Honourable mentions.
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Reading between the party lines: a run-down of the key books of this election

Sometimes you need more than 140 characters.

Wasted: How Misunderstanding Young Britain Threatens Our Future, by Georgia Gould (Little, Brown)

A rousing argument against the idea that Britain’s feckless, apathetic youth are taking us to hell in a handcart, by a 28-year-old New Labour insider. Its central argument is that young people can drawn back into the political process, through low-tech graft at a community level. Packed full of anecdotes, research and statistics, it is let down by occasional lapses into boilerplate wonkish prose.
Helen Lewis

 

Five Year Mission: The Labour Party under Ed Miliband, by Time Bale (OUP)

For Labour, losing is like smoking: they tend to find it hard to stop once they’ve started. Tim Bale, professor of politics, gives us the definitive history of Ed Miliband’s attempt to defy history and get the party back into power in just one term. The book is exhaustive and scrupulously fair – but partisans may find the constant cycle of “crisis – big speech – moment of calm – repeat” somewhat waring. Whatever happens to its subject, the book will remain a useful first-stop to this period in Labour’s history.
Stephen Bush

 

How Good We Can Be: Ending the Mercenary Society and Building a Great Country, by Will Hutton (Little, Brown)

Two decades ago, Will Hutton captured the zeitgeist with The State We’re In, an excoriating critique of Thatcherism that was briefly embraced by Tony Blair. In How Good We Can Be, the Observer columnist seeks to offer a similarly comprehensive account of the UK’s economic, social and political maladies and the solutions required. Hutton argues for a fundamental redrawing of corporate governance, the replacement of austerity with investment, the renewal of trade unions as stakeholders in capitalism and the revival of public ownership in the case of natural monopolies such as the railways. The open question is whether Ed Miliband, who espouses much of this agenda, succeeds in preventing him from having to write another lament.
George Eaton

 

The Coalition Effect, 2010-2015, by Anthony Seldon and Mike Finn (Cambridge University Press)

Everyone has an opinion about the coalition government; here, as much as is possible, are the facts. The Liberal-Conservative administration’s record in health, education, the public realm, the running of parliament are asssessed by a series of wonks and analyists, all edited and coralled by Anthony Selsdon and Michael Finn.
Stephen Bush

 

None of the Above, by Rick Edwards (Simon & Schuster)

The host of BBC3’s Free Speech has produced a clunking fist of a book, directed squarely at young voters. It outlines policy areas and party positions in straightforward, accessible prose, leavened with dashes of wit. Edwards is obliged to be non-partisan, making this a refreshing read for anyone who has overdosed on polemics in the last few months.
Helen Lewis

 

Seat by Seat: A Political Anorak's Guide to Potential Gains and Losses in the 2015 General Election by Iain Dale (Biteback Publishing)

It has become a cliché that this is not just one election, but 650 of them. And for LBC presenter and political publisher Iain Dale, it's been even more. He's been updating his seat guide (on his blog) as circumstances have changed ever since it was published. He even amended his overall forecast from three-party coalition or second election to a minority government. His multiple revisions – he changed his mind twice on Hampstead & Kilburn, for example, and went from SNP surge-sceptic to giving it 54 seats – do make you wonder if it was worth enshrining this information in a book.
Anoosh Chakelian

 

The Purple Revolution: The Year That Changed Everything, by Nigel Farage (Biteback Publishing)

The Ukip leader’s second autobiography is a tortured polemic complete with Alan Partridge-isms like “it’s the National Health Service, not the International Health Service” and “Britain was just one star on [the] EU flag.”
Still, prescient in parts. On his party: “It is far more exciting being the horse that comes up on the inside . . . than having to keep the pace.”
Stephanie Boland

 

Sex, Lies & the Ballot Box: 50 things you need to know about British elections, by Philip Cowley​ (Biteback Publishing)

Or Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Politics, But Were Afraid To Ask. Does canvassing change anything? (A bit.) Why do the Conservatives struggle with ethnic minorities? (It’s complicated.) Do you inherit voting behaviour from your parents? (Less so than you used to.) And which party’s supporters are most likely to want to have a three-way? (I’m not referring to televised debates.) Philip Cowley and Rob Ford bring together pollsters and academics to answer politics’ biggest questions.
Stephen Bush

 

Get It Together, by Zoe Williams (Cornerstone Publishing)

Another whistlestop tour of Britain’s social ills, from a firmly left-wing perspective. The book covers housing, climate change, welfare and tax, among many other subjects, and will provide useful ammunition for pub arguments or if (god forbid) you find yourself on Question Time being berated by a Tory. The best line is a description of Vivienne Westwood “rolling conspiracy theories into the crowd like boules into a box of frogs”.
Helen Lewis

 

Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change, by Caroline Lucas (Portobello)

The only Green MP ever to darken Westminster's “1970s pub” carpets, Caroline Lucas, gives an account of Commons life with no “honourable friends”. The most illuminating part is her navigation of parliament as an independent operator. Less intriguing are her recollections of environmental battles she has fought. Her gripe that media interviews rarely allow time to “fill in the background” of green issues has clearly been bubbling way, exploding in detail in this book like an aggressively-fracked dale.
Anoosh Chakelian

 

Al Murray: Let’s Re-Great Britain by Al Murray (Penguin)

Al Murray’s pub landlord character – which he first started doing in 1994 – had felt like quite a tired act long before he declared his intention to challenge Nigel Farage by running for parliament in Thanet South. Controversial too, since there’s a question mark over whether the audiences are packing out theatres to laugh ironically at the landlord’s quasi-Ukip brand of patriotic xenophobia, or to laugh approvingly. His manifesto video for the “Free the United Kingdom Party” was moderately amusing when it was released back in January, but presumably Murray’s management team have since realised that there’s no money to be made from slogging it on the doorsteps in east Kent, and have therefore fallen back on the hardy perennial of the comedy world: the tie-in book. Suffice it to say the font is quite big, there are quite a lot of bullet points, and there are little illustrations of beer tankards on the corner of every page. But since the whole premise of FUKP was supposed to be that its manifesto had been drawn up on the back of a fag packet, I suggest you bypass the book and just go right to the source: 

Caroline Crampton

 

Be Your Own Politician: Why It's Time for a New Kind of Politics​, by Paul Twivy (Biteback Publishing)

How do we fix our broken politics? If the answer is a series of barely-connected historical anecdotes by a baby boomer, with a political programme that swings wildly from right to left, washed down with some vague platitudes about devolving power and communities, Paul Twivy’s book may hold the answers.
Stephen Bush

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle