Politics On the Edge: The instant #1 Sunday Times bestseller from the host of hit podcast The Rest Is Politics

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Politics On the Edge: The instant #1 Sunday Times bestseller from the host of hit podcast The Rest Is Politics

Politics On the Edge: The instant #1 Sunday Times bestseller from the host of hit podcast The Rest Is Politics

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Stewart, it seems, was confused that this roster of “the uncurious, uncritical, inept” were selected to build the modern Conservative Party instead of, erm, him. It is hard not to read into the thinly veiled subtext that the worst thing about Cameron is not his politics or his management style, nor his elevation of Liz Truss, but that he held little affection for Rory. It is hard to disagree with any of Stewart’s conclusions, about the dire state of our politics, and the strange and empty character of its representatives. I was left wondering if he would have had a less bruising time as a Labour MP. In 2019 Johnson purged leading remainers and Stewart quit both the Tories and his seat. Last year he reinvented himself as one half of a hugely successful current affairs podcast, The Rest Is Politics, co-hosted with Alastair Campbell.

It was too late. With May’s subsequent resignation, the way was open for Johnson to succeed her. Desperate to stop him, Stewart sought a One Nation Tory who might defeat him. Failing, he stood himself. After the first television debate, he became, for many, the favourite to battle it out with Johnson, only to have his chances blown away in that fateful second. Later, for opposing Johnson’s Brexit deal, he, with others, was expelled from the Conservative Party, and left Parliament. But that was tiny, Rory. You were only working with a few hundred people. Now you can change the lives of millions.’ Along the way there were compensations. Stewart enjoyed being a constituency MP. He writes with lyrical fondness about Cumbria and its rustic voters. Surprisingly, he relished his time as prisons minister, managing to reduce drug and violence figures in 10 jails. He got better at politics, and at overcoming the inertia of civil servants. They tended to view ministers as ignorant and ephemeral and often spoke in corporate jargon. His warnings about Johnson – the politician and the man – were right. Loved the parts when Rory realises the reality of power in modern state and politics and an absolute highlight is this part when he is the most junior minister at the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) : From 1st July 2021, VAT will be applicable to those EU countries where VAT is applied to books - this additional charge will be collected by Fed Ex (or the Royal Mail) at the time of delivery. Shipments to the USA & Canada:This is personified by Stewart’s recollection of the Conservative Party leadership race towards the end of the book. At times, the reader is left feeling frustrated and helpless to the remarkable events that unravel, much as Stewart appeared to have felt at the time. This feeling perfectly captures the sentiment of many members of the British electorate, from both sides of the political spectrum, whose interest in politics has declined in a linear manner to the increase in populistic tendencies in British politics. And a party that seeks to take down May rather than endorse her apparently ingenious Brexit deal completely confounds those who self-style as cool-headed rationalists. In short, the problem – as diagnosed by May and Stewart – is not in fact anything to do with the institutional “abuse of power” or the systematic eschewal of expertise. No, their problem is that the Conservative party does not specifically reward people like them. The first is the narrative about the British political system. It is genuinely enlightening to be introduced to the various byzantine structures that a politician must navigate through the raw eyes of a naive first-timer: the party machine (whips, wannabe grandees & the PM inclusive), the British press, and the Civil Service. The first impressions are laughable and absurd. After twenty chapters, it becomes hard to laugh. But the overall narrative seems to be that no one is really in charge, and no one is interested in taking charge. No one is concerned about the details, except for all the people too concerned with the details. Yes, Minister prefigured this by forty years, but it is harder to swallow when you realise that it really, really is true. The most comically dark passage is Stewart's determination to cease funding to north-west Syria, for fear that the UK government is inadvertently cashing up members of al-Qaeda. Months of flying Bond-like around the world to find out who truly possesses the authority to cut the program leaves him with no answers. He had been told that the decision had to come, variously, from him, from the secretary of state, from the prime minister, from MI5 or MI6, from the NSC, from Cabinet, from the senior civil servants within his department, from the embassy on the ground, from the foreign secretary, even from the American president. Despite all this, the funding never stops. That is, until months later when Stewart was proved entirely correct: Britain had been sending money that ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda. As soon as bad press was on the horizon, the funding stopped... When Stewart talks of political communication rather than decision making, someone like Baudrillard would find himself surprised precisely never. Discussions about policy have been hollowed out by a party machine obsessed with shaping the narrative, a fourth estate obsessed with misrepresenting it, and a constituency of voters obsessed with ignoring it.

Penance completed, Stewart embarked on a ministerial career that provides the main course in this feast of political insight. Rarely before has the life of a government minister been described in such granular detail or with such literary flair.

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Overall, this is worth reading given how different it is to most memoirs, but it is unfortunately, and understandably, less interesting than those whose political careers went a bit further.

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