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Best books of 2020: Politics



Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends, by Anne Applebaum, Allen Lane, RRP£16.99/Doubleday, RRP$25, 224 pages

Applebaum is as comfortable writing about people and their motivations, as about the big forces shaping politics and history. The result is a delightfully readable account of the erosion of democratic norms in the west, focusing in particular on the countries she knows best: Poland, the UK and the US.

Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, by Catherine Belton, William Collins, RRP£25/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$35, 640 pages

An exhaustively researched and entertaining account of Putin’s rise to power and his 20 years in office. Belton, a former FT correspondent in Moscow, is particularly good on the group of powerful Russians surrounding the Russian president, many linked to the former KGB. Her discussion of the mixture of corruption and anti-western ideology that defines Putin’s inner circle is compelling.

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, by John Bolton, Simon & Schuster, RRP£25/$32.50, 592 pages

Badly written and lacking in humility, shame or self-awareness, Bolton’s is nonetheless the best insider account of the Trump White House yet to emerge. It is full of jaw-dropping revelations, such as the president’s private words of encouragement to Xi Jinping about the internment camps in Xinjiang.

Joe Biden: American Dreamer, by Evan Osnos, Bloomsbury, RRP£18.99/Simon & Schuster, RRP$23, 192 pages

A timely and well-written biography of America’s president-elect by a New Yorker correspondent, who has covered Biden for several years. Although Biden will be the oldest president ever to take office, Osnos argues that one of his defining characteristics is an ability to move with the times. As a result, he expects him to be a more radical president than his centrist roots suggest.

Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power, by Sasha Swire, Little, Brown, RRP£20, 544 pages

As the wife of a minister in Cameron’s government, Swire was part of the prime minister’s inner circle. Her gossipy and disloyal diary has delighted political junkies in Britain, while confirming many prejudices about Cameron’s “chumocracy”.

Eat the Buddha: The Story of Modern Tibet Through the People of One Town, by Barbara Demick, Granta, RRP£18.99/Random House, RRP$28, 336 pages

An award-winning journalist, famous for her intrepid reporting and her ability to tell larger stories, through the lives of ordinary people, turns her attention to Tibet. Demick highlights how the region’s culture and autonomy has been crushed since China claimed the area in the 1950s.

The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, by Peniel E Joseph, Basic Books, RRP$30/£25, 384 pages

In the year of Black Lives Matter, this comparative biography of two of the great figures in the struggle for racial equality in the US stands out. The book argues that while King and Malcolm X are often regarded as representing fundamentally opposed viewpoints, their approaches had begun to merge by the end of their lives — with King becoming more radical and Malcolm more pragmatic.

Cynical Theories: How Universities Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity — and Why this Harms Everybody, by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Swift Press, RRP£20, 352 pages

The authors became heroes to some and villains to others by placing hoax articles about race, gender and diversity in academic journals designed to highlight bogus thinking and weak research. Here they argue that academia’s embrace of “critical studies” is damaging society. A book for the year in which “woke” and “cancel culture” became buzzwords.

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry that Unravelled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East, by Kim Ghattas, Headline, RRP£20/Henry Holt, RRP$27, 400 pages

An original and compelling account of the politics and culture of the Middle East that places Saudi-Iranian rivalry at the centre of what has gone wrong in the region. As well as portraying the broad religious and geopolitical forces at work, Ghattas tells the sometimes tragic stories of individuals caught up in the turmoil — such as Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist murdered in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.

Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, by Helen Lewis, Jonathan Cape, RRP£16.99, 368 pages

Telling the story of feminism through the struggles of individual women, and the causes they championed, is a clever literary device and Lewis is a skilful storyteller. The women she portrays are “difficult” in two senses. They are willing to battle established power. But some also held views that modern feminists find hard to stomach.

Losing The Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East, by Philip H Gordon, St Martin’s Press, RRP$29.99, 368 pages

From Iran in 1953 to Libya in 2011, via Iraq in 2003 (as well as Egypt and Syria), successive American administrations have attempted to “fix” the Middle East by overthrowing disagreeable governments. A veteran of the Obama White House provides an insightful account of why this keeps happening, and keeps failing.

The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World, by Vincent Bevins, Public Affairs, RRP$28/£14.99, 320 pages

A fascinating and disturbing account of what the author calls the “mass murder programme that shaped the world”. A former correspondent in Jakarta, Bevins argues that the Indonesian massacres of 1965 were connived in by the US, and became a template for bloody anti-communist repression in other locations including Chile and Brazil.

MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman, by Ben Hubbard, William Collins, RRP£20, 384 pages

A lively and revealing account of the emergence of one of the most intriguing and alarming new leaders on the world stage. The author shows how MBS emerged from relative obscurity and ruthlessly consolidated power within Saudi Arabia, charming and then appalling his western backers.

The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A Baker III, by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, Doubleday, RRP$35/Random House, RRP£26.47, 720 pages

The definitive biography of one of the most important Washington insiders of the late 20th century. James Baker served as Reagan’s chief-of-staff and as secretary of state during the tumultuous years of the end of the cold war. He also acted as a vital adviser to George W Bush, during the disputed 2000 presidential election. Baker was no saint — but his story still makes one marvel at how far the Republican party has fallen in a generation.

Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition, by Edmund Fawcett, Princeton, RRP$35/£30, 514 pages

The author of a much acclaimed history of liberalism turns his attention to another crucial branch of political philosophy. The book shows how, over the centuries, conservatives have attempted to defend tradition, against the onslaughts of modernity and capitalism. He analyses the variety, internal contradictions and strengths of the conservative movement.

Gideon Rachman is the FT’s chief foreign affairs commentator

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Source:- Financial Times

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down



Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.


(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government



Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.


“We’ll be back, soon.”


“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”


“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”


“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”


“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”


“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”


“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”


“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”


“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”


“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”


“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”


“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”


“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”


“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’



British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.


Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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