Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman. She cheerfully admits to a misleading title: she's a journalist who was in a relationship with an MP, and this is very much a view from inside the Westminster bubble focussing on how the system as a whole lets down backbench MPs.
There is some discussion of how you become an MP, which generally requires a lot of your own money and your own time, leaving it open only to people who are fairly well-off.
The main focus though is on the House of Commons. Half of the backbenchers seem to be desperate to get into the government. That desperation is used by the whips to ensure they vote dutifully, don't scrutinize legislation from their own party, and use their Commons speaking time to ask toadying questions. Apparently most of the time they just head to the Aye or No lobby in response to text messages from the whips, without even knowing or caring what they're voting on
Of the rest, lots of them are apparently sincerely focussed on their modern-day roles as social workers for their constituents, sending out letters on House of Commons notepaper to help them with labyrinthine bureacracy. Hardman says they seem not to associate these problems with the legislation they approve.
The book gives some detail on how the committee process fails to work: although the procedures exist to revise bad laws, they're generally just shoved through on partisan lines. There's also some information on how the heckling and jeering is carefully organised. The Conservative Party has "Departmental Support Groups" where on particular issues backbenchers will get together and plan out what heckles to use and when.
The flaws of the book are the usual flaws of centrism: they just seem to assume that these political systems are like laws of physics, things that have always existed and cannot be changed. Were the committees always so useless? Or as seems more likely, did they become useless? If they became useless, what was the process by which it happened? When did it happen? Can that process be reversed? It doesn't seem to occur to Hardman to ask any of those questions. The problems are just... there. Nor are there many solutions, beyond vague suggestions of making it cheaper to become an MP.
Overall, it's a somewhat useful companion to "The Blunders of our Governments" (diary) which concentrates on the failures of the executive branch and the civil service, with some interesting details on the failures of the House of Commons. But it's distinctly inferior in that it neither draws comparisons other countries with different and better systems, nor proposes improvements.
What I'm Reading 2
Read the well-regarded fantasy novel The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Interesting book that focuses on the court intrigue when an exiled and unregarded younger son is unexpectedly promoted to Emperor.
Good book that gets away from the clichés of wandering around collecting plot tokens: there are no quests and no wars. The main characters is appealing.
The main weakness is that it's a bit hard to believe there isn't a more sustained and effective campaign against him. Worth a read.
What I'm Reading 3
The Private Life of the Hare. Short, eclectic book by a nature writer about the animal in question. Fairly interesting and doesn't outstay its welcome, but I think even at this length the author was struggling to fill space, and I didn't think the writing was particularly lyrical.
What I'm Reading 4
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy. Short audiobook that I picked up on a whim in the library. The protagonist is an anthropologist working in some kind of consulating corporation, producing reports on the cultures of their clients. He muses about the media and various bits of anthropolgy and culture , leads a comfortable but empty life surrounded by corporate bullshit.
It was pretty clear from the start there wouldn't be much plot and there wasn't. There's a fascinating surreal story told by his kind-of-girlfriend but it isn't explained.
The problems are that the protagonists' thoughts aren't actually that interesting, and this kind of territory has been amply explored by Douglas Coupland and many others. Without a plot or anything particularly striking the book feels a bit bland and pointless. Not recommended.
What I'm Reading 5
Kill the Black One First by Michael Fuller. Autobiography of Britain's first black chief constable (i.e. police officer in charge of a regional police force). Covers his childhood spent in a (unusually good) care home, then his career in the police, with a minor revelation at the end.
Felt a lot more honest that I expected, both about racism in the police force and the hostility he experienced from the black community. Particularly noteable was how the whole office shook with laughter when he revealed arrested a white man under the "sus" laws which everyone else knew was purely meant to harass black people. Was also surprised that even as a senior officer he found junior officers muttering racial epithets in passing: high rank doesn't even stop basic abuse.
At one point he decided that being unpopular could be a strength: he deployed officers at unpopular hours in the night knowing that they didn't like him anyway.
An interesting and informative read.
What I'm Reading 6
Circe by Madeline Miller. Novel retelling the story of Circe, the mythological witch who turned Odysseus' crew into pigs.
She also wrote "The Song of Achilles" but I thought this one was better, without the slightly Mills-and-Boony romance. This one covers Circe's early life as a very minor goddess in the pantheon, which means being at the very bottom of a patriarchal power structure.
The book then covers the lesser- and better-known aspects of her myth: creating the monster Scylla, exile on Aiaia, a relationship with Odysseus. Miller does a good job of balancing Circe as both a sympathetic character with the mythology which has her as a near-motiveless monster.
Overall, a good book, worth a read.
Actually got to the theatre for once and saw The Antipodes at the National Theatre. Kind of an absurdist play with a group of writers in a perpetual corporate brainstorming session talking about stories and sharing stories from their own pasts. Not a lot happens but the wit and observation are brilliant. It's especially good at capturing the details of corporate life and the obsequious admiration many of them have for their leaders. Well worth seeing.
What I'm Watching
Saw Terminator: Dark Fate at the cinema. Pretty good entry in the series, well-paced with a decent new Terminator baddie and a fair story. Action scenes were decent but not that exceptional. Good to see Linda Hamilton
Did a two-mile race with the kid at his request. He had to walk a little bit in the middle but managed the whole distance, was pleased. We watched the children's race of 800m before and he wants to do one of those next: previously he was worried about running on his own but he's more confident now.
Haven't got a particular race for me planned, but I need to get faster so I'm carrying out a 5-10km plan from Daniels' Running Formula. At the end I'll find a Parkrun or short race to do.
It's mostly easy running with one long run and two "quality" workouts per week, usually intervals. It's a bit frustrating in that you don't get to feel much sense of progress: every quality workout is slightly different and there are no extended moderate/hard runs where you can compare your times. I think I'll keep going but take an occasional week off to just run intuitively: ended up doing that one week where I couldn't run for a few days and it was a great relief.
Socioeconomics. Portugal and austerity.
Articles. A Man's Guide to Etiquette: "If you're making a noticeable show of behaving politely, you’re not behaving politely." The Nome Vaccine Run, Online advertising. Misnaming the Medieval: Rejecting "Anglo-Saxon" Studies.
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