Thursday, February 16, 2006

My Top 10 Political Books

Political blogging is an essentially ephemeral phenomemnon, but a good political book lasts for ever. Here's my Top 10 reads.

1. The Time of My Life - Denis Healey. Beautifully-written autobiog from the best Prime Minister we never had.

2. Friends and Rivals - Giles Radice. Superb triple biography of Labour's original modernisers - Healey, Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland.

3. Diaries - Alan Clark. The original and best account of the high politics of the Thatcher era, which now all seems strangely far-off.

4. Peter Mandelson - Donald Macintyre. Don never even said hello when I was in the Lobby but his biog of Mandy is a masterpiece of objectivity.

5. Alastair Campbell and the Rise of the Media Class - Peter Oborne. Devastating expose of the man and his methods from a true comrade-in-arms.

6. Prime Minister Portillo and Other Things that Never Happened - Iain Dale and Duncan Brack. Book of counterfactuals I wish I'd thought of first.

7. The Ashdown Diaries Vol 2 - Paddy Ashdown. Detailed chronicle of the abortive Lib-Lab "project" and Ashdown's ultimate disappointment.

8. Servants of the People - Andrew Rawnsley. The "official" version of the world according to New Labour, 1997-2004.

9. Blair - Anthony Seldon. Brilliantly conceived biography looking at the PM through his relationships with the 20 key figures in his life.

10. The Autobiography - John Major. Okay, so he should have mentioned Edwina, but ghostwriter Julian Glover did a wonderful job with this.


Iain Dale said...

Very flattered to be included in your top 10! And I also agree with you on the Healey book. The
MacIntyre book was OK but riddled with typographical errors.

Alfie said...

Yeah, but can you do a list of the 10 worst political reads?.....

skipper said...

Agree regarding Selden; I never thought my former co-author would be able to write anything so good- it's an amazing read characterised by excellent judgement. Impressed he gives all proceeds to charity too. But Paul, where are the classic political books? I'm thinking of Darkness at Noon, Brave New World, 1984, Catch 22... are they all such old hat now?

Paul Linford said...

Some interesting points there.

Yes, I loved Prime Minister Portillo..., especially Paul Richards' piece on a Britain without Thatcherism.

Worst political reads? I could name quite a few. Jim Callaghan was one who didn't quite master the art of autobiography and we had to wait until Kenneth Morgan's biog for a decent assessment of his career. And there were several senior broadcasters who jumped aboard the memoirs bandwagon in the wake of John Cole who really shouldn't have bothered.

1984, Brave New World etc? I would rate these in the realm of literature rather than political biography/commentary. I would certainly put 1984 among my Top 10 books of all time.

Anonymous said...

A little UK-centric, wouldn't you say Paul? Your no fiction rule seems to rule out Primary Colors but how about Republican Party Reptile - collected essays by PJ O'Rourke. Utterly reprehensible, obnoxiously right-wing but I defy anyone not to laugh out loud. Worth it just for the title "How to drive fast on drugs while getting your wing-wang squeezed and not spill your drink". If all Republicans were this relaxed about life, we'd all be a lot better off.
Turgid and completely lacking in literary merit as it is, I'd also put the Thatcher autobiography in there. The absence of humour or any generosity of spirit says more about her decade than the more insightful studies such as Hugo Young's One Of Us (which I'm surprised didn't make your own top ten, knowing how highly you rated him). Obviously she would also feature in any all-time worst ten political books, for pretty much the same reasons.

Anonymous said...

John Cole's As It Seemed To Me was excellent. John Sergeant's Give me Ten Seconds was oddly disappointing (particularly its Pooterish ending, that he'd always tried to be himself - personal mission statement c/o Hallmark), whereas Robin Oakley's Inside Track was strangely underrated (particularly the anecdote about David Knox and the late Sir Edward Heath). Brunson's book wasn't bad, but didn't have any memorable anecdotes or insights.

Oddly enough, I thought Seldon's Major biography was more of a classic than his Blair biography.

Major's Autobiography was surprisingly good, up there with Alec Douglas-Home's Where the Wind Blows, Reginald Maudling's Memoirs, and Rab Butler's The Art of the Possible.

Even so, the best political memoirs not mentioned here probably remain the late Julian Critchley's A Bag of Boiled Sweets and Steve Norris' Changing Trains.

It's a great shame that Alan Clark wasn't in the Commons from 92-97, but a vivid portrayal of the Major government's decline and fall (and of how the Tories became known as 'the nasty party') is contained in Gyles Brandreth's Breaking the Code.

Yes, PJ O'Rourke is excellent. Apart from his right-wing libertarianism being preferable to right-wing 'gays, guns and God' evangelicals, he's very funny. More than be said for the horrible Mark 'the rain in Spain falls mainly on the slain' Steyn (that comment was made after the Madrid bombings) or David Frum's puerile attempt at counter-factual hu humour in Andrew Roberts (ed) 'What might have been'.

Anonymous said...

For those who enjoyed Prime Minister Portillo, the sequel, 'President Gore...and other things that never happened' (ed. Duncan Brack), has recently been published by Politico's, £14.99 hardback.