Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Top 75 Political Books

GQ Magazine has published it's Top 100 political books (not online), so I thought as it's Easter I'd follow suit. These are all books I have read and enjoyed, many of which will be familiar to you, but some may not be. The list includes some political fiction too. If you click on the title of each book, you'll get through to the Amazon page about the book. Do feel free to discuss your own favourite books in the comments.

1. In the Arena by Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon is one of the most underrated writers in politics. He features several times on this list. This book is a mixture of memoir and analysis of what it takes to be a politician. The book combines a mixture of candour, honesty and deceit, but it is highly readable, revealing and at times gripping.

2. Breaking the Code by Gyles Brandreth
If you want to understand the inner workings of the Major government, this is the book for you. I still maintain it's the best political book of the last decade. As you would expect, it's very gossipy, with lots of little cutting asides, but it also lays bare the ambitious soul of a man who knows his ambition isn't going to be fulfilled. If it had been, we wouldn't have been able to read these diaries!

3. What I Saw at the Revolution by Peggy Noonan
Peggy Noonan was Ronald Reagan's speechwriter. Her ability to express what Reagan was thinking and her analysis of what was going on around her at the White House make this a must read for any student of the 1980s.

Memoirs by 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.

5. Tony Benn's Diaries
This is the British equivalent of the Robert Caro books on Johnson in length. The diaries now run to 7 volumes, but it's worth starting at the beginning and reading the whole lot. A lot more personal that you might imagine. Lots of tears, rants and emotion. I'm proud to say I have signed copies of the whole lot, each with a little message from the great man.

6. One of us by Hugo Young
Of the twenty or so biographies of Margaret Thatcher this is by far the best. As a man of the left, Young produced a brilliant work about a brilliant woman.

7. Path to Power by Margaret Thatcher
More readable and more human than the accompanying 'Downing Street Years' volume. This book covers her life up to 1979.

8. Alan Clark's Diaries
Probably the most gossipy political diaries ever written. The first volume contains one of the best accounts of Margaret Thatcher's downfall. Clark was the proverbial loveable rogue. he invited me to lunch once and to be honest I wasn't looking forward to it at all. But he turned out to be one of the most charming men I have ever met. I'm looking forward to Ion Trewin's forthcoming biography of him.

9. Six Crises by Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon looks at six crises in modern politial history and analyses the options available to the politicians concerned in the minutest details. It almost reads like a drama.

10. Here Today Gone Tomorrow by John Nott
The best autobiography I had the pleasure of publishing at Politico's. Searingly honest, laced with wicked humour, and great political insight.

11. Just in Time by 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.

12. View from Number Eleven by Nigel Lawson

Huge book with perhaps a liitle too much economics for my liking, but a fantastic record of the Thatcher government.

13. Time of my Life by Denis Healey
My favourite Labour memoir - characteristically truculent, funny and honest.

14. A Prison Diary by Jeffrey Archer
When the first volume was published I felt it shouldn't have come out while he was in prison. When I got round to reading it I was spellbound. If you want to find out what prison life is like, warts and all, you need look no further. I can't recommend this three volume set highly enough.

15. The Insider by Piers Morgan
One of the best books I have read in the few years, although some of it I take with a pinch of salt. Piers admits he write the diaries retrospectively so you have to read them with a degree of scepticism but they're no less enjoyable for that. If you're at all interested in the world of newspapers, media and celebrity then you'll love it.

16. Barbara Castle Diaries
The first volume is very difficult to get hold of now. I paid £75 for mine! Written in a slightly dry manner these diaries don't have the gossip of others, but Castle certainly has an acidic tongue, which she deploys to great effect. Perhaps a little bit too wordy.

17. Paddy Ashdown Diaries
The love affair that failed to be consumated! The central theme is the mating dance between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown who manages to convince himself he's going to be in the Cabinet. The trouble is, Tony gets cold feet. Some passages make Ashdown look weak, but overall you get the impression of a fundamentally a good man.

18. Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell by Simon Heffer
A fantastically researched and brilliantly written book about one of the true enigmas of British politics. Heffer clearly 'gets' Powell.

19. Nixon: Ruin & Recovery 1973-1990 by Stephen Ambrose
A fascinating examination of Nixon's post presidential years, in which he finally came to terms with what he had cost the country. A deeply personal book, it outlines the influence he continued to wield throughout his latter years.

20. Salisbury by Andrew Roberts
Huge tome about a Conservative Prime Minister who seems to have been rather forgotten.

21. Chance Witness by Matthew Parris
A brilliant autobiography from one of the finest writers of his generation. Typically indiscreet, he's characteritstically honest about some turbulent episodes in his life.

22. Tom Driberg: Soul of Indiscretion by Francis Wheen
Hugely entertaining account of the serial cottager. One wonders how Driberg got away with it for so long.

23. Control Freaks by Nicholas Jones
Nick Jones's books on Labour spin were a constant thorn in the side to the Downing Street spin operation. This was the best. And not just because I published it!

24. Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward
An expose of the lack of planning for post war Iraq which left the Bush adminsitration reeling.

25. Memoirs - John Major
A surprising bestseller. Very readable, and sometimes extremely bitchy.

26. Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher
An account of Lady T's years in power, which is authoratative rather than gripping.

27. Servants of the People by Andrew Rawnsley
The best book about the early years of the Blair government.

28. 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.

29. 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.

30. Unfinished Revolution by Philip Gould
Outlines how New Labour came into being and how its work was far from finished. Regarded as a bible by Tory modernisers.

31. Edwina Currie's Diaries
Edwina's diaries remain very underrated. Forget the Major stuff, the rest of the book is perhaps the best account yet fo the frustrations of a junior minister. You'd expect the diaries to be gossipy and you wouldn't be disappointed. A bit like the Archer books, you need to cast your preconceptions aside before you start reading.

32. Leaders by Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon profiles a series of world leaders he met, and analyses important decisions they made.

33. Richard Crossman Diaries
I admit I haven't waded through all the volumes, but this gives a perfect insight into the Wilson governments. Quite how Crossman ever found the time to write the diaries beggars belief because they are hugely detailed.

34. 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.

35. The Woodrow Wyatt Diaries
Woodrow Wyatt was a Labour MP but over the years drifted to the right. He had the ear of Margaret Thatcher, and became rather besotted by her. But I know from personal experience that he was someone she listened to. His diaries are wickedly gossipy.

36. Prime Minster: The Office & its Holders Since 1945 by Peter Hennessy
Perhaps Hennessy's finest work, which looks at the office of Prime Minister and each holder's attitude to it.

37. A Conservative Coup by Alan Watkins
Possibly the best book about the events surrounding the fall of Margaret Thatcher's fall and John Major's election as leader of the Conservative Party.

38. 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 the official biography for that sort of detail!

39. 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.

40. 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. Now on DVD.

41. The Blair Years by Alastair Campbell
An entertaining and well written book, but marred by all the stuff he clearly left out.

42. What it Takes: The Way to the White House by Richard Ben Cramer
The story of the 1988 US presidential campaign.

43. SDP: The Birth, Life & Death of the SDP by Ivor Crewe & Anthony King
A wonderfully elaborate history about a political party that once promised so much but suffered an almost comically tragic end.

44. 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".

45. Kill the Messenger by Bernard Ingham
Bernard Ingham is a talented writer and as you would expect, very forthright.

46. When Character was King by Peggy Noonan
A story of Ronald Reagan and his years in power.

47. Gordon Brown by Tom Bower
The most vicious biography of Gordon Brown so far written. You read it and wonder how on earth this deeply flawed man was ever allowed to reach any position of power.

48. Line of Beauty by 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 is about to become a BBC2 drama.

49. Jo Grimond by Michael McManus
A majesterial account of the life of the man who kept the Liberals from oblivion in the 1960s.

50. Bad Boy: The Life & Times of Lee Atwater by John Brady
A fascinating biography of the King of negative political campaigning who worked for George Bush Snr.

51. Keith Joseph by Andrew Denham & Mark Garnett
Hugely detailed biography of the man who was the Godfather of Thatcherism.

52. Reagan & Thatcher by Geoffrey Smith
An examination of the special relationship between Margaret Thatcher & Ronald Reagan, laced with superb anecdotes.

53. Herbst '89 by Egon Krenz
Diary of the events of 1989 by the former East German leader, who succeeded Erich Honecker.

54. Mad as Hell: Revolt & the Ballot Box 1992 by Jules Witcover & Jack Germond
An entertaining account of the 1992 US presidential election campaign which saw Bill Clinton triumph over George Bush.

55. All's Fair by James Carville & Mary Matalin
Carville and Matalin are married but were on opposite sides during the 1992 presidential campaign, advising Clinton and Bush. Somehow their relationship survived.

56. Glimmers of Twilight - Joe Haines
Harold Wilson's former press secretary makes some astonishing revelations and allegations about the relationship between Wilson and Marcia Falkender.

57. Lloyd George: War Leader by John Grigg
The final tome in this wonderful four book biography about the life of Lloyd George.

58. As it Seemed to Me by John Cole
Hondootedly a riveting account of his years as BBC Political editor by the former Guardian journalist.

59. Whose Broad Stripes & Bright Stars: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency 1988
An account of the 1988 US presidential campaign which saw George Bush beat Michael Dukakis.

60. Mandarin by Sir Nicholas Henderson

The diaries of one of the most eminent British diplomats of the late twentieth century. In some ways quite an undiplomatic book.

61. My Falkland Days by Sir Rex Hunt
A brilliant autobiography by the former Falkland Islands governor at the time of the Argentinian invasion.

62. Das Herz Schlaegt Links by Oskar Lafontaine
A typically forthright book by the lost leader of the German left and former Minister President of the Saarland.

63. Trial by Conspiracy by Jonathan Boyd-Hunt
Boyd-Hunt' s painstaking research alleges there was a media conspiracy against Neil Hamilton and that he was innocent of the charges Fayed made against him.

64. The Road to Number 10: From Bonar Law to Tony Blair by Alan Watkins
A mammoth book about the path taken by each PM since 1945 to get to the ultimate political office. A superb and well researched book.

65. Winston's War by 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.

66. Right from the Start by Lord Roberts of Conwy
Charming autobiography by the former Welsh Office Minister and Granddaddy of the Welsh Conservative Party.

67. 51st State by 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.

68. The Giles Radice Diaries
The former Labour MP gives a saringly honest account of Labour's years out of power.

69. Black Book by 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.

70. Toward Prosperity by Roger Douglas
Roger Douglas pioneered privatisation in New Zealand and his thinking is still influential the world over.

71. 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.

72. Changing Trains by Steve Norris
A funny and entertaining account of his life in politics prior to 1997.

73. Guilty Men: Conservative Decline & Fall 1992-1997 by Hywel Williams
An uncomfortable read for many Conservatives, this book details just how awful the period of 1992-97 really was.

74. Palace of Enchantments by 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 desperate to become Foreign Secretary.

75. Too Nice to be a Tory by Jo-Anne Nadler
Sort of a Tory version of John O'Farrell's THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER, Nadler provides a very personal account of her journey from Tory Teenager to Tory 'rock chick'.



So which researcher was tasked with making this post for you ? and why didn't you add the line... oh and by the way you can buy all these books from my political book store...

Sometimes you must be so far up your own arse that you must blow your nose after going to the toilet.

Anonymous said...

No "primary colours"? No "all too human"? No "all the king's men"?

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Dale,

Less of this shameless merchandising over this blessed and holy weekend.

At least post a theologically topical story!

Why are a few Roman Catholic leaders embroiled in a row on issues which the Archbishop of Canterbury raised as far back as January 30th, in response to which there was not a whisper from the mainstream media?

One would think there were no Established Church...

Iain Dale said...

English till I die, Strangely I do not have a team of researchers. I did it myself. As for your charming comment about being "up my own arse", I'll leave that for others to judge. Unlike you I don't have a face that looks like one though.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read 75 political books- and i'm a politics graduate. At least i can consider myself relatively sane for NOT reading 75 political books. I prefer Terry Pratchett. His books set on discworld tell you all you need to know about the world in which we live.

Anonymous said...

No mention of 'The Triumph of the Political Class' by Peter Oborne?

Anonymous said...

Why no Peter Oborne?

Anonymous said...

Iain, that's quite a list and I've enjoyed many of those on it myself.

A surprise favourite being John Major's memoirs - he has an excellent writing style and as you say bitch-a-thon at times!

Peggy Noonan is still writing cogently on the race today and has some brilliant insights into the GOP as a political beast - particularly how scared they are of Obama and how they long for Clinton to be the candidate. It'll be easier to take the gloves off.

For example here:

If I might recommend one for the future. I think it's probably the best book about politics written by a non-politician and something that all hacks commenting on the US Primaries situation ought to have read - and in a slightly odd way comes full circle with your first choice:

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Tail, '72 - By Hunter S Thompson. Now £3 on Amazon. Bargain!

Anonymous said...

So few biographies. Why is this? Horne on Macmillan and Rhodes James on Eden are two of the best, not to mention Jenkins on Churchill and Gladstone. Pimlott on Wilson and Dalton also. I could go on.

No mention of Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget or Butler's Art of the Possible. Two of the best autobiographies ever written.

None on political theory. No Jean Blondel. No Butler on elections.

Why all the books on Nixon? A very sad figure.

A very poor list Iain.

Newmania said...

On the great up-your-arse debate I rather like people who are a little in love with themselves. They only say what others tend to quiet tumescence in private .No no better an open braggart be .

I read quite a lot of books you might call poltical. At the moment I have just finished "The Likes of Us " ," Welcome To Everytown" Julian Baggini ( Brilliant ) and I’m on "Estates" by Lynsey Handley which is a bit pompous but a horribly enthralling exercise in egomaniacal self pity.
I think "After Blair " was a superb introduction to Conservative philosophy. Other recent favourites include " What’s Left " Nick Coen " "England an Elegy" Roger Scruton...

These are all well known titles I think and yet not one of the appears in your list. I would call the list Political Biography or Political History with a biographical bias . Do you ever read books about politics from a philosophical or economic point of view ( Cash Nexus say..) ? Or what about Christopher Booker’s excavations of EU dis-information ? There is certainly a large gap here for those of us interested in a serious and statesmanlike perspective on the affairs of man…J

BTW George Walden may be a preening popinjay but he is a good read as well

Anonymous said...

Iain, Iain, Iain - there is nothing wrong with having a face like an arse.. as Mitchell and Webb have shown is, it is a condition which requires treating with sympathy and care, and, oh alright then, a bit of gawking prurience covered with a veneer of respectable inquisitiveness..

Iain Dale said...

Howard, I am sure they are all excellent. It's just that I haven't read them, so I didn't include them in the list.

Astro-Turf Lawnmower said...

Like most people I am spending my Easter weekend reading Nigel Lawson's "The View From No 11, Memoirs of a Tory Radical".

It is an engrossing read, and at over 1000 pages you certainly get your money's worth.

You also end up with a strange yearning for the days when we had a proper Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Anonymous said...

I am very surprised you have not read some of the books I have listed. Perhaps you are not interested in history but only current events.

Being an ex publisher of political books, I assumed your horizons would be rather wider than Edwina Currie!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on Gyles Brandreth's diaries. I wasn't expecting much, but it is a great book and I find myself going back to read it again and again.

I really enjoyed the Macmillan cabinet years diaries as well. Watching as he grows and plots his way to power is fascinating. Just a shame that he destroyed the bits on Suez - at Eden's request I think.

Anonymous said...

Iain, an excellent list and I have about half of those on my bookshelves already.

One that I've enjoyed that you perhaps haven't read - "Gladstone" by Roy Jenkins?

Anonymous said...

Excellent list Iain....I now hope to work my way through it...Ignore englishtillidie...Obviously Nu Labour and on benefits....Regards,Martin

asquith said...

"I’m on "Estates" by Lynsey Hanley which is a bit pompous but a horribly enthralling exercise in egomaniacal self pity".

And you grew up on an 80s-90s council estate, did you? Because I did.

M. Hristov said...

“48 “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 is about to become a BBC2 drama.”

“Line of Beauty” was broadcast as a BBC drama in May 2006.

The evidence a suggests you wrote part this list in early 2006. Is that correct Mr. Dale (he says going into cross-examination mode)?

Anyway, its an interesting list, so who cares.

Bob Piper said...

Tony Benn... "the great man".'

Well, as "the great man said... "It's the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you."

Iain Dale said...

M Hristyov, well spotted. I included it in my top ten political novels which I publsihed here in 2006. So yes, I copied the text over!

Unsworth said...

An interesting list. Now would you care to say which of the authors is, in your opinion, the most honest and then, for good measure, which is the most accurate?

Newmania said...

I think Piper has confused the 2nd Viscount Stansgate, with Mr.Benn of 52 festive Road ...another comic children`s character who puts on a different suit to live in an imaginary world .

Bob Piper said...

Newmania, you're doing it again... try reading Iain's post... the 'great man' quote was Iain's not mine, you numbskull.

By the way, Iain, you neec a top up, there are 8 volumes of the diaries now... I've got all 8, although sadly, unsigned.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to read some Richard Nixon now.

Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie by H.S. Thompson is an entertaining look at the election of Clinton 1.

asquith said...

Have you ever read The Strange Death of Tory England by Geoffrey Wheratcroft, Iain? That's a favourite of mine, it's the book I vaguely glance at when I'm in the bath or otherwise wanting some casual reading.

The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Cannadine is excellent: maybe not "political" enough for you, but if you managed to fit it in you'd be glad.

Every book and essay by Orwell is a must. I haven't read them in years, but I needed that grounding.

Newmania said...

... I've got all 8, ......

That seems punishment enough to me for your various fatuities Blob.If you like garbled fantasy I would suggest Alice In Wonderland is has far more wit and uses gibberish as a creative form.

Every book and essay by Orwell is a must. I haven't read them in years, but I needed that grounding,

You do not apear to have understood much about them do you Asquith.Orwell ended up a Conservative in all but name.

Newmania said...

The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy

have a good look at the connections of the left and then decide whether the aristocracy has fallen

Benn (of course)

You would be amazed and those who are not actually aristocrats are part of an establishment so incestuous as to have almost created a new species . Same people again and again.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought something about the take-over of the UK by the 'Europe' is worth attention by all except ostriches - eg Booker and North's 'The Great Deception'.

asquith said...

Usual nonsense from Newmania.

Apart from the fact that Orwell retained a belief in democratic socialism all his life (his opposition to totalitarianism was rooted in the same basic decency that made him left-wing), it isn't necessary for me to share all his views to appreciate his work. I don't agree with every word he wrote in his essays, but I can still read them and benefit from them. Besides, I agree with more than half of his statements.

What I appreciate is his fearlessness in speaking truth to power and his refusal to be bound by any orthodoxy. Something which may seem strange to you.

I might add that Dominic Sandbrook's Never Had It So Good and White Heat are excellent: I await the third installment in the series.

Anonymous said...

No Atlas Shrugged? No Conscience of a Conservative?

Anonymous said...

Actually this is scary list for a wannabe politican as it is almost all airhead gossip, facile and vacous divel by or about politicans.

Where’s the real stuff, the political and economic philosphy like say, Rothbard, Popper, Hayek, Friedman, Nozick, or Berlin.

Anonymous said...

From Third World to First
Lee Kuan Yew

Anonymous said...

Newmania said...
"Orwell ended up a Conservative in all but name."

That would be news to Orwell. Where is your evidence?

Anonymous said...

What about "Reasons To Be Cheerful" by Mark Steele?

Carl Eve

Newmania said...

Thats right Asquith thats why the evil 'party' of 1984 is EngConservative /....oh hang on its Engsoc isn`t it as in Englishsocialism .. Back of the net methinks
As for orthodoxy , as a centre left parroter of BBC approved progressive production line you could hardly be more conformist.There is nothing you san say I do not see coming which ought to worry you.

I roll my own.

Oscar Miller said...

Entertaining list Iain - so many books I haven't read. BTW - the BBC adaptation of Line of Beauty was broadcast about two years ago. You should update your blurb on that one.

James Higham said...

You missed The Smoking Gun, by Richard Nixon.

asquith said...

Newmania, I'm afraid I don't conform to your strawman image. I have, for example, always been firmly opposed to Islamism, unlike the appeasing caricature the right likes to draw. I am economically liberal, not some left-of-Labour socialist as some would imagine. I have zero tolerance for the Ken Livingstones and George Galloways of this world.

I grew up surrounded by media of the Daily Hate Mail/Scum variety: I never heard one liberal sentiment expressed until my time at university. During those years, I developed liberal views and made a conscious attempt to seek out liberal media. Before that, I (like our mutual friend L. Hanley) had never even heard of the Guardian, New Statesman and so on and existed in the same illiberal world as the majority.

There are many right-wingers I respect and often agree with: Peter Hitchen, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, David Davis (for his civil libertarianism), John Redwood, Bruce Anderson. But, despite having been exposed to right-wing views and only right-wing views as a child, I've developed my own view on life.

asquith said...

PS- Speaking of books, anyone who wants to be a broader thinker (and any politician should aspire to this) should consult the works of Aldous Huxley: his essays as well as his novels. He knew what it was all about.

Peter Hitchens is an excellent writer, and I agree with him surprisingly often. His The Abolition Of Liberty is superb. I agree with him on gun rights: he has convinced me that Britons should be allowed to carry arms, as our counterparts in America are.

Anonymous said...

A Different Drummer: Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan by Michael Deaver. Remarkable how many of the incidents mentioned appeared in the West Wing series. And Deaver himself fell from grace, rather like the fictional Toby Ziegler.

For a political novel, how about Bilton by former New Statesman columnist Andrew Martin? It includes a wonderful parody of John Major's still cringe-making 'old maids cycling to evensong' speech.

Newmania said...

Why Is Orwell A Conservative

Well to me its as obvious as the Conservatism of Shakespeare or Jane Austen and in the weave of the whole tapestry but off the top of my head ..Remember George Orwell is the name that he adopts, as a writer. He chooses the name of the patron saint of England, and a river in East Anglia. This and his articles on Cricket and Picture Postcards , Dickens and Kipling for example show a great love for Englishness to the grain in its wood . He sets its patterns which he sees as a bulwark against Fascism . Clearly he was brilliant ( and remarkably early ) at recognising early the hell on Earth of Stalin’s Russia and while you might say that this was an opposition to totalitarianism equally alive to English Empirical excess .The question must be what can we impute or reverse engineers from this potions that , in themselves are somewhat irrelevant now we confront the lies and creeping control of Brown and his lick spittle Liberal acolytes .

He is Liberal only in the sense that we are all Liberals we approve of freedom in some general way but Liberals are infected with collectivism worship change doctrine and intellectuals . Orwell’s work is pessimistic about political change which grows as gets older and values of the human , the organic the spontaneous loyalties that are the core of Conservatism. The effort of big Brother and its “intellectuals “ is precisely to show the value of such loyalties above the political theorising that any power worshipper deludes himself with . This is why hope lies with the prole who are alone immune from the heft of the elite . The Liberals clearly are the subject of his contempt the left , obviously do who does it leave ? Conservatives

That ‘heft ‘ is progressivism today which I am convinced Orwell would deplore as I do . Perhaps like Nick Coen he might never ‘call’ himself a Conservative but the author is deas...y`know. His work is Conservative in its deepest sense . He defends PG Woodhouse , Rudyard Kipling , he loved Kiplings against those who are perpetually "making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep” He is an intellectual working his way through the Marxist Jungle of error that lay in the path of everyone at that time today he would have confronted Brown and his side kick Liberals with all of us who value humanity above fashion and freedom above convenience and the arrogant power worship of elitist politicians who wouod tell you how to bring up your own child .

So there

Anonymous said...

Newmania said...

"So there"

So you don't know.

Anonymous said...

Newmania said...
"Why Is Orwell A Conservative.
...Remember George Orwell is the name that he adopts, as a writer. He chooses the name of the patron saint of England, and a river in East Anglia. "

Eric Blair didn't choose the pen name George Orwell himself. It was chosen by his agent and his publisher jointly.

The Gold Tooth said...

A splendid list which contains many of my favorites, but I think you should have made room for John Podhoretz's Hell of a Ride: Backstage at the White House Follies 1989-1993, his hugely funny memoir of his days as a junior speechwriter for Bush 41. An Amazon reviewer gets it exactly right: "This is such a great book, full of the rage that only comes from betrayal. The surprise is the humor; how many political books are laugh out loud funny?"

asquith said...

I understand what you're trying to say, Newmania. Orwell did indeed hold small-c conservative views, but then so did Attlee, in a sense, and you'd be surprised by how conservative I am on a number of issues. It's certainly questionable whether Thatcher and her acolytes (the Conservative Party) are moral and cultural conservatives in an Orwellian sense.

The mistake you made was to infer that Ingsoc is a logical outcome of socialism. It is a perversion and a mockery of socialism, but Orwell obviously didn't think socialism must end up there, because he carried on being a socialist and supporter of Attlee.

Yes, Orwell, like Nick Cohen, Johann Hari and so on deplored the individual failings of leftists. But that doesn't mean anything in terms of his own views. Geoffrey Wheatcroft berates Tories, but I've yet to meet the person who calls him left-wing on that basis.

I agree that left-liberals have tolerated Islamism and they should never have done so. But I am not, personally, to blame for that.

I agree that Orwell would have excoriated Brown for his authoritarinism. But then, I excoriate Brown for his authoritarianism. While what you say is true, it doesn't actually prove anything.

That was a strong post from you, and I don't want to sound sneering and negative, but I don't thik you've really got it.

You could do a lot worse than Eric Hobsbawm if you like history.

Anonymous said...

Orwell was not a conservative. I think some would profit by reading Maurice Cowling's article in the 22 November, 1987 edition of The Sunday Telegraph; ‘The Nasty Mind of George Orwell’.

Newmania said...

Well I was quoting Christopher Hitchens Anon another left credentialed Conservative ( a ploy you can read in any edition of the Daily Telegraph) who might not like the name perhaps you will allow that he played a role in his own sons name which you can look up yourself .In 1949, as you may know ,George Orwell, supplied a list of 38 names of intellectuals he thought were dangerous “crypto-communists and fellow-travellers” to British intelligence. Even Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s most left-wing novel, is as much about left betrayal as a celebration of the working class in power. I think we can fairly say he was alive to the inherent authoritarian nature of socialism as we see in the character of Gordon brown and even more so the actually anti democratic Ken Livingstone fulsome in his praise of Cuba …a country you cannot leave .

I don’t say he was against ‘social justice’ , who is ? The attack on the English , however , and the ethnic loathing of English Kulak class would have been abhorrent to him. Its no good saying his best known works were attacks on totalitarianism they were satires on English socialism as he makes quite explicit .
I suspect he would have supported the post war consensus that built new houses and the welfare state , Conservatives more successfully than Labour administrations , supported Conservative return of freedoms after the war ,and loathed the corrupt lying administration of Wilson. We cannot know but for every support of his professed “Social democracy” (far right in the Labour movement then), I can find ten Conservatively inclined sentences in his writing

I think what the left really cannot stand about Orwell is that as he drifts right it is almost as if the act of thinking itself , of writing and imagining makes you more Conservative .

Brown and traitor fellow traveller Liberals now steer England towards a future as airstrip one of the EU bureaucratic fascist super-state.They plot to remove our democracy , to number and tag us, birth to death, end the pub , end the church , end the right of the parent to choose how to bring up his child , end all connection to past memories and re write it as a dark time before year zero of Brown`s Reich.
I feel the spirit of Orwell at my side in opposing these slimy plausible haters of humanity and its expression in the bright fresh spring of English Conservatism

So Double-plus-good there

Anonymous said...

*Shudder*...Johann Hari deplores pretty much everything and everyone doesn't he? Still, I'm sure he would be delighted to see himself being mentioned in the same sentence as Orwell.

This post reminds me, I must get around to reading 'The Path to Power'... it's been sitting on my bookshelf for about 3 years. The Gyles Brandreth book is one I've been wanting to read, but alas it doesn't seem to crop up on eBay very often.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't class jane Austen as a conservative so much as an observer of a particular era's conservative class - for example she is extremely contemptuous of Lady Catherine DeBurgh.

Shakespeare was a conservative whose almost every play is about the danger inherent in overthrowing the established king or order, even when they deserve it.

A point made by Asimov in a review of 1984 was that Orwell supports the use of a nib pen as against an "ink pencil" (ballpoint) as the former is "less scratchy". In fact the opposite is true. I think beneath his socialism he was an old fashioned relatively upper class conservative (small c) & would nowdays be a literate Zac Goldsmith or George Moonbat.

asquith said...

Look, you've just said the same things, and you're wrong again.

Firstly, it's false to state that the Lib Dems support New Labour's authoritarianism, and I don't know what made you imagine otherwise. We were fully against Iraq, we are against ID cards and the surveillance state, and so on and so forth. Whereas many Tories were for it (Tim Montgmoerie, Michael Howard, and the rest of that repulsive crowd) and others were against it because they thought it was unpopular or that they should oppose whatever Labour did, not out of any genuine principle. So if anyone is colluding with the govt. it's you.

I agree that the fellow travellers of Orwell's day (whom he loathed) are the spiritual ancestors of the George Gallloways and Ken Livingstones of today (whom I loathe). But that didn't change his socialist convictions.

And there's no need to speculate on whether he supported the post-war welfare state, because he did: he stated in reference to 1984 that "My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter)."

So he didn't think there was anything "inherently" bad in socialism, then. As for his supplying of the names of "suspected" communists, it certainly wasn't his finest hour, and it's generally seen as one of his (few) mistakes. But the general principle of anti-communism, rooted in a love of liberty, is not right-wing.

Do you see me accusing you of having a sympathy with the Tory appeasers of Hitler? No, because I take you on your own terms without resorting to such dishonesty. Kindly have the same respect for me and acknowledge that I've never supported any authoritarian regime, and I'm against anyone who does.

As a reader of Lynsey Hanley, you should know better than to refer to a postwar "consensus". The 1951-64 government believed in cynically knocking out as much as it could without reference to quality. The problems of the one-class sink estates of today can be laid at the doors of Macmillan and Thatcher (the latter because of the illiberal restrictions she imposed on councils building new houses*).

Try to imagine what Orwell would have said in response to McCarthyism, Vietnam and neoconservatism. Do you seriously imagine he'd have taken a "right-wing" stance on the issues? As I said, it isn't the right's place to hijack a radical author, because he can't be boxed in such a way.

*And please don't infer from this that I'm criticising the principle of the Right To Buy, I'm just saying that those particular strings should never have been attatched.

asquith said...

Additionally, it's questionable whether Orwell was a small-c conservative. He certainly didn't enjoy his time at Eton or serving the British Empire. I defy anyone to call Burmese Days or Such, Such Were The Joys right-wing.

I think I'll re-read my Orwell and Huxley. I'm currently working on Roy Jenkins, but I only get one book a week (don't really want to spend money on more), so I'll have time for my other business.


Anonymous said...

Came to this one a bit late.

It's a good start Iain, but Clark should probably be higher, as long as readability is a criterion, and I agree with others that the absence of Oborne is odd. Oborne on Campbell is as good as, if not better than, Campbell on Campbell. Whatever you think of Paxman, either I read the post too fast or the ommission of "The Political Animal" is a shocker. Likewise "Friends in High Places."

I'm sure Jo-Anne Nadler is a lovely person but her book is a bit dull, duller by far than its conterpart "Things Can Only Get Better", which is actually funny. If you're going to have American politics, then "Better Than Sex" is a masterpiece, and lowbrow he may sometimes be but O'Rourke knocks many of those books into a cocked hat in terms of sheer visceral enjoyment.

Personally I'd put in a bid for one of Nicholas Jones' many (and there are far too many) books on spin. Obsessed he may be, repeat himself he frequently does, but something like Soundbites and Spindoctors is a pretty good read and is a good journo's view of political comms.

that's my tuppence-ha'penny anyway. Really only intended to be further suggestions for anyone who wants some further reading...

Newmania said...

You were pro Saddam ,flaky on defence and you gave the country away against the express wishes of the people over Lisbon .You get no points for lying , appeasing Islam or for assisting genocidal dictators . ID cards are the bone thrown to the local dreamers .Easy for you as you do not care much about defence and will not be in power . For Conservatives it’s a harder choice made decisively . Liberal Councils are enthusiastic about surveillance and busy bodying interference generally …smoking hunting green washed prescription of travel and energy use it never stops most of all they are tax and spend addicts whatever they pretend . ID cards will be called biometric passports or something and with the change of name and the offer of a Cabinet post traitor Clog find he does not have to go to prison after all. …( Bet ? .I `ll have some of that sweet action. ) . The Liberals have deals to do…have you seen the front page of today’s Guardian vote rigging !!. What next a state of emergency? I must remind you as well that Liberals Policies are not policies they are adverts and can be floated in any direction.

Orwell like most recovering lefties retained some umbilical attachment just as atheists get married in church ,.. I am probably more used to you to ignoring what the author thought he meant and focusing on what he said . See all literary criticism since about 1970/Structuralism but in any case Orwell’s formal support for the Labour Party is well known at that time and irrelevant
The Marxist and revolutionary aspects of the British left is not like the fascists and Conservatives. Conservatives did not have cause to drop Mein Kampf at a climactic conference and call themselves New Conservatives ! Collectivism is necessarily coercive .Perhaps sometimes justified but nonetheless always coercive. You see this I trust and you will note the howls of anguish over reforming the NHS during the recent leadership campaign. Labour-lite and almost certainly involved in negotiations with Brown now as he seeks to rig the next elections .

I was actually quoting a reference by that silly ‘woman’ to the post war consensus which I think almost everyone agrees existed in some sense ,./ Conservatives out built Labour because Labour had in mind to nationalise the state and build worker palaces sacrificing people to doctrine as usual. Council housing now operates as an incentive to neediness , illegitimacy fecklessness educational failure crime and idleness whatever good it may also do. In Islington , where I lived and campaigned for the leaseholders against Livingstone’s housing gangs 70% of those in Council housing were also on benefits. What stopped the ludicrous Communist dream was that people could afford to leave and voted with their feet not to be herded by the state into classless battery chicken living machines. Simple as that.

If there is one quality I detect in Orwell above all it is a ruthless honesty of purpose literary style and thinking even when his conclusions are unpleasant. What he would have made of a load of fashion conscious pretty politics revolving around a collective individualistic local pan European statist anti state animal rights green faddy posturing I need hardly say .We have recently seen the utter lack of integrity displayed by the Liberal party and we are about to see it again on Constitutional reform . They have already done a deal with Brown and as one or two Liberals have recently said what they stand for , other than power , is almost impenetrable except to them….

asquith said...

Well, that was extremely lengthly. Just a few things. I am not the Lib Dem party, and they may do things with which I disagree. If they ever did cosy up to Brown (or Cameron), I'd disagree. I think they are the most liberal party and the closest to my views, I don't think they are the holy grail. Two-party politics has been a disaster for this country. If you really can't see beyond socialist or conservative, it just proves the poverty of your outlook.

No one has ever been "pro-Saddam". Everyone worth taking remotely seriously despises his regime and all those like it. (Don't quote people like Galloway at me: the Lib Dem opposition to the war was different to the SWP/Respect opposition,. and for that matter there was a right-wing opposition too). The opponents said that invading Iraq would have unintended consequences, and wouldn't be a matter of just deposing Saddam and then having a tea party.

I don't even say invading Iraq was bad in itself, I just say we should have had no part in it, just like we had no part in Vietnam. Blair's slavishness to America and the Tories' acceptance of this did no one any favours.

Given that I have no affiliation to Labour, your attacks on them are irrelevant to me. I agree that Clause 4 was misguided, I'm just taking on your claim that the broader left was composed of fellow travellers. Hence my reference to appeasement.

I've stated that I agree with the Right To Buy, and I think home ownership should be encouraged. But for some people, it isn't a realistic prospect. If electors vote for a council that wants to build more council housing, the council should be free to do so, not bound by the restrictions which Thatcher illiberally imposed (remember that?) Many of those on benefits are in privately rented houses, and cost the government far more than they would if they were council tenants. That is a fact.

"If there is one quality I detect in Orwell above all it is a ruthless honesty of purpose literary style and thinking even when his conclusions are unpleasant."

I agree entirely. I envisage him as a sort of left-wing Peter Hitchens*, standing aside from (and above) the fray. One can imagine him berating "useless Labour" in just the same way. What you're trying to say is that he was a non-partisan, small c, cultural and moral conservative. Which doesn't mean a supporter of Cameron and co.

*I have a great deal of respect for him.

scott redding said...

I'm surprised by the lack of fiction. It's almost all biographies/diaries. I mean, people read "Animal Farm" or "The Grapes of Wrath" or "The Handmaid's Tale" and they come away politicised in various ways.

asquith said...

Yes, I think there should be a "hinterland" of books which are not directly political in any obvious way but which set people thinking about life in general. One thinks of Aldous Huxley's novels and essays.

Anonymous said...

"The Political Brain" by Drew Westen is superb as well as "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore.

Anonymous said...

Wot, no William Hague? Shame on you!

Laban said...

A lot of people have picked up on the omissions. Hitchens P and C, Nick Cohen, Oborne, Orwell, Huxley (we're far closer to BNY than 1984 at present).

Churchill's History of the Second World War - Volume 1 is pretty much all politics, P.J. O'Rourke - Eat The Rich is good, Melanie Phillips' All Must Have Prizes and The Ascent of Woman.

The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, pretty much anything by Thomas Sowell.

Newmania said...

One thinks of Aldous Huxley's novels and essays.

Another Conservative :)

asquith said...

Interesting statement, Newmania. What led you to the conclusion that Huxley was a Conservative? I'n not attacking you or necessarily disagreeing, I just want to know.

Maybe you're reading some kind of subtext, but from his work I see him as a kind of old-school liberal, if he was anything. I admire his awareness of psychology and the physical sciences, and that joyous combination of natural genius and a first-class education. The factual essays are certainly worth a read, the same as Orwell.

There should be a thread about music now ;)

Anonymous said...

Newmania said...

One thinks of Aldous Huxley's novels and essays.

Another Conservative :)

Alright, I'll bite. I'm not sure you can call the man who wrote Crome Yellow a 'conservative'. Nor the man who advocated the use of pschedelics for 'expanding the mind.'* An anti-socialist, yes, I reckon so. A man who saw the inherent dangers of 'progressive' politics? Definitely. And a fantastic writer that I revisit less frequently than I should. But can't agree on that one.

Or are you going to suggest that the capitalisation of the 'c' was important? :)

* you know he dropped acid on his deathbed? That takes...dedication.

asquith said...

Maybe he was a "libertarian".

asquith said...

I have the completed works of Richard Dawkins. My humble opinion is that The God Delusion is probably his weakest to date. I prefer such books as Unweaving The Rainbow and River Out Of Eden, which expound a naturalistic world view and leave the atheism and anti-clericalism understated. They work as better consciousness-raisers than an outright polemic.

Additionally, when he expresses his views on current events, he is impeccably liberal.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you put Benn's diaries above Alan Clark's, I think Clark's are overrated to be honest (I wasn't surprised that it topped GQ's list, and isn't that magazine quite left-wing? It's choices were quite odd).

Norman Tebbit's autobiography would be in my list of the top 75 political books, as would Richard Cockett's Thinking the Unthinkable which is essential for anyone wanting to know the history of classical liberal ideology in Britain.

wayne_darrion_rooney said...

Interesting selection...

You seem to have inlcluded books that are very modern and are mainly focused on the American and British political scene. I would have expected to see the classic greats like The Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels) , The Art of War (Sun Tzu) and Prisoner of the State (Zhao Ziyang)