Saturday, January 02, 2010

My Top Ten Westminster Novels

When it comes to reading political novels I always enjoy a plot which centres around Parliament. I started to write a political novel myself a few years ago (which unbelievably featured Charles Kennedy as Foreign Secretary oin a Tory led coalition!) but only wrote one chapter. I came across it again the other day on an old computer and it read rather well. Maybe I should have another go!

But seriously, when was the last time you read a political novel with a vaguely Westminster based plot? Line of Beauty was probably the last, and that was only loosely based on Westminster politics. Publishers won't go near political novels at the moment. I've debated with my colleagues whether Biteback should enter this market, and maybe we will later in 2010. But political fiction is a market where you can easily get your fingers burnt. The difficulty is persuading the likes of Waterstone's and W H Smith that they can sell.

1 Second Term by Simon Walters
A ripping yarn about a Labour Prime Minister trying to get a second term in office. I published this book at Politico's even though we didn't normally do fiction. Several of the fictional pieces then turned into reality. Strange but true. Buy it HERE.

2 Aachen Memorandum by Andrew Roberts
A little noticed novel by historian Andrew Roberts. Centres around the implosion of the EU in 2045. Absolutely gripping. Now sadly out of print. Buy it HERE.

3 A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin
Left wing firebrand Harry Perkins becomes PM but doesn't reckon on the opposition of the security services. Subsequently a brilliant Channel 4 drama. Buy it HERE.

4 House of Cards by Michael Dobbs
The first of the trilogy, featuring the cunning chief whip Francis Urquhart and his memorable phrase, "you might say that, I couldn't possibly comment". Buy it HERE.

5 Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst
Set in the latter Thatcher era it centres around the life of a coke snorting, gay sex addict who actually gets to meet Mrs T. Won the Booker Prize and became a BBC2 drama. Buy it HERE.

6 Winston's War - Michael Dobbs
First of the tetrology of novels with Winston Churchill as the main character. Dobbs has started a new genre in historical fiction which works surprisingly well. Buy it HERE.

7 51st State - Peter Preston
Former Guardian editor imagine how Britain might become a 51st State of the United States. Far fetched but somehow he makes it seem just that little bit feasible. Buy it HERE.

8 Black Book - Sara Keays
Cecil Parkinson's former amour writes a salacious novel about the Black Book in which whips record the transgressions of their fellow MPs. Buy it HERE.

9 A Parliamentary Affair - Edwina Currie
Edwina's novels are highly readble and enjoyable, with a fair degree of bonking thrown in, it has to be said. This and its sequel, A Woman's Place are undoubtedly the best. Buy it HERE.

10 Palace of Enchantments - Douglas Hurd
Hurd's best novels were written in the 1960s and 1970s and have all been recently re-released. This one features a junior Foreign office minister who is desperatre to become Foreign Secretary. Buy it HERE.

Do post your own favourites in the Comments section.


Bill Quango MP said...

I would say that A very British Coup and House of cards are that rare phenomenon of a screenplay being better than the book. Not that the books aren't bad. I don't much like Dobbs' writing though, but his ideas are good. Typical is Winston's War.
Shallow as an airliner's sink.

51st state is so contrived its almost unreadable I can't remember Aachen memorandum but I'm prretty sure I finished it, which can't be bad.

Black book and a parliamentary affair are Mrs Q's books I read when stuck in an airport.
Both were very entertaining reads and recommended if you can put an Obama dust jacket over the covers to hide the embarrassment.

Iain, just read the paperback of 50 people who buggered up Britain. Did you ever review this?

Made a good Xmas break game. 20 people who buggered up the naughties decade. Try it as a competition.

Martin Edwards said...

Back in 2002, my psychological suspense novel 'Take My Breath Away' had a plot and sub-text satirising New Labour, which events seem to have proved to be quite far-sighted. But the only reviewer who commented on the political dimension (favourably!) was from The Morning Star. Of all my books,'Take My Breath Away' earned by far the least press attention and sales. Rather depressing, though, biased as I am, I still feel the book deserved better...

Dave said...

Iain, some good titles here, but have to pick you up on a few things. I would suggest it is inaccurate to label Nick (The Line of Beauty), a 'gay sex addict', considering that in the novel's timeline he is only involved sexually with two men. Moreover, the television adaptation was broadcast in May 2006, and therefore is not, 'about to become a BBC2 drama.'

Charlotte Corday said...

How about Anthony Trollope's "Phinneas Finn" and "The Prime Minister"?

Jo said...

Sandra Howard wrote a very respectable first novel - not the worst first novel I have ever read but if I wasn't so obsessed with politics I may have thought otherwise. Some of the reviews I have read have been unflattering. I'm not sure what her second novel was like...I'm only reading first novels at the moment... encourage me :D

Moriarty said...

The only cabinet Charles Kennedy would get into would be ....oh hang on I'll shut up. It's still sort of Christmas...

Anonymous said...

If you want a really depressing book - try "When the Kissing had to Stop" by Constantine Fitzgibbon. For something less depressing try Golgotha by John Gardner!

Matt Harmer said...

It's not about British politics, but there are enough universal truisms about the political/electoral process in VS Naipaul's The Suffrage of Elvira to make it essential reading.

Widely available on Amazon for postage plus smal change, not very long and very very good.

Scottish Unionist said...


judith said...

Sandra Howard's book was quite ludicrously awful, I thought. No talent for writing, and the Parliamentary details bore little relation to the life as experienced (since 2005) of a close friend in the HoC.

But then I thought Robert Harris' 'Ghost' - about the Blairs - equally silly.

Dobbs has written some pleasant books about a somewhat hapless backbencher, can't recall titles.

But I'm with Mme Corday - probably the best fiction about Westminster is by Trollope.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

An oldie but a good'un: Fame is the Spur, Howard Spring's 1940 roman à clé, and significant enough to earn a wikipedia entry.

It tells the life-story of Hamer Shawcross (clearly a hybrid of Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden -- the latter getting the Andrew Alexander Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval this week), his rise to power, and his sell-out. Written by a good comrade, it should appeal to any rank Tory.

The odd intellectual reader (not a common breed in these parts, of course) will recognise the irony of the title, borrowed from Lycidas:

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of a noble mind)
To scorn delights and live laborious days.

Short of a duck-house of one's own, what other motive drives a would-be politico? Apart from ideology, of course, a commodity sorely missing and largely scorned in these degenerate days.

Joe Public said...

And in the non-fiction section, "Yes Minister"

Anonymous said...

I purchased Second Term when it was first published and read it twice. I have now retrieved it ready for a third reading-thanks Iain for a reminder. Excellent book.

Cazzy Jones said...

Good call on The Aachen Memorandum. Yesterday's satire, today's reality? (At least we're not yet faced with the need for vigilantes to spring John Redwood from prison!)

If Edwina rates a mention, let's not forget Jeffrey Archer's "First Among Equals". By no means heavy literature but still a good tale.

Mike Law said...

The New Machiavelli - H. G. Wells

Anonymous said...

Iain, I would love it if you were able to do a top-ten (or more) political autobiogs or biogs. I'm keen to read more in 2010 and not sure where to start!

If you've done one previously and could point me to that, even better.


Iain Dale said...

I did the Top 10 Politial Autobiogs back in 2006. Here they are

My Top Ten Political Autobiographies
Iain Dale 9:01 PM
Political autobiography is normally defined as a work of fiction by the author, about the author. Rarely do we find examples of 'good autobiography'. Indeed, it would be easier to draw up a list of Top Ten Worst Political Memoirs. This list is a list of my own personal favourites.

1. Memoirs - Richard Nixon
Nixon is one of the finest political writers in recent history. His books 'Leaders', 'Six Crises', and 'In the Arena' should be required reading for any aspiring politician. His memoirs are a remarkable work of literature.
2. Path to Power - Margaret Thatcher
More readable and more human than the accompanying 'Downing Street Years' volume. This book covers her life up to 1979.
3. View from Number Eleven - Nigel Lawson
Huge book with perhaps a liitle too much economics for my liking, but a fantastic record of the Thatcher government.
4. Here Today Gone Tomorrow - John Nott
The best autobiography I had the pleasure of publishing as Politico's. Searingly honest, laced with wicked humour, and great political insight.
5. Time of my Life - Denis Healey
My favourite Labour memoir - charcteristically truculent, funny and honest.
6. Time to Declare - David Owen
I have always been rather a fan of David Owen, who I have always regarded as a pseudo-Tory. He had many failings but this book is not one of them.
7. Memoirs - John Major
A surprising bestseller. Very readable, and sometimes extremely bitchy.
8. A Life at the Centre - Roy Jenkins
Elegant, as you would expect. perhaps not quite so honest about his personal life as he might have been, but we await Andrew Adonis's official biography for that sort of detail!
9. Just in Time - Sir John Hoskyns
If I had to recommend one book to David Cameron to read, this would be it. It tells of Hoskyns time advising the Thatcher Opposition and the problems he and they encountered.
10.A Memoir - Barbara Bush
Hugely enjoyable by one of my favourite political spouses. Behind the grandmotherly exterior lay a spine of iron. She leaves no hostages to fortune in this charming book.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Yes: I dimly recall that Dale list of autobiographies. It disappointed then, and hasn't improved in the keeping.

A political autobiography is valid when it illuminates, but depresses when it is merely self-serving. Several of the Dale picks definitely belong in the latter category.

As someone reminded us back in 2006, and this dyed-in-the-wool Lefty wholly concurs, Dale has one huge omission: Churchill's memoirs of WW2. The 1996 trade paperback (abridged from the '40s originals, but going on 1100 pages) is still available.

If the rules for this thread have been changed (to include US texts, as with Barbara Bush and Nixon), can we reboot the political novels with Gore Vidal's American Chronicle? Or his script for The Best Man? And don't start me on Aaron Sorkin.

Piers F-D said...

I can't believe I am about to do this....but I am going to recomment a Jeffrey Archer novel, 'First Among Equals'. It's superb. Genuinely.

Strathturret said...

Always liked Hurd's novels. Ditto Dobbs; Urquhart was a superb creation.