The Autumn reading list

Written by Keith Simpson MP on 27 September 2012 in Culture
Keith Simpson MP settles in for a seasonal selection of great reads

This article is from the October 2012 issue of Total Politics

Eagerly expected are the memoirs of Jack Straw, the V. Molotov of the Labour Party, who has survived every leader, ideological schism and internal party dispute since Harold Wilson. Hence his aptly titled (Macmillan, £20).

George Osborne is a very professional politician who, through determination, talent and ruthlessness, has reached the top in politics. Janan Ganesh of the Economist has attempted to explain what makes Osborne tick in The Age of Osborne (Biteback, £20).

Ambitious, talented, combative and ultimately accident-prone, Edwina Currie, infamous Tory minister under Thatcher, has now published the second volume of her diaries, Edwina Currie: Diaries Volume II 1992–1997 (Biteback, £20), which cover the Major government years. 

David Waddington was home secretary and chief whip in Thatcher’s government, and regarded as a safe pair of hands. His memoir, David Waddington: Memoirs (Biteback, £25), is a solid canter through his personal and political life.

There are plenty of books about Thatcher herself, but former minister Gillian Shephard has drawn upon the experiences of ministers, researchers and staff in The Real Iron Lady: Working with Mrs T (Biteback, £20).

David Steel became the leader of the Liberal Party at a very young age, and tried to break the mould of British politics by working with the Social Democrats. David Torrance has written the authorised biography: David Steel: The Biography (Biteback, £25).

Philip Norton has edited Eminent Parliamentarians: The Speaker’s Lectures (Biteback, £20), which were delivered in 2011 by contemporary parliamentarians about their predecessors. There are contributions from Kenneth Morgan on Lloyd George, Shirley Williams on Nancy Astor and Douglas Hurd on Iain Macleod.

The office of speaker has been occupied by some talented parliamentarians, as well as placemen and those totally unsuited for the role. Matthew Laban’s Mr Speaker: The Office and the Individuals (Biteback, £25) is a history of the office and its occupants.

Since the 1970s, Harold Wilson’s reputation has been in the doldrums. Thomas Hennessey, in Optimist in a Raincoat: Harold Wilson 1964–70 (The History Press, £20), reassesses Wilson’s first premiership, when he was at the peak of his powers and faced with serious domestic and overseas challenges.

David Clark, former cabinet minister in Blair’s first government, has written an excellent short history of The Labour Movement in Westmorland (Lensden Publishing, £14.99), drawing upon local archives and oral history.

Terry Leahy, a working-class boy who gained educational mobility through a grammar school, went from the store floor to CEO of Tesco in 14 years. In his Management in 10 Words (Random House Business, £20), he draws on his experience to pinpoint the vital attributes of successful managers and organisations.

Douglas Carswell is a thoughtful, provocative Conservative MP who challenges established ideas and institutions. In his The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy (Biteback, £12.99), he argues that the West is in a mess because of too much government, but the digital revolution is putting more choices into the hands of individual citizens.

101 Ways to Win an Election (Biteback, £12.99) by Edward Maxfield and Mark Pack is a bluffer’s guide for aspiring politicians, packed with advice on everything from “a good message” to practical issues like team building. A cross between a revivalist pamphlet and a guide to Lib Dem pavement politics.

Josiah Wedgwood MP was responsible for initiating what became the History of Parliament project. In 1936, he circulated a questionnaire to 550 colleagues and former colleagues who were elected in the period 1885–1918. The answers contained information about political and parliamentary careers and, along with an analysis, now appear in Priscilla Baines’ Colonel Josiah Wedgwood’s Questionnaire: Members of Parliament 1885-1918 (Wiley-Blackwell, £23).

As Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the abdication crisis in 1937, Cosmo Lang played a significant role in shaping the establishment and public opinion. Robert Beaken’s Cosmo Lang: Archbishop in War and Peace (IB Tauris, £25) tells all.

Yet another book on Churchill? Yes, and David Dilks, who has written about Chamberlain, examines Churchill’s relationships with political and social figures in the UK and US in Churchill and Company: Rivals and Alliances in War and Peace (IB Tauris, £20).

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female MP. In Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor (Jonathan Cape, £25), Adrian Fort charts the life of the American who married into the Astor family and lived at the centre of the British social and political establishment. 

Ruth Winstone worked in the House of Commons, and helped Tony Benn and Chris Mullin edit their diaries. She has now told the political history of Britain since the Great War through the diaries of politicians, literary figures and ordinary people in Events, Dear Boy, Events: A Political Diary of Britain from the Great War to the Present (Profile Books, £25).

Ulysses Grant was the outstanding Union general of the American Civil War. As president, he helped heal the nation’s wounds, but also led an increasingly corrupt administration. HW Brands reveals The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (Doubleday Books, £25)

Jane Ridley is a superb historian and biographer. Her Bertie: A Life of Edward VII (Chatto & Windus, £30) contrasts the traditional picture of a roistering playboy prince with the king who worked hard, especially at diplomatic relationships.

Piers Brendon’s Eminent Edwardians was a pastiche of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians. His Eminent Elizabethans: Rupert Murdoch, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher & Mick Jagger (Jonathan Cape, £18) updates the pastiche.

David Hannay was a senior Foreign Office mandarin who moved seamlessly between diplomatic posts in Europe and America. His reflections are distilled in Britain’s Quest for a Role: A Diplomatic Memoir from Europe to the UN (IB Tauris, £30).

By contrast, we have the former Foreign Office maverick Sherard Cowper-Coles, whose Cables From Kabul were based upon his time as ambassador there. Now he’s written a memoir based on his diplomatic life in Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin (HarperPress, £20)

Keith Simpson is the Conservative MP for Broadland and PPS to William Hague



Tags: Keith Simpson, Keith Simpson MP, Reading list

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