Books: May At 10 offers insight into DUP-Tory confidence-and-supply deal talks
May at 10 by Anthony Seldon, with Raymond Newell, published in hardback by Biteback, priced £25 (ebook £20)
RUNNING to more than 700 pages, this account of Theresa May’s three-year stint at No. 10 Downing Street is based on a total of 175 interviews including many key figures.
Having badly mishandled the June 2017 general election, May was left nine seats short of an overall majority but a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 MPs could save the day. Chief Whip Gavin Williamson volunteered to go to Belfast where he met Nigel Dodds and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at Stormont House. We are told that, “A coalition government seemed the most attractive proposal to the DUP that evening, with talk of the offer of a secretary of state position, possibly trade, or chief secretary to the Treasury.”
The talks resumed next morning in a farmhouse at Blackskull, Co Down, with party leader Arlene Foster in attendance. The clock was ticking for Williamson’s team but the DUP were in no hurry and, as a Tory source puts it, “They just wanted to get more and more out of us.”
The author writes that, “The DUP had pound-signs in their eyes”. Influenced by her cabinet secretary, the late Jeremy Heywood, Theresa May told Williamson on the phone that the offer of a coalition had to be removed from the table but the chief whip refused, saying: “You agreed to it yesterday, and my word is my bond.”
In the end the DUP went for the confidence-and-supply option and Williamson texted May in the afternoon: “The deal is done.” However, when a premature press statement was issued by No.10, the DUP “went utterly apoplectic” because they had not yet brought their support-base on board.
A team led by Foster and Dodds travelled to London where they complained that a proposed document on the deal “looked like it was drafted in Dublin”.
Talks dragged on until an agreed joint version was signed on June 26 by chief whips Williamson and Donaldson at No. 10 in the presence of May and Foster. The author writes: “For the DUP, their key concern was not God – abortion and gay marriage – but Mammon, ie, extra funding for Northern Ireland. They eventually settled at £1 billion of extra spending for health, infrastructure and education, a figure Williamson claims he’d conceived from the outset.”
Although this well-written narrative ranges far and wide in its exploration and assessment of May’s years at the top, there is a good deal more of special interest to readers in Ireland, north and south.
The conclusion to be drawn from the book is that Theresa May did not fully appreciate the implications of Brexit for politics in Northern Ireland and she ultimately lost DUP support after agreeing to the “backstop” whereby there would be no hard border between north and south. The author writes that, “she failed to understand that she was assenting to what would become a major stumbling-block in the key parliamentary votes”. But at least she had a measured and dignified exit, unlike many other British prime ministers.
Deaglán de Bréadún
Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton is published in hardback by Viking, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99)
THREE hours doesn't seem long enough to fill a whole novel, but Rosamund Lupton has packed every single second of Three Hours with chilling suspense. Centred around a terrorist attack on a Somerset school, the incident is told through the eyes of key characters: from sixth former Hannah in the library, desperately trying to keep headteacher Mr Marr alive; to DI Rose Polstein, attempting to uncover the psychopath behind the hostage situation; and 16-year-old Syrian refugee Rafi, who will do whatever it takes to protect his little brother. How did this happen? Why was the school targeted? Who is behind the balaclava? As the police try to stage a rescue, parents desperately wait for news and students barricade themselves into classrooms, bravery and love collide with unimaginable terror. In the age of cyber threats, terrorist attacks and ongoing racism, Lupton has made global atrocities local. Today's very real topical issues are mapped to the themes of Shakespeare's Macbeth – the school's annual theatre production. A twist at every turn, there's absolutely no let-up in pace. Three Hours is rooted in the horrors of reality and yet somehow finds bravery and love in a situation that should be devoid of either.
A Long Petal Of The Sea by Isabel Allende is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £16.99 (ebook £10.31)
A LONG Petal Of The Sea is the latest offering from New York Times bestselling author of The House Of The Spirits, Isabel Allende. Moving away from the magical realism for which she is often known, Allende uses historical detail to tell the complex story of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Amongst that epic tale, there is also the intimate story of one family's fight for love and freedom. Pregnant young widow Roser reluctantly marries her dead lover's brother Victor and together they board the HMS Winnipeg and set off for Chile, in hope of starting new lives and finding a place to call home. The unlikely partners face trial after trial and huge emotional hardship, but also manage to unearth a little joy. The author, who now lives in California, was born in Peru and raised in Chile. This inside knowledge shines through as the reader is immersed in another time and place.
Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara is published in hardback by Bantam Press, priced £12.99 (ebook 99p)
Astrid Phelps' life is a mess, she's made many mistakes and can't stop letting people down, yet you'll be rooting for her in no time. The 32-year-old recovering alcoholic is back in her sleepy hometown, under the watchful eye of her mother, and this is her last chance not to screw up. A new relationship and a friend she makes at AA are the only things keeping her sane (and away from booze), but someone is leaving sinister clues that they know a dark secret from Astrid's drunken past – and they'll have you guessing up until the very end. This grippy page-turner is immersive from the get go, and perfectly timed. While sympathetically – and expertly – tackling the subject and all the complex intricacies of addiction, it's ultimately a tale of redemption, and showing someone your true self in a judgemental world.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan is published by Usborne, priced £6.99
THE Trouble With Perfect was absolutely brilliant. It is about a girl called Violet, whose best friend Boy is blamed for several crimes. She even sees him commit one but when she confronts him he sincerely doesn’t know what she’s talking about, unless he’s a wonderful actor. As a reader you feel her confusion as, one minute, her friend’s normal and, the next, almost evil. The book was written by Helena Duggan, from Kilkenny, whose dad Willie Duggan played for the Ireland rugby team. Helena’s first book, A Place Called Perfect (the one that came before The Trouble With Perfect), was inspired by a pair of glasses! I’d say nine and 10 year olds who like light mystery would enjoy this book. It is not a Sherlock Holmes detective story but it is mysterious – and a zombie army comes into the story too. With a real focus on love and family, you can’t put The Trouble With Perfect down – so give it a try.
Dearbhail Hallahan (aged 10)