Back to website

" Anthony Sampson.... "the most English of Englishmen".... But Sampson also ticked a lot of less exclusive boxes. As everything he ever penned made clear, he also had Bunyan's love of the truth, Shakespeare's love of the world, Blake's love of the imagination - and maybe even Nelson's love of a good fight. ." Martin Kettle in the Guardian March 22 2005


Democracy Watch Jan - April 2004
... for wealth and money-making has been the most fundamental change in Britain over
four decades." Observer article today "Who Runs Britain" by Anthony Sampson. ... - 101k - Cached - Similar pages

The new elite
... In the first of two exclusive extracts from his compelling new book about
twenty-first century Britain, Anthony Sampson revisits the territory he first ... - 30k - Cached - Similar pages

What’s going wrong with Britain?
... Helena Kennedy and Anthony Sampson, whose recent books identify a crisis in British
democracy, discuss with openDemocracy’s Anthony Barnett and David Hayes ... - 25k - Cached - Similar pages

How intelligence was bent to one will and purpose
... will and purpose Anthony Sampson assesses the faults of Scarlett and Campbell over
Iraq and says both were acting for one man - the Prime Minister Sunday July ... - 37k - Cached - Similar pages

The Great Deception
... [1] This was a description offered by Anthony Sampson, in his book, The
New Europeans (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968), p.7. [2 ... - 36k - Cached - Similar pages

inbox new
... March 28 ~ Anthony Sampson in the Observer illustrates what has happened to the
English establishment of 40 years ago. "Who runs Britain?" he asks. ... - 101k - Cached - Similar pages

INBOX warmwell April - Mid August 2004
... July 19 ~ Anthony Sampson asked: "how was Campbell allowed to wield such extraordinary
power in Whitehall, as an ex-tabloid journalist with little experience ... - 101k - Cached - Similar pages

Democracy in UK?
... Anthony Sampson, in yesterday's Observer, assesses the faults of Scarlett and Campbell
over Iraq and says both were acting for one man - the Prime Minister . ... - 101k - Supplemental Result - Cached - Similar pages

Down the corridors of power

Anthony Sampson's second survey of the British establishment, Who Runs This Place?, finds little that has changed for the better

Nicholas Lezard
Saturday January 8, 2005
The Guardian

Who Runs This Place? The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century
by Anthony Sampson
Buy Who Runs This Place? at the Guardian bookshop
Who Runs This Place? The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century, by Anthony Sampson (John Murray, £7.99)

The one-word answer to the question posed by the book's title is, of course, "America". But that does not explain in and of itself why or how this country has become such a vile and depressing place to live in. For that you need an examination and an overview of the institutions, visible and invisible, that exercise (or have abdicated their duty to exercise) their control over us.

Anthony Sampson is (or was: he died in December, but so vivid is his presence on the page that I find it hard to use the past tense) uniquely placed to perform such a task. Having worked with a young Nelson Mandela, at a time when to do so was risky, he first proposed answering the question of who ran the country in 1962. The resulting Anatomy of Britain became a classic. And its successor may well become one in its own right.

A good deal of its impact lies in the four-decade gap between inspections. "Revisiting some of the seats of power after 40 years," writes Sampson, "I felt like a Rip Van Winkle waking up after a revolution." Not, you feel, that Sampson has slept. But it suits the book's purpose if we imagine he has. (This is actually the sixth book Sampson has written with the words "Anatomy" and "Britain" in the title.)

The leap this book asks us to make - the comparison between the Britain of 1962 and that of 2004 - is useful and hugely instructive. You find yourself asking exactly what has got better in the intervening time. Air quality in urban areas; the capital's river; tolerance of racial and sexual diversity (a massive improvement there, and one which one would not trade for almost anything); progress towards gender equality; and the opening up of the "establishment" to all-comers, and not just those with the right family connections.

But that's not good enough. The establishment may have dress-down Fridays, so to speak, but they are still rich, even more monstrously so compared with everyone else, and power has become centralised, mainly in the hands of Blair and a very small coterie. If Sampson appears to be crosser now than he was in 1962, then that is because there is more to be cross about. And with the waning of deference, also not an unwelcome development, it is easier to be cross with the establishment than it once was. Not that that seems to have done much good.

Still, it is important to have a clear voice exposing, as even-handedly as possible, the cant that still envelops power. We live under a government, Sampson reminds us, for whom something called the Freedom of Information Act is about restricting information, rather than disseminating it.

In other chapters, Sampson examines the 24 indigenous institutions which determine what we do, from the judiciary to the media to the Bank of England. It is an impressive feat. Some reviewers noted a number of errors in the hardback - mostly minor, such as misreporting the colour of the lino in the Treasury. There was a more serious point made about Jennie Page, chief executive of the Millennium Dome, which was found to have been based on a mistake. Then again, any book with so many facts per page is going to slip up every so often. As far as I have been able to check, all errors have, admirably, been corrected for the paperback, which also incorporates new material. You could almost say that the paperback version is the seventh book in Sampson's series.

It has to be admitted that, like many books which are legitimately advertised as "essential reading", it can be a bit of a grind. By the time you get to chapter 19 and note that it is called "Pension Funds", you may be fully attuned to the idea that you are not in for a John Grisham-style exercise in easily absorbed thrills. Not even the fact that the chapter is subtitled "Dreams and Nightmares" helps much. But pension funds are important, and they have to be considered, particularly given that they are so typical of the kind of systematic abuse that has become the institutional norm. Enjoy.