Off Message: The Complete Antidote to Political Humbug by Bob Marshall-Andrews
|Off Message: The Complete Antidote to Political Humbug by Bob Marshall-Andrews|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A book of a third and two-thirds, with the first third being the antidote to political humbug and the two-thirds looking at some thought-provoking subjects. Recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: June 2011|
|Publisher: Profile Books|
Bob Marshall-Andrews entered Parliament in 1997, rather too late to be a career politician (he was already an established QC) and with a profound distrust of authority. He had no aspirations towards office, which was perhaps as well for all concerned as he would become best known for being a dissident. I occasionally enquired as to which party held his allegiance and eventually concluded that he went with his conscience. The last three Labour administrations have spawned more political memoirs than any other – and I did wonder if this would be just one more to add to the pile.
Initially I thought that my fears would be confirmed. The book is ordered by subject matter rather than chronologically, or even in diary format which has been popular of late and the first few chapters are witty and light-hearted. Given the author's appearances on Have I Got News For You? I wondered if I should have taken the subtitle of the book a little more seriously. About a third of the way through the book there's a change. It is just possible to recognise the writing as being by the same author, but gone is the whimsy, to be replaced by a man who feels very strongly about his subject matter.
The importance of civil liberties runs through Bob Marshall-Andrews like 'Blackpool' through a stick of rock. His arguments are interesting and compelling and even for someone who shares his beliefs I found that there was a great deal to think about and I regularly came across passages which I wanted to reread and consider and place in the great scheme of things. In times of terrorist threats civil liberties are an easy target, but the author regularly makes the point that the terrorist threat is not reduced by a reduction in everyone's civil liberties. The threats might be publicised in such a way that we're expected to feel the need to grasp the politicians' hands more tightly – but a reduction in civil liberties makes dissidents rather than converting them to the greater good.
Marshall-Andrews felt strongly about the wars in which the Labour government became involved – and particularly about the Iraq war. The validity of the war – rather than the war itself – has been well-rehearsed over the intervening years and I was pleased to see the occasional new insight or new slant on old information.
Niggles? Well, yes – I have a couple. I don't mind the occasional speech being quoted but there were too many for my taste. In this type of book I would prefer to be told the gist of what was said than to have the primary source material quoted. That is a personal foible and I'm more than happy to know that other people do not feel the same way. I was rather more concerned about another matter of balance. Bob Marshall-Andrews loathes Tony Blair for many good reasons. He was a supporter of Gordon Brown about whom no ill shall be spoken. There were several occasions during Brown's premiership when I felt that he'd been put in power to convince us that Tony Blair wasn't all bad. The treatment of the two in the book left me pondering on the fact that this is a memoir rather than a balanced view of history. If you read it with that in mind I'm sure that you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
When in Parliament Bob Marshall-Andrews regularly sat just a seat or two away from Chris Mullin. Here at Bookbag we've greatly enjoyed his A View from the Foothills and Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005 to 2010 which cover much the same period as Off Message.
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