The Last Vote – Philip Coggan

At the Hay Festival last spring, I heard Coggan talk about this book. It sounded sufficiently intriguing to add to the mental tbr list, and later on I finally ordered it from the Guardian bookshop. Months later still it eventually arrived (wasn’t a preorder so I’m unlikely to use them again).The Last Vote

Unfortunately Coggan is an economics journalist and it shows. There is little discussion about any motivations aside from the economic ones, both for democracy and explaining why it may currently be in peril. Whilst economics is of course a key driver, there must be other things to explore in this.

I may of course be jaded from having just read The Undercover Economist, and in need of a bit of a different topic though!

There are also a few cases of “bad statistics” lurking in this book, such as a graph that compares economic growth and trust in government between different countries, ignoring the impact that very different cultures and political climates may have on this. Change within countries over time would surely be more valid than comparing disparate countries in a snapshot.

However far it wanders from its core argument though, the need for people to vote to legitimise government remains one close to me, especially in the run up to a UK general election.

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Book Spa and Hay Festival

I had a very exciting week last week. Firstly I had a book spa at Mr B’s in Bath, then I had a day at the Hay Festival.

Book Spa

This was my anniversary present from my husband, I was slow in using it because of life and time, but finally got around to booking in for last week.

It was an enjoyable experience. I was installed in an armchair with a cup of tea, and one of the staff member had a long chat with me about what I usually enjoy and don’t enjoy reading. Then I stayed there, or rather browsed the shelves in that room, whilst a couple of them went around the shop finding books I might like. They each spent a long time talking me through each book, telling me what it was about and why they’d picked it out for me.

Then I was given another cup of tea, a slice of chocolate cake and left to browse through the books (three towering stacks of them) and pick which ones to take home with me. I did go over the budget because there were far too many good books to stay under it!

Its well worth it for getting a stack of new books which I wouldn’t normally buy (and a list with buying links for when they run out).

Hay Festival

We actually went out for a day’s walking in the Black Mountains (lovely area, great long ridges to hike along) when Radio 2 mentioned the Hay Festival (been before, loved it) and I was instead dropped off in Hay-on-Wye for the day.

First task was to buy a program (£1!) as I had no signal and no plan for what events to go to. Then into the box office to buy event tickets, which ran impressively smoothly and had a clear list of what had already sold out. I had time for three talks, so picked out the most interesting-looking one in each slot, which varied from “I want to go to three of them” to “which of these is least likely to be boring”.

My first event was “The Last Vote” by Philip Coggan. This was a look at the state of Western Democracy, especially topical as the EU election results had come out overnight. The main arguement was that we have lost a lot of the initial momentum and exileration due to getting the first vote, but considering the tendency for democracy to decline during hard economic times we should all vote as though it was our last vote. If this had been in paperback I would probably have bought it at the festival bookshop, got it signed etc but as I’d blown the month’s book budget at Mr B’s I couldn’t really get the hardback so I’ll keep an eye out for it coming out in paperback.

Then I went to a talk on the importance of Jane Austen by John Mullan. I didn’t have high expectations for this, but I wasn’t going to waste an hour of time at Hay sitting twiddling my thumbs. It was very entertaining, gave me new insights into how Austen’s writing works and I’ll be rereading Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park as soon as I get around to them with a new way of reading them in my mind. I might even pick up a book my Mullan in case he’s as good a writer as he is entertaining as a speaker.

The last talk “Think Like a Freak” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame actually ended the festival on a bit of a low note for me though. I think the Q&A format may not have played to their strengths very well, it prevented them from talking for too long about any one subject and meant they couldn’t have as a dialogue that was as well-prepared as the other speakers. Didn’t help that by the end I was late to leave and get a lift so was getting a bit inattentive.

Even alone and without the time to go and potter around the town (love Hay-on-Wye at any time of year) a day at the Hay Festival was a day very well spent though.

Have you been to a literature festival recently? Or have you got one planned for this year?