A global archive of independent reviews of everything happening from the beginning of the millennium

Read our Copyright Notice click here

December 2017

Labour can be rather selective about the record of its first term of post-war government.

Mass nationalisation, which Margaret Thatcher reversed, resulted in a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer inventing austerity to pay for it - just as the country ought to have been coming off wartime rationing.

It set up the NHS but what is forgotten is that it did not function properly until 1969 due to the resistance of much of the medical profession to it.

Nor was Labour good at building homes. Here is what Brendan Bracken wrote to Max Beaverbrook on 18 November 1948, after a by-election:

Our Socialists got a real knock at Edmonton and we Tories are naturally jubilant at the great increase in our vote. The only explanation I can give is that working class women are fed up with Strachey and Bevan.

Rather less than 250 houses have been built in Edmonton since the war ended. More than 6000 people, now huddled together in rooms, have been waiting for homes and I imagine they voted against the government.

The context was that there were bomb sites all over London waiting for development. Eventually the machinery of government got moving and built homes in quantity but not in the first Labour term.

February 2019

Alan Clark liked anecdotes and was a good subject for them.

I remember visiting the Cabinet Office of a weekend and seing his Porsche being the only vehicle parked in Downing Street, the Prime Minister being away.

I also remember being part of the selection process for him to become MP for Kensington and Chelsea.

I arrived at Kensington town hall to find the entrance blocked by television lorries with satellite dishes as never seen at a selection meeting before.

He won through from trailing badly in the first round by understanding people's emotions. He almost tearfully confessed he would vote for foxhunting which he had not favoured and also pleaded with the full hall to give him his last chance to serve them and in parliament. The ladies' vote came in thick and fast.

At the end of the day, it is a constituency that likes celebrity not worthiness.

Afterwards I dashed out quickly to talk to the assembled press and ended up quoted on the front page of the first edition of the Evening Standard.

Alan Clark followed out soon after looking absolutely shattered and ready to drop, something unexpected in a winning candidate, and started to give a truly dull address to the assembled cameras. By chance he spoke a line attacking the Opposition so I gave a big beam and an encouraging gesture. He picked it up and continued to attack turning slight disappointment into claps and cheering from the crowd.


Author : Alistair McAlpine. First published Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1997 (subsequently revised and updated).


Marketed as 'The most explosive political disclosures since the publication of Alan Clark's Diaries', this book does not live up to its billing.

The political disclosures, if anything, are tame and discreet. Which is not to say that the book is not the most candid memoir since Alan Clark's first volume of diaries.

It is simply that the majority of people will read it for disclosures of how he went about raising funds for the Conservative Party as its Treasurer from 1975 to 1990 and on that subject he remains the master of discretion. Next to no names of contributors appear, next to no methodology of how funds were raised is revealed. One can but guess by reading the rest of the book.

Despite having left the Conservative Party to join Sir James Goldsmith's erstwhile Referendum Party, he can be said, therefore, to have performed his services to the Tories with distinction - he acted as the perfect cut-out between those making political contributions and the two Prime Ministers he served.

In comparison, subsequent Labour Party fundraising, especially from 1995, has looked befuddled.

Naturally, some political scores are settled, as in all political biographies, but this 'putting the record straight' is limited and largely confined to two chapters. If anyone takes repeated flak, it is John Major.

Scion of the family owning one of Britain's largest contracting companies, he clearly learnt from his father, who entertained in grand style at the Dorchester when the family owned it, how to win business by building a relationship with people and the same techniques would appear to have been put to good use as Treasurer and, indeed, one suspects, to overcome personal financial difficulties in the nineties.

One person who his father championed and made friends of was a Secretary of State for Education and Science called Margaret Thatcher in Edward Heath's administration. Both father and son had been given life peerages within five years of her coming to power. This is classic Margaret Thatcher to those who were acquainted with her wider circle - she rewarded generously those who offered her personal support of their own volition, sometimes even those who merely had had the courage to entertain her well.

For those familiar with West End contemporary art galleries, Fountain House in Mayfair, architects and the scions of civil engineering and building contractors, there is much in this book that will ring bells and many familiar figures from those worlds appear.

Coverage of the Thatcher years in Britain is not comprehensive but the book still provides perhaps the best perspective of the politics at Central Office in those years. The best previous account was probably Lord Young's memoirs.

Lord McAlpine is a person who has lived his life the way he has largely wanted to, eschewing conformity or concern about career that some might argue is the bane of the new era of globalisation. It is as if someone so essentially creative could never have been so straightjacketed. Lord Beaverbrook's dictum of 'whatever you do, never be boring' certainly has an adherent in McAlpine.

For one who is dyslexic, his prose style is remarkably elegant, direct and accomplished. Due to the candidness of the book, one fervently hopes that he managed it without ghosting because it is an admirable read.

It might be said that McAlpine was born to many of the things he was involved with during his life :- civil engineering contracting, collecting, dealing, art patronage, fund raising and politics. It is the chapters on on his part-time participation in Australian life which demonstrate that the creativity and directness that he showed in all his endeavours in Britain were not due mainly to honey on a silver spoon, or privilege.

In Australia he launched into setting up a zoo, preserving traditional buildings to the point of moving them lock, stock and barrel, attempting to create a new international airport and becoming the equivalent of the squire of Broome, a town in Northern Australia. A determined player, too, in Western Australian real estate and, to a limited extent, in Australian politics, he doubtless annoyed a fair few Australians as the Pommie intruder, playing politics and business in their backyard.

It is to his credit that he did it anyway, in a land where most are descended from incomers in all events, giving rein to his enterprise and creativity.