Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Books & bookmen!

The papers have been full of stories based around three new political books, namely those by Cherie Blair, Lord Levy and John Prescott, focusing largely on the political pain the publications are causing Gordon Brown .

When one adds Alastair Campbell's 'The Blair Years- extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries' a fairly consistent picture seems to emerge;

  • Harold Wilson's observation that the Labour "Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing" could easily apply not only to Tony Blair's views of his own administration but also those of many around him.
  • Most of those closest to Blair had a strong personal dislike for each other and interestingly this is a central theme of all three memoirs and Campbell's diaries.
  • The rivalry and problems managing Gordon Brown took up an inordinate amount of time and energy of Blair and some of his top team.
  • That said, all the players worked incredibly hard and did have some notable successes in moving their own agendas forward. For example, for quite some years, Campbell's management of the media and selling of 'the message' in a 24 hour rolling news age was remarkable.

My friend, the writer, blogger and one-time publisher Iain Dale attacks the fact that all three memoirs are vacuous, skimming over important events such as Prescott's affair with Tracey Temple but I would ask what does he expect? All too often, memoirs are really just an attempt at self-justification but are they any really the worse for that? Would Prescott really want to dwell on an affair that nearly wrecked his marriage and hastened the demise of his political career? Of course not. What such books can do is give an insight into the subjects themselves and fill in the background to events and dramas, albeit with the benefit of hindsight.

In 2001, I chatted to Cecil Parkinson about his autobiography 'Right at the Centre' which I think was published in about 1993. He told me that although he had many happy memories contained within the book, he had not enjoyed writing it. Although it had sold modestly well, it was certainly only the press serialisation (I think by the Sunday times) that made the work financially worthwhile. If memory served me right, I think he said they paid about £300k, a substantial sum of money, even then. Iain says,"Publishers need to stop paying huge advances for books like this, which will never wash their faces commercially and are entirely reliant on newspaper serialisations" but I don't agree. If it wasn't for the press, the books would never get written.

A relatively new phenomenon for the political autobiography is the advent of the 'ghostwriter' especially below prime-ministerial level. Apparently Ned Temko of The Observer wrote Mr Levey's tome while Hunter Davies penned Mr Prescott's work. Sadly I do not think this is neccassarily a desirable trait; surely part of the art of a good biography is being able to tell it how it is from one owns perspective? I can guess that Jordon may struggle to write her own tome (actually she probably does, thinking about it) but these were senior figues in public life- surely they are up to it?

or maybe not!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't most politicians have a 'strong personal dislike for each other'?

7:57 am  
Blogger Matt said...

Yes a lot do- and that is just those on their own side!!!

9:00 pm  

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