In Review

Book of the week: All In It Together by Alwyn Turner

The hugely enjoyable fourth instalment of Turner’s series looking at Britain’s recent past

Clegg and Cameron outside 10 Downing Street in 2010

This hugely enjoyable book is the fourth instalment of Alwyn Turner’s series looking at Britain’s recent past, said Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. Having previously published chronicles of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, “he has now turned his attention to the first 15 or so years of the 21st century”. The events he drags us back to didn’t happen long ago, but many already seem “half-forgotten”. The millennium bug, Pippa Middleton’s bottom, the dodgy dossier, Cleggmania – they all “resonate like the songs of yesteryear”.

Turner is “up there with the best” writers of contemporary history, and here, as previously, he strikes a balance between entertaining his readers and making them think. While his narrative “zings along”, he ensures it’s more than a series of “unrelated events” by interweaving various themes – including Britain’s “increasingly troubled relationship with its past”, and the growing disconnect between the public and politicians.

Turner’s particular skill is to alight on an event which seems “utterly trivial”, but which illustrates one of his larger arguments, said Dominic Sandbrook in The Sunday Times. For example, he picks out John Sergeant’s improbably long run on Strictly Come Dancing in 2008 – against the wishes of the judges – as exemplifying a growing distrust of “experts”. Today the idea is common-place, but only Turner would have “thought to look for it on Strictly”.

An excellent portrait of the comedian Roy “Chubby” Brown – who was effectively blacklisted by mainstream TV, but who made millions from his DVDs and sell-out shows – is used to explain many of the tendencies that led to Brexit.

This book is a “fluent enough trot over the ground”, said Quentin Letts in The Times. But it’s pretty superficial. Turner “regurgitates some of the political and pop-cultural events” of the Blair, Brown and Cameron years. Immigration, the benefits system, child abuse – they’re all “covered in breezy prose”. “When telling quotations are needed, they are lifted from television shows.”

That’s unfair, said Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian: this is not just a dive into the digital newspaper archives. With “great skill”, Turner pulls out “plums from the recent past” that make sense of it all. The general mood is familiar, but the details seem “downright implausible”. Did George Galloway really do a kitten impression on Celebrity Big Brother? Did Robert Kilroy-Silk actually once consider himself a serious politician? It’s a book that allows you to see the lineaments “of our present times”.

Profile £20; The Week Bookshop £16.99

All In It Together book cover
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