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.