Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Top Ten Political Diaries

On Sunday night Gyles Brandreth starts a new mini-series on the art of writing political diaries. You can hear it at the fag-end of the Westminster Hour at 9.45pm. So I thought I'd do a top ten of my favourite political diaries. I'm not sure what this means but I do detect a trend that if you're on the left, youre more likely to write a political diary than if you're on the right. In my top ten there are great exceptions to that, but having gone through my entire book collection I do think it's a truism. The other thing I have noticed in compiling this list is that seven of the ten authors are either friends of mine or known to me. Perhaps I should start keeping a (private!) diary after all! Anyway, here goes...

1. 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! Buy it in hardback HERE. The paperback is now out of print.

2. 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 thatn 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. Who'd ever have thought a died in the wool Thatcherite like me would become a friend of Tony! Buy the abridged single volume in paperback HERE.

3. 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. Buy the latest volume HERE.

4. Jeffrey Archer - Prison Diary
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. Buy the latest volume HERE.

5. Piers Morgan - The Insider
One of the best books I have read in the last six months, 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. Buy it HERE.

6. 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.

7. 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 a truly pathetic individual, but overall you get the impression of a man who, despite some deep seated insecurities, is fundamentally a good man. Pity he always came across as so santimonious.

8. 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 diaires 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. Buy it HERE.

9. 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. Possibly to be dipped into rather than read in full.

10. 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.

19 comments:

Bob Piper said...

Excellent choice at No.2. Also the Crossman Diaries - not so much an insight into Government as an insight into the sheer overwhelming power of the Civil Service. For all the talk by Blair, Cameron and Campbell about 'modernisation', they will all leave the power of the senior civil service untouched. The one ring that rules them all.

Iain Dale said...

We have found some common ground Bob. Hurrah!

Bob Piper said...

Iain, sorry to spoil this new found relationship, but having just unlocked the Piper Foundation Library, clambered up the stepladder to the Political Biography section, and checked the 'B' row... I knew I was right! There are 7 volumes of Benn Diaries. This inability to count even the smallest amounts was the downfall of Norman Lamont and my own dear father, the late Corporal Piper of the Grenadier Guards (sadly deceased - the father that is, although the Guards have also took a turn for the worse over the last 15 years) before the alzheimers got him. Perhaps you should get a check up... or someone has pilfered one of your volumes.

Iain Dale said...

Bob, I shall take your word for it and change it immediately!

Iain Dale said...

Bob, and as a special reward for good behaviour I have upgraded your link on my site to the Blogs I read every day category. No doubt you will reward me in the style of David Mills!

Bob Piper said...

My cup overfloweth. Unfortunately, I'm clean out of euros, but I wouldn't have thought a chap like you would want them anyway.

Michael said...

Iain, most of your selection are pretty modern. If you want to go back a few years here are my suggestions:

i) Political Diaries of C P Scott 1911-1928 (especially good for Lloyd George and co)
ii) Austen Chamberlain Diary/Letters 1916-1937. A bit hard to get hold of, but good for the inter-war Conservative Party.
iii) Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965, by Lord Moran. Essential reading for anyone interested in the greatest Englishman.

Ed said...

I must say the Latham Diaries are a sumpremely entertaining read. You'll understand why the Liberals have increased their majority twice, you'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll develop a divine hate for the Australian Labor Party and Australian Trade Unions.

Paul Linford said...

I would agree with your assessment of Piers Morgan's book but I'm not sure it exactly qualifies as a political diary! Most of it is about Princess Diana and Jeremy Clarkson, while the best story in it is nothing to do with politics at all - the account of Marco Pierre White's 40th birthday party at which Bernard Manning insults Madonna.

bebopper said...

Have you forgotten Chips Channon and that other geyser who was married to a lesbian poet?

bebopper said...

Excuse me if I duplicate this post, but I wanted to add Chips Channon and Harold Nicholson to your splendid list.

Iain Dale said...

I just wanted to make clear that I have only invcluded books I have actually read. I've got Duff Cooper, Harold Nicholson, Chips Channon et all on my 'pending' list!

Tom Davis said...

75 quid for Castle's diaries? Good god, man!

They are excellent, but I only paid 12 for both volumes.

Anonymous said...

What, no C.C.F Greville ? The diaries of the Clerk of the Privy Council under George IV and Queen Victoria are the fons et origo of the entire genre.

I'm off back to Guido's blog. (It has the same news as yours, only half an hour later).

SERO

Anonymous said...

A diary of the Salisbury Parliament 1886-1892.

Rob Skinner said...

Iain
Your choices brought back memories.
Gyles Brandreth's diary is a classic. He brilliantly evokes the humdrum life of a backbench MP and the anachronistic nonsense of Westminster life. But for comedy value, I loved his small talk with the Queen.
By contrast, Paddy Ashdown's diaries confirm Tony Blair as dreamer. The accounts of endless discussions about a new Lib-Lab pact offer a rare insight into Blair's court in the days when he wielded enormous authority. Yet the episode shows Blair never really knew what to do with the huge opportunity that 1997 gave him.

Anonymous said...

from Mike Snyder:

Without doubt #1 should be diaries of HAROLD NICHOLSON. Superb writer but a rotten politician; his election in 1935 as a National Labour candidate must be one of the proofs of the existence of God, because this historical fluke put him on the green benches just for the purpose of recording some of the most memorable scenes in all British history.

#2 should be diaries of RICHARD CROSSMAN, for two reasons: first, his diaries established the principle that former ministers had the right to publish their diaries after leaving the cabinet; and second, because they are the true foundation for YES MINISTER - indeed the first episode was virtually lifted from Crossman.

Other notable political diaries not mentioned above include:
- Parliamentary Diary of Robert Bowyer, 1606-1607; major historical source for period
- Greville Memoirs (actually diary) (1821-60); chatty & catty by a true insider
- The Gladstone Diaries (1826-96) by preeminent 19th century British statesman (take that, Dizzy!) consisting of 14 volumes – and you thought The Crossman Diaries were a tad longwinded!
- Queen Victoria in her Letters and Journals, ed. Christopher Hibbert (journals = 1834-1901);
- Jail Journal, or Five Years in British Prisons by John Mitchel (1840-53); champion of Irish freedom who supported the Confederacy during US Civil War, bit of a double standard!
- Diaries of Beatrice Webb (1873-1943); who knew co-founder of Fabian Socialism and JOE CHAMBERLAIN had a thing going on????
- Inside Asquith's Cabinet: From the Diaries of Charles Hobhouse (1893-1915); not a page turner but still worth perusal
- The Black Diaries of Roger Casement (diaries= 1903, 1910); describes Casement’s strenuous efforts to expose human exploitation in Africa & South America, along with his homosexual adventures with attractive locals; used by HM Govt to fix the noose around the neck of this British traitor/Irish patriot
- The Reith Diaries (1911-71) by Lord Reith, granddaddy of the BBC, though he’d have you horsewhipped if you’d dared to call him “granddaddy” to his face
- Lloyd George: A Diary by Francis Stevenson (1914-36) by LLG’s confidential secretary, mistress and second wife (that ought to get your interest!)
-Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: His Life & Diaries; don't have start date but came to abrupt halt in 1922 when he was assassinated, perhaps by order of Michael Collins (read diaries & you'll see why)
- Lady Cynthia Asquith Diaries 1915-18; light on politics but long on atmosphere
- The Insurrection in Dublin, An Eyewitness Account of the Easter Rising, 1916 (a journal); first-hand and first-rate
- Whitehall Diary of Tom Jones (1916-1930), plus Diary with Letters 1931-50; Jones was "Man of 1,000 Secrets"; note that Lloyd George’s mistress/2nd wife Francis Stevenson also kept a diary
- Diaries of Count Henry Kessler 1917-38; bird's eye view of Weimar Republic & rise of Hitler by witty, liberal aristo
- Secret Diary of Harold Ickes (1933-51) by FDR's Secretary of the Interior (parks, conservation, territories) and father of Bill & Hilary Clinton politico Harold Ickes; acerbic & informative, not to be missed!
- Diary of Georgi Dimitrov 1933-1949; Nazi's tried to pin the Reichstag Fire on this leading light of the Comintern & Bulgarian Communism
- Berlin Diary by William Shirer 1934-41; by American journalist who wrote blockbuster Rise of the Third Reich
- Ciano's Diary by Count Ciano, son-in-law of Mussolini who had him executed – mama mia!
- Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan 1938-1945; observations of Foreign Office permanent undersecretary, an insider’s insider
- The Fringe of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955 by John Colville, Winston Churchill's dogsbody through WWII and after, started out as Neville Chamberlain’s funky but switched allegiance with the speed of light
- Diaries of Lord Moran (1940-60) by Winston Churchill’s doctor; interesting, indiscrete and incredibly pompous (even by Brit standards) as his Lordship believed himself a figure of (at least) equal importance to Churchill
- The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41; chilling and enthralling
- War Diaries 1939-1945 of Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke; did his best to keep Winston Churchill from getting too carried away
- The Forrestal Diaries (late 40s to 1951); US Navy Secretary, was present at the creation of the US Department of Defense, then committed suicide (though rightwing nuts believe FDR conspired beyond the grave to bump him off) – is there a message here?
- Drew Pearson Diaries 1949-1959; US journalist noted for his investigative reporting on the foibles of the good, the bad & the ugly
- Diary of Che Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries & Bolivian Diaries (1953-67); evolution of a revolutionary icon, but do NOT read Woody Allen’s parody first!
- Ambassador’s Journal by John Kenneth Galbraith (1961-63); by cutting-edge economist who was US ambassador to India under JFK; didn’t much care for striped pants set at Foggy Bottom
- Senate Diary (1972-75) by George Aiken, crusty Vermonter who gave LBJ best advice he ever got: “Declare victory and get out of Vietnam”; Texans never seem to get it!
- Diary of a Election: with Margaret Thatcher on the Campaign Trail, a Personal Account by Carol Thatcher (1983) – shocked that Iain didn’t have THIS on one his list; if he thinks Woody Wyatt was “besotted” check out this one – though it is clear that Carol is a MUCH nicer & smarter person than her criminally stupid sibling
- Diaries of Mario Cuomo: the Campaign for Governor (1983); incredibly turgid & more pompous than even a Tory could manage
- The Campaign (hardcover) or Eyes of City Hall (paperback) by Evan Mandery; very well-written & insightful journal of his experiences on Ruth Messinger’s doomed campaign against Rudy Giuliani in the 1997 NYC mayoral race; any politico who picks this one up won’t put it down!

Hey Iain, does all this bumpf earn me a discount coupon??? Never hurts to ask!

Anonymous said...
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Neuromancer said...

Good list

but you need to hyperlink those thumbnails to the site to buy them BTW

And if your serious WTF with that blogger shit i keep trying to click on post titles and its not working you hav egot permalinks setup have you?