Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Teddington Libraries and Political Diaries.

With the new year approaching time is running out for summer reading. Soon enough our inboxes will begin filling up with reports, committee papers, minutes and journal articles. This year with so much else going on the time for tucking up with a good book has been limited, but the last few days and the week ahead seem open enough to allow page turning time.

I had an hour or so in ever so friendly Teddington library, which has plenty of armchairs and a small walled garden out the back. Recently I've taken more effort to use the local libraries. They're a brilliant resource and are inevitably under threat as the council tries to make savings. This in turn has meant that I've bought less books this year than ever before. It's not a bad discipline to get out of the house to read the papers and to browse the shelves for interesting titles, and if the effort helps the footfall and therefore the life of the libraries, everybody wins.

In the end I picked up former MP Michael Spicer's diaries, which have just come out.

Spicer was first elected to parliament in 1974, but seems to have spent most of his first five years avoiding the house and building up his business interests. He failed to back Margaret Thatcher in her successful bid for the Tory Party leadership, but slowly, mostly working alongside Cecil Parkinson, began to climb the greasy poll, once she'd led her party to victory in 1979. As a Euro-sceptic he spent much of the early nineties happily undermining John Major's leadership, before finally becoming the chair of the 1922 committee. I disagree with almost everything he says, whilst revelling in the delightful way he spends thirty years slipping from one conspiracy to conspiracy about the corridors of power.

I do find political diaries endlessly fascinating. Chris Mullen, Gyles Brandreth and Alan Clark have all, in slightly different ways given us fascinating, gossipy insights into the Blair, Major and Thatcher administrations respectively and Spicer's journals seem a worthy addition to the genre.

What makes these works so interesting is that they're not written by those directly in power, who, even in hindsight, are compelled to fight hard to control the historical narrative and their own personal reputation, but instead they present the perspective of backbenchers, thrilled to be bit players, present at key moments, occasionally adding breathe to the sails, but for the most part standing unnoticed in the backwaters.

In this respect they follow in the noble Pepysian tradition, majoring in voyeurism, whilst minoring in personal ambition. It's the perfect balance for a diarist. Without the former they couldn't pull us readers in, but without the latter they wouldn't be in position from which to record in the first place.

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