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A superb legacy left by a brilliant journalist.,
This review is from: Who Runs This Place?: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century (Paperback)
Anthony Sampson died just after updating "Who Runs This Place" to the end of 2004. The book itself is an update of his 1962 "Anatomy Of Britain".
Sampson's goal was ambitious - to draw a map of the institutions that really mattered in Britain and trace the threads of influence and power that flowed between them, and to try to understand how things really got done. As an analysis of parliament, the political machine, the civil service, and "the Establishment", his work has rarely been bettered - Jeremy Paxman provided a sort of more anecdotal and perhaps entertaining analysis of the Establishment as it stood in the early 90s in "Friends In High Places", but Sampson's revised work is a masterpiece.
Unlike the earlier versions of the book, Sampson has several axes to grind rather conspicuously in this edition. His own politics surface occasionally - he was a founder Social Democrat, and it's clear that his own sympathies are somewhere to the Left of the Blair government. His analysis of parliament and the political parties is sobering -- he sees politics as being fundamentally in decline, with the two major parties re-invented as essentially support machines for presidential-style Prime Ministers or leaders of the opposition; politics as a career is seen as a refuge for talentless, visionless machine politicians from all ends of the spectrum, and the Liberal Democrats are seen as a regional irrelevance.
Sampson believes that the standards of Parliamentary debate are at an all-time low; that Cabinet government is in abeyance; the Lords has lost its role as a chamber that can have significant effects upon legislation; that the Civil Service is politicised and de-professionalised; and that political power is now in the hands of a Presidential-style Prime Minister and his "kitchen cabinet" of PR people and unelected advisors. It's sobering stuff.
Sampson's analysis then broadens into the quangos and agencies, the military/intelligence complex, the City and big business, academia, and the media; and finds that all of these are ever-more-closely tied to the nexus of power in Downing Street.
In a sense, the message of the first edition of this book was quite simple - a bengin, "Butskellite" consensus Establishment that drew from both moderate Labour and "one nation" Toryism ran Britain. The message of this edition is equally simple - the Prime Minister runs Britain, with little reference to party, Parliament, or people.
Sampson finds one ray of hope in the Unions. For decades castigated as bringing ruin upon British industry they're shown in this book as being more active, more relevant, more organised and more competent than both the Labour and Liberal Democrat party machines; more forward-looking in terms of social and political policy, more analytical and more vibrant.
This is a fine epitaph and a book that anyone with an interest in modern Britain needs to read. It's beautifully written, crisply understated, and closely argued.