Like all politicians, Bob Marshall-Andrews is fond of quoting himself, and Off Message (Profile Books, £16.99) includes a generous selection of his speeches and articles on such topics as Tony Blair’s messianic warmongering and David Blunkett’s plans for a police state. Less typically, perhaps, he is almost as generous in his quotation of others, such as Simon Hoggart, who has called him ‘a cross between Dennis the Menace and his dog, Gnasher’.
As Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010, Marshall-Andrews regularly inflicted, with his catapult and teeth, and skills as a criminal silk, embarrassment, pain, humiliation and damage on ‘one of the most authoritarian regimes in British history’, leaving behind him a wrack of torn trousers, black eyes and bandaged heads.
His loathing of Blair, and ferocious opposition to his wars, whether against foreigners abroad or liberty at home, endeared him to many on the opposite benches, and to some on his own. One chapter is titled ‘Of Friendship’; others ‘Of Surgeries’, ‘Of Whips’, ‘Of Spin’; there are four ‘Of War’, and six ‘Of Liberty and Terror’.
‘Of Beginnings’ recalls his working-class Tory background, and school at Mill Hill on an assisted place — and his later vote against the continuation of the Assisted Places Scheme, cast ‘with a heavy heart and a nagging sense of guilt’. His disloyalty to the New Labour apparat was equally principled, but expressed with a light heart and a clear conscience — lighter and clearer, probably, than those of more obedient MPs.
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