BEDSIDE TABLE: NUMBER 10 DRAMA

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Andrew Miller, The Economist's Bagehot columnist, picks his favourite books about British politics ...

From THE ECONOMIST online

Andrew Miller is The Economist's British political editor and Bagehot columnist. He is the author of two books: “The Earl of Petticoat Lane”, a family memoir about Jewish immigration, love, friendship, the blitz and the underwear industry; and “Snowdrops”, a novel set in Moscow over the course of a Russian winter, to be published in 2011 by Atlantic in Britain, Doubleday in America, Harper Collins in Canada and more than a dozen other countries.

There is something tragic about Gordon Brown. Smart yet uncharismatic, he waited a long time to become prime minister only to be tossed out at the first opportunity. What book would you recommend that captures his place in British politics?

“Macbeth”: Mr Brown may lack some of Macbeth's valour, but like his fellow Scot he was afflicted by a corrosive sense of entitlement, which led him into regicidal plotting, itself followed by rebellion and retribution. (Mr Brown's wife is much nicer, though.) Alternatively, “The End of the Party”, Andrew Rawnsley's account of the long, debilitating Brown-Blair feud and Mr Brown's ill-starred premiership (reviewed by The Economist here).

Despite the election's excitement, this paper has noted the absence of big new books marking profound changes in the intellectual climate. Yet clearly public opinion has changed since Tony Blair's “New” Labour party was first voted into office in 1997. Can you recommend a book that maps this shift?

The Afghanistan war; the Iraq war; the financial crisis: much has happened in the world, and in Britain, since 1997. Many of those developments—the internet, cheap air flights, the continued fracturing of the nuclear family, for example—have not principally been the doing of politicians. So I would be inclined to look beyond books about politics for an account of how the country has changed.

Having said that, I suggest “The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries”, by Tony Blair's long-term spin doctor (reviewed in a Bagehot column here). It gives an insider's view of most of the big political and diplomatic events of the New Labour era—and, inadvertently perhaps, offers some insights into why the country became so disillusioned with the party.

What single book on British politics would you recommend to someone outside of Britain?

The Prime Ministers: The Office and Its Holders since 1945”, by Peter Hennessy, the great historian of Whitehall. It's a lovely tour of post-war British political history and the evolution of the prime minister's office during that time. Or perhaps “The English Constitution” by Walter Bagehot, a former editor-in-chief of The Economist and the column's namesake. A lot has changed in Britain since it was first published in 1867, such as the advent of universal suffrage and the development of modern political parties. But a lot hasn't (discussed further here).

What's next on your reading list?

I've recently read “Molotov's Magic Lantern”, a lyrical meditation on Russia and literature by Rachel Polonsky (reviewed by The Economist here), and “Peace”, a brilliant short novel by Richard Bausch. I'm currently wrestling with Martin Amis's “The Pregnant Widow” (reviewed by The Economist here). Next is “Tony and Susan”, a recently re-published novel by Austin Wright, a little-known American author. It looks interesting.

 

Picture credit: bixentro (via Flickr)