Books: The diary of a nobody; Lucky George: Memoirs of an Anti-Politician by George Walden Allen Lane pounds 17.99

Gerald Kaufman wonders why a self-confessed 'marginal sort of MP' has written such a bulky volume of reminiscenses

Few public figures are worth a 400-page volume of memoirs. Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins, who wrote two of the best politicians' autobiographies of recent years, both over wrote; and these were men reminiscing in the fullness of their years who had filled those years with major achievements.

The whole point of George Walden's book, insofar as it has any point, is that his achievements as a politician were next-to-nil. He served in the House of Commons for no more than 14 years, giving up a safe seat voluntarily, and readily describes himself as "a marginal sort of MP". He held junior office at the Department of Education for a short time (again resigning of his own free will) and does not claim to have been more than a "mini-minister". Before entering Parliament, he was a Foreign Office functionary for 20 years, rising no higher than the dogsbody role of principal private secretary to two Foreign Secretaries (David Owen and Lord Carrington); though he does speculate (or fantasise) about the prospect of being appointed ambassador to some middle- ranking sort of country.

So why has Walden produced this bulky volume of reminiscences? Partly, I suppose, to demonstrate about himself that he, like other Britons he names, is "pretty good at writing"; and, indeed, he is certainly capable of penning many a nifty phrase. He uses this talent, in his opening chapters, to describe ruefully a series of premarital love affairs across the globe (for his duties took him to locations as far-flung and exotic as Russia and China).

Walden seems to have been that lucky kind of young man who attracted the erotic attention not only of his own coevals but of those legendary experienced and voracious older women so essential to a tyro's sexual coming-of-age. These adventures are recounted - a mite smugly, perhaps - in a series of what amount to short stories, each ending with a wry twist in the manner of de Maupassant.

It is curious, however, that while Walden is relentlessly, sometimes unsparingly, frank in providing every last little carnal detail about the effect of a bout of crabs on his "genital region", he is coy about disclosing financial information. Though he crows at length about the large sum of money he made out of reselling a picture he picked up in a junk shop, he never reveals exactly how much he made.

Walden realises, rightly, that there is a limit to readers' interest in other peoples' sex-lives, however picaresque. So he gets on to the real meat of any politician's memoirs: paying off old scores against other politicians: it is true that there are a few - very few - politicians whom Walden seems to have admired and/or respected.

Pre-eminent among these was Carrington (the kind of languid toff that Walden might have liked to be himself), together with - at any rate to a certain extent - Douglas Hurd, whom he categorises as "born to govern". In any case, when in a burst of generosity he lists a collection of MPs he holds in high regard, he shows himself inadequately informed about them. In lauding "backbenchers few have heard of", he gets names of these unsung paragons wrong. It is, for example, Bob, not Bill, Sheldon.

Far more often, however, he is on the attack. Denis Healey, a "clever but deeply flawed man", was guilty of "intellectual bad faith": and Walden writes with special authority here, glorying in having been derided by brutish Tory philistines as "our bloody intellectual". Tony Benn "adjusted his name to his convictions" and - crime of crimes - "left his school out of Who's Who". Benn and Michael Foot were "self-indulgent patricians ... small men affecting the postures of great ones". Enoch Powell, who left the Conservative party as Walden has now done himself, was a "man of hate" (possibly because he broke the conventions of the Commons by criticising Walden's maiden speech).

Mostly, however, Walden indulges himself by inveighing against politicians who were Conservatives when he was a Conservative himself. Left or right, they are not spared. "Poor" Kenneth Clarke "trusts to his guts, so he's got plenty to go on". As for John Redwood, "the more he tries to behave like a normal person the madder he looks". Somewhat surprisingly, as well as decidedly disagreeably for someone who emphasises his internationalist credentials, he is really nasty about Tories, such as "fancypants" Norman St John Stevas, whom he categorises as "foreigners". He is especially xenophobic - I had better not say racist - about "clever/immature" Michael Portillo, with "his black hair, thick lips and 'dago' name".

Leaders of the Tory party, past and present, are Walden's special targets. Edward Heath is indicted for "petulance and vaingloriousness". Margaret Thatcher, these days "drinking too much", has "reached a premature anecdotage". Of John Major, Walden muses that "I could never convince myself that he was a real person". Of the current leader of the party he opines loftily, "When I think of William Hague, nothing occurs to me". Certain other politicians arouse neither ire nor contempt but perplexity. He recalls that, after he accosted Glenda Jackson for a conversation in the Commons smoking room, "she looked straight through me when our paths crossed". It does not seem to have occurred to him that she preferred to be left alone, even - perhaps especially - by him. He tells of a meeting with Tony Blair, when Blair was leader of the opposition, to discuss an idee fixe on education that Walden was hawking around at the time: "I left no wiser about his intentions than when I arrived." Maybe Blair was too polite to say he thought it was a crackpot scheme.

Maybe Blair found Walden as condescending to himself as he is in this book to so many others: his constituents, Prince Charles ("There were so many things the Prince needed to understand and so few ways of telling him"), even his own sad mother. He is aloof, too, towards other authors, such as C P Snow and his "unreadable novels". It would certainly be a blow to Walden's undoubted self-esteem if the book-buying public found this volume equally unreadable.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions