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By Damian McBride
Biteback Publishing, £20
The former prime ministerial press secretaries Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell weren’t strangers to the dark political arts, but Damian McBride – Gordon Brown’s press secretary – has perhaps more opprobrium than any of his predecessors. His memoir, Power Trip, has just been released, and provides some of the reasons why.
The Rancho Grill
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The Story of the Jews
BBC Two, Sundays, 9pm
The worst thing about this documentary was its almost complete lack of insight into its billed subject matter.
The one thing which Churchill’s Secret Cabinet doesn’t tell us – as it builds gradually up towards its examination of 43 previously-unheard recordings of Winston Churchill, found recently in an old record cabinet – is how the staff at the Churchill Archive managed to overlook these gems for nearly two decades. Perhaps the researcher charged with looking through the cabinet when the archive first received it 20 years ago was distracted by an offer of lunch as they sifted through the Gilbert & Sullivan.
If Peter Hennessy didn’t exist, you probably wouldn’t be reading this – and not just because this is a review of one of his books. For without Hennessy, the civil service as an institution might never have felt comfortable with press coverage, even within a newspaper dedicated to serving civil servants.
The Caxton Grill, housed in the newly refurbished four-star St Ermin’s Hotel by St James’s Park, has long offered refreshments to civil servants of the subterranean variety. MI6 and MI5 operatives met contacts here in the 1930s, and during World War II Winston Churchill ordered that the Special Operations Executive (now the SAS) be formed here. Ian Fleming used to work in St Ermin’s – as did traitors Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, the latter meeting his Soviet contact in the hotel bar.
So much has been said about Iraq in the 10 years since war was declared that it feels as if there’s nothing this new documentary from the BBC could possibly tell us. But its sober re-examination of the lead-up to the invasion and the subsequent attempt to rebuild the Iraqi state astonishes with the depth of its access, and in its detail rescues the Iraq War from the political and cultural mythos.
I like a restaurant to be lively, but I want it to run efficiently. And when I visited the Beehive pub-restaurant it was brightly lit, welcoming, and packed with cheery drinkers and diners – first box ticked. Unfortunately, in contrast the waiting staff were rather dim, slightly off-putting and a little vacant, leaving my efficiency box disappointingly empty.
Just along from the Houses of Parliament there used to stand an old slum, described in The Times as “a reproach to Westminster”.