of note. Overall, the Companion to International History is another welcome addition to Blackwell’s high-quality series, suitable not only for students who are just beginning to explore the complexities of international history but also for established scholars who require a handy desk reference for teaching, research, or simply for a quick refresher on major historical themes of the previous century.


First published in Political Studies Review Vol. 6 No. 3 (September 2008): 433–434.
The definitive version is available at www.blackwellsynergy.com.

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The Constitution of the United Kingdom: A Contextual Analysis by Peter Leyland

15 December 2009

I’ve just returned from the thoroughly enjoyable Fiction and British Politics conference, and hope to post a little more about it once I manage to marshall my thoughts into a suitable post. For now, though, here is another review originally written for Political Studies Review.

The Constitution of the United Kingdom: A Contextual Analysis by Peter Leyland

The Constitution of the United Kingdom is the first book in Hart Publishing’s new ‘Constitutional Systems of the World’ series, and the editors have presented an interesting challenge for the series from the outset. Unlike many other constitutional systems, such as that of the United States, the constitution of the United Kingdom is uncodified, far less rigidly defined than other existing constitutions. Commentators have occasionally spoken of the UK’s ‘back-of-an-envelope’ constitution which depends as much (or even more so) on convention and precedent as it does on formal documents. To include both the written and unwritten aspects of the constitution of the United Kingdom, the book first looks into the historical context of the system, examining the various sources of constitutional authority and the constitution’s underlying principles as they have developed over the course of the country’s history. From the historical background, the analysis moves on to explore institutional structures and divisions of power — including power divisions within the government; among national, regional, and local government; and (in the past half-century) between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Leyland’s work covers the intricate structural framework of the British constitution, setting out sections on the changing role of the Crown, the relationship between Parliament and the executive, the judiciary, and devolved and local government. There are short summaries of notable legal cases and of current constitutional debates, such as the place of the House of Lords as a second chamber, the case for abolishing the monarchy, the recent reformation of the office of the Lord Chancellor, and the ‘West Lothian question’ on devolved government for England. At the end of each section is a guide to further reading, featuring useful texts and appropriate Web sites for those interested in exploring the subject in greater depth.

On the whole, the book provides a compact yet comprehensive analysis of the complexities of the British constitution, and presents the analysis in a straightforward, well-written manner. As the first book in the series, The Constitution of the United Kingdom has set a fine example for the other books to follow, and one can only hope that forthcoming titles will be equally valuable for those who have an interest in constitutional systems of the world.


First published in Political Studies Review Vol. 6 No. 3 (September 2008): 384.
The definitive version is available at www.blackwellsynergy.com.

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British Electoral Facts: 1832–2006, edited by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher

3 November 2009

Another review that made it into Political Studies Review. I’m not a psephologist by nature or training, but over the years I’ve developed a certain fascination with election statistics and the study thereof. I know that I will greatly miss Peter Snow at the next General Election; the swingometer simply won’t be the same without him.

British Electoral Facts: 1832–2006, edited by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher

British Electoral Facts has run into seven editions now, and this most recent edition compiled and edited by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher continues to uphold the tradition of the indispensable reference book first assembled by the late F.W.S. Craig. The editors have added a new table of contents and comprehensive index to aid readers in their search through the book’s numerous tables, enabling more efficient analysis of any number of useful and esoteric electoral statistics.

The first half of the book contains results and summary data on General Elections from 1832 to 2005, including information on the voting statistics for specific political parties, data on political parties and the electorate, information on the members and prospective candidates elected, This section also includes miscellaneous statistics for General Elections, such as a table showing which constituency was the first to declare an official result in any given election (Sunderland South has held this record since 1992) or brief accounts of the weather on polling day (on 8 October 1959, for instance, voters went to the polls on a ‘dry autumn day’). The remainder of the book is divided into smaller sections on other elections held within the United Kingdom. This part includes figures on parliamentary by-elections; elections and by-elections for the European Parliament; General Election results broken down by UK region; elections for the devolved Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Ireland Assembly; and basic results and turnout information from local government elections since around 1945. Information on referendums, electoral irregularities, and public opinion polling data from organisations such as Gallup and MORI complete the raw statistical information found in the book. A separate appendix at the back contains a half-dozen pages of election records and trivia from 1918 to 2005, such as the largest and smallest recorded majorities, record swings, and other extremes of turnout percentages and votes cast.

Most of the statistics in British Electoral Facts 1838–2006 are meant for psephologists and other researchers who take an interest in the raw numerical data produced by the polls. Yet Rallings and Thrasher have produced a neat, compact reference book which provides a wealth of information about the changing British electorate, and which is likely to remain the definitive guide to British electoral history until a forthcoming edition adds new data on elections yet to come.


First published in Political Studies Review Vol. 6 No. 3 (September 2008): 385-86.
The definitive version is available at www.blackwellsynergy.com.

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Dictionary of Liberal Thought, edited by Duncan Brack and Ed Randall

13 October 2009

Continuing with posts of reviews originally written for Political Studies Review. I wrote several for the September 2008 issue, so I’ll probably spread them out over a few weeks in the interests of typing up reviews for a few other books.

Dictionary of Liberal Thought, edited by Duncan Brack and Ed Randall

The Liberal Democrat History Group, as its name suggests, is a study group dedicated to historical research and discussion on the Liberal Democrats (and both the predecessor parties, the Liberals and the SDP) and on liberalism as a political philosophy in general. The Group has compiled and published several reference books on liberalism, including the Dictionary of Liberal Biography and the Dictionary of Liberal Quotations. Now, in its most recent publication, the Group has looked at the broader history of liberalism in the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, a book which claims to cover the key theorists, ideas, and organisations that have shaped more than three centuries of liberal philosophy in Great Britain.

The Dictionary of Liberal Thought is organised alphabetically, but the ideas, organisations, and thinkers included in the text have their own separate indexes for quick reference. The book’s scope is slightly broader than might be expected — the entries on individuals, for instance, include not only classical liberals such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill but also individuals who have contributed to the overall development of British liberal thought, such as John Milton and Edmund Burke. More modern ‘liberals’ given a place in the dictionary include former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Labour MP Anthony Crosland, and academic and Liberal Democrat peer Conrad Russell. Seemingly contrary ideologies and philosophies of liberalism are likewise included; barely three dozen pages separate Keynesianism and Libertarianism, for instance. A brief summary of the key ideas and a short list of suggested further readings on the individual, idea, or organisation in question serve as the introduction and conclusion to each of the entries in the dictionary.

Liberalism has had almost as many definitions as it has had people to define it, and the changing philosophies and ideologies that have accompanied these shifting perceptions of liberalism make it a challenge to compile a concise but comprehensive dictionary on the subject. As a reference book, the Dictionary of Liberal Thought provides a single-volume resource for those who are interested in studying these changing perceptions. And even though the dictionary’s primary focus is on British liberalism, the wide-reaching range of entries may prove useful to those curious about liberalism as it developed in Europe and America.


First published in Political Studies Review Vol. 6 No. 3 (September 2008): 361.
The definitive version is available at www.blackwellsynergy.com.

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Publications: ‘Downing Street’s Favourite Soap Opera’ (in print)

20 September 2009

To my chagrin, I’ve only just realised that I’ve neglected to mention in To Bed With a Trollope that the following article is now available from Contemporary British History:

Downing Street’s Favourite Soap Opera: Evaluating the Impact and Influence of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister‘, Contemporary British History 23:3 (September 2009): 315-336

Abstract: The satirical 1980s television programmes Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister have made a lasting contribution to the substance and content of political discourse in Britain, shaping public and political opinion on the relationship between politicians and civil servants. An in-depth analysis of the reactions to Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister — from the earliest reviews to the most recent references to the programmes in contemporary political debates — reveals the programmes’ incisive observations on the proper roles of government and administration in the British political system and explains why these observations continue to be relevant nearly three decades after the programmes first aired.

This article is available online through the link above or in the hard copy edition of the September 2009 issue of Contemporary British History.