Provocations by Joan Smith, Vicky Pryce and Kelvin MacKenzie

Our Rating

The Observer, April 2015

There’s an enjoyable lineage to Biteback’s Provocations series, its collection of thinkpieces by contemporary figures on the issues of the day. It echoes the output of the 18th- and 19th-century pamphleteers, the latest three taking on monarchy, immigration and gender politics with the kind of polemic that came as second nature to Thomas Paine or William Cobbett.

Indeed, Joan Smith’s Down With the Royals has much in common with Paine’s famous, American revolution-igniting Common Sense. Age-old royalist arguments – such as the potential impact on tourism of a republic – are shot down with ease, but more interesting is Smith’s anger at Prince Charles “endlessly” interfering in government. The complicity of the media in perpetuating the “fantasy version of the UK, where cheerful working-class people doff their caps at the royals”, gets both barrels, too. Smith herself did no such thing when she met Elizabeth II. She recounts with some glee that she simply said “hello”, a horrific violation of protocol, for which she was blanked.

As one might expect, Down With the Royals is more readable than Vicky Pryce’s Why Women Need Quotas – a rather bare-bones look at gender equality in the workplace. Nonetheless, it starts with the rabble-rousing: “We have been patient. We have been nice … We have given businesses and organisations the benefit of the doubt. No longer.” There’s similar exasperation in Kelvin MacKenzie’s What Have the Immigrants Ever Done For Us? But not in the way the title suggests.

The rightwing former Sun editor revels in confounding people, and here he mounts an unexpected defence of the many positive effects “foreigners” have on our society – as well as issuing a mea culpa. “I was editor [of The Sun] for 12 years – and yes, we too often maligned immigrants and minorities because we could.”

MacKenzie’s book loses some steam as it gets swamped by research and figures, but it’s a jaw-dropping moment when he writes: “Trust me. If I can change my views, anyone can.” Good luck with Nigel Farage, Kelvin.


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