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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 2 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In many ways this book is essential reading for members of the Labour Party not least in understanding the rise of David Cameron and the old adage that its government who lose elections and not opposition's who win them. Similarly, it overwhelmingly demonstrates that oppositions who are fatally divided will find that their wilderness years become an interminable experience. Tim Bale's book is a very readable analysis of why a party, which considered itself the "natural party of government", became unelectable over a prolonged period. It is also illustrative to note how the prevailing political climate of the day changes and how politics shapes shifts so that factors that can be an overwhelming part of political consensus one day are deeply unfashionable the next. Bale's analysis on how New-Labour decimated the Conservatives in 1997 is illustrative. Certainly the "time for change" narrative was running particularly after John Major's years of sleaze (which was actually quite tame bearing in the mind the later MPs allowances scandal). But the larger issue was the Conservatives failure to tap in the electorate views about a lack of investment in services such as education and health. The Tories obsession's centered on the Maastricht revolts, the ERM Debacle, the exhaustion of - and fallout from - the Thatcherite project and a real sense of where to go next. As such as late as the last week of the 1997 election Tory Central Office were predicting a loss of between 40 and 60 seats to New-Labour . The reality was that they lost ​170 seats, gained only 31% of the popular vote and not one MP in either Wales or Scotland. A defeat this big was inevitably traumatic. It was made worse by the fact that Blair and Brown came in and for the first two years ran the economy on the basis of Ken Clarke's economic policy. In essence, they nicked the Tories wallet and by doing so Gordon Brown became the "Iron Chancellor" who was later able to go on a huge public spending spree as a result of this "prudence". We all know what happened next to the economy, but do you remember all the different Tory leaders that followed?

Bale's book is essentially about the key to politics namely achieving power and keeping it. His central question is a deceptively simple one, namely "why Tory politicians were unwilling or unable to act in a way that might have given them more hope of winning or at east losing less". The leaders chose to run the party throw this into sharp relief. Firstly the inexperienced and right wing William Hague who launched policies woefully entitled "Common Sense" and who was ridiculed by the Tory right as creating the "muddled middle". Amazingly some on the right like his Thatcherite opponent John Redwood had savagely described Hague as a "train spotting vacuity overlaid by the gloss of management theory". They castigated him for not being right wing enough. The response by party strategists was, therefore, to portray him as the "voice of middle England" and appeal to the Conservative base. This is akin to the Republican base in the US in that it does not have near enough votes to ever win a national election. When Hague lost the 2001 election the Tories conspired to make things worse by replacing him with the totally unelectable Iain Duncan Smith who served for only 777 days and in the words of one Tory MP epitomized the 'knuckle-headed, bovine right-wingery' that believed the key electoral issue to be Europe. He was then followed by the holding operation that was Michael Howard who was tasked to decontaminate the Tory brand from the "nasty party" despite having been famously described by Anne Widdicombe of having "something of the night' about him.

The key part of the book concentrates on the rise of Cameron and George Osborne and the fact that some of the key figures of the years of failure were resurrected. There is no doubt that Cameron was much in thrall to the Blair project and, in particular, its use of focus group/pollsters. Cameron's answer was to drive towards the centre where he challenged party members "Do we stick to our core vote comfort zone or do we openly reach out, do we repeat the mistakes of the past or do we change to win for the future"? Whatever one thinks of Cameron his leadership campaign over the vastly more experienced David Davis was a model of its kind. The latter had described Cameron as "policy lite" but seemed tired and old against the polished old Etonian who clocked up a relatively easy victory.

Overall Bale's book does suffer from a decidedly "instant history" analysis of why in spite of Gordon Brown's unpopularity, a record deficit and the MPs scandal that happened on "Browns Watch" couldn't the Tories win an outright majority in 2010. The prime reasons in Bale's view are that the progressive conservatism of Cameron had not modernised enough for some voters and that the mood of the country was largely undecided. The formation of the Con-Lib Dem coalition was not the prize that Cameron was seeking. Despite "toughing it out" with the right of the Tory Party he also had to concede a fair amount of ground to the then-popular but now toxic Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. Bale will need to revisit this analysis that will require the further passage of time to reach more mature conclusions. Similarly, the current huge public expenditure cuts of an admittedly huge deficit could firmly deposit Cameron into "the same old Tories" camp and the fragile coalition could collapse. As a result, future installments and editions of Bale's largely excellent book will be required reading on this unfolding story.
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VINE VOICEon 12 May 2011
Within a few pages of a book on politics it's usually possible to tell what political persuasion the author is as very few can resist airing their opinions within their writing. Happily this book is different and although you may pick up on the reference on the back and at the ending of the book to it being something of a Labour party reference manual, this account on the whole steers well clear of any bias.

In its pages you will find the story of the Conservatives from just before the departure of Thatcher (1989) up until the forming of the coalition in 2010. In between it covers off all the intervening leaders, from Major through Hague, IDS and Howard and onto Cameron.
Although the history may seem eerily familiar to some (especially the Cameron bits), it still brings plenty of fresh insights into the failings of each leader from Hague's 'Dog & Duck' populist politics (explained in the book) through to Howard's not-much-better efforts (which only brought electoral gains from Lib Dem advances).

It's incredible to read just how clueless the Conservatives became and how stubbornly unwilling to change they were until being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

One criticism I have, though is that, ever so occasionally the author lets slip his contempt for the Conservatives and focuses a little too much on the parties critics. This being said, many authors are far, far worse and the author is near-universally fair in his tone.

In fact, it is hard to see why the author made this book an Amazon Vine product when it can clearly sell on its own merits.
A part of me suspects the author has an evangelical streak in him that wants this book read by as many Labour voters as possible so they have plenty of choice Ammo at the next election.

However, given Mr Bale regards Mr Cameron as "one of the finest opposition politicians ever" (alongside Blair), I think that, in studying the Tories he became fond of them and, rather than making a Labour handbook, Mr Bale has created an excellent academic work that anyone can enjoy.
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on 12 September 2011
This is an excellent read. I found myself reading on and on, such is the ease of Bale's unfussy style. He also manages to give a sense of being close to the events as they unfold. I could not escape a sense of dread when Europe raised its head over and over again, or the party once again thought the route to electoral success was to run, not to the centre but towards the right. He explains why it took so long for the Tories to free themselves with their group obsession with the policies of Thatcher long after the country as a whole wanted nothing to do with them anymore. He also sheds light on the series of coincidences which allowed the moderate Cameron to leap frog David Davis, the favourite of the right to seize the party leadership and begin the process of change.
For what might otherwise be a dry academic work, Bale manages to convey the sense of event being balanced on a knife edge, always on the brink of falling back into the bad old ways. It is compelling stuff and thoroughly enjoyable.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very lively read, the language is colourful and contemporary.It is a fascinating, well researched and enlightening commentary on Thatcher to Cameron. It was surprisingly compelling to read given the nature of the subject and that I knew the outcome of the tale being told!

This book should appeal to anyone who has an interest in the development of the current political landscape and how party politics has changed beyond recognition in the last decades; it also is a brilliant exploration of what makes a leader - so all those in business and doing MBAs would find this interesting. I believe that this book could well be found on the reading lists of A level and degree students of history and politics in the decades to come because of its particular insightfullness.

My only complaint is that a timeline would have been useful as my memory of events wasn't always up to the task.

Brilliant
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VINE VOICEon 23 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an interesting book covering a period in British politics that's still being understood and interpreted. I felt there to be a little bit of a bias towards the Conservative party within this book - a sense of the party being "hard done by" by the British public and the New Labour experiment. I felt ocassionally that the book failed to address the roots of the causes of the Tory parties' woes during the Major/Hague/Howard years.
That said, it's an interesting and engaging read - recommended for completists.
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on 8 May 2015
An excellent review of the Conservative party from Thatcher to David Cameron. A detailed account of the transformation which may be heavy going for some. However it really highlights how much the party has changed under its current leader. David Cameron's philosophy and values have made the party electable again.
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on 1 January 2016
Cool blend of narrative and analysis backed up by solid research make this a surprising page turner!
Reading this in the tail end of 2016 I can see why many think it a vital work for Labour activists and supporters - I certainly agree.
Very good book.
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on 29 December 2013
An informative and accessible book. A very comprehensive and enjoyable read rather than the more daunting and laborious one I was perhaps expecting.
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on 23 July 2015
This is a very well written fascinating book. Anyone interested in the Conservative Party will love it.
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VINE VOICEon 12 June 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This substantial 460-page work manages to combine the virtues of a serious piece of academic study with being a thoroughly good read. It will educate and fascinate any student of contemporary politics and many quotations - like "The Conservative Party is essentially an autocracy tempered by assassination" - will stay in the mind long after the book is put away. In charting the decline, fall and renaissance of the Conservatives, Tim Bale really does "get under the skin of the Party". It is clearly well researched and sourced but it also has that `authentic flavour' that so many similar works seem to miss. By adding an afterword, the author neatly brings the story bang up to date with coalition government and the uncertainties that lie ahead. Highly recommended - to present-day Tory politicians too!
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