BOOK REVIEW / Noblesse with a latitude problem: 'Diaries' - Alan Clark: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 20 pounds

BEING SENT Alan Clark's Diaries to review is a little like being second in line to Little Jack Horner in the plum pie stakes. These diaries have been so widely serialised that, at first sight, little seems left but stodge and piecrust; though, mind you, Alan Clark's stodge and pastry is of the lightest and most digestible kind.

Indeed, one is tempted to tell people to add this book to their stock of books to be read in the bathroom, books that can be picked up and opened at random in the certainty that the reader will light on something readable, stimulating if not titivating, immediately gripping, with the flavour of the lost years between Mrs Thatcher's reelection and her fall from grace, and the first three months of her successor's government.

This is, however, to adopt a minimalist approach to Mr Clark's work. For despite the air of artless simplicity with which these diaries are presented, and despite the obvious immediacy of the individual entries, no-one can doubt that Mr Clark has given us a created book, a composed artefact, a work with a purpose. Its immediacy, the image that it conveys of Mr Clark as a presenter of objets trouves, found in the wild and presented, apart from a little gift wrapping, just as they are, is part of Mr Clark's artistry.

He is far too accomplished and considerable an author / historian to masquerade convincingly as a political equivalent of Daisy Ashford. Mr Clark wants to give solidity, historical perpetuity, to his inside view of the Thatcher years; the more so as he clearly feels that his view, his side (though Mr Clark is far too adult to put in such schoolboy terms) has lost and is on its way to the scrapheap.

So what is Mr Clark's view? It is, to begin with, not one for which he feels any need to apologise. True, Mr Clark is not a 'conviction' politician in the awful jargon of American-aping political journalism. It is not that he does not have convictions; far from it. But they are inextricably linked and interwoven with his sense of style, his Goddammit attitude to the outside world, his education, his upbringing, his sense of masculinity, his personal version of noblesse oblige, his certainty of birth, breeding, clubbability (in the right kind of club, of course), nationality, English patriotism, intelligence and sense of superiority over all other breeds.

He comes across, sometimes, as an arrogant conceited snob; but this merely illustrates the poverty of the English imagination. He admired Mrs Thatcher, the grocer's daughter, through and through. A Scot would say not that he was conceited but that he has a good, and - by implication, justifiable - conceit of himself. He might also add that the cornucopia of blessings showered on Mr Clark by his fairy godmother failed to include empathy with views other than his own, patience and tolerance, or a noticeable sense of political realities.

He has an air, from time to time, of the Highland clan chieftains who rode with Charles Edward from the first raising of the Stewart flag, in the certain knowledge that Culloden and exile were the best they could hope for from their enterprise; but he also has the ruthlessness of Cromwell's Ironsides - for all his cavalier Jacobite manner. His term at the Ministry of Defence showed him to be as much a root and branch man as ever threatened Cromwell. He lives in the remote north of Scotland, in northern Sutherland, a land grown bare and hard from centuries of Atlantic weather, Vikings, clearances and the long nights of Scottish winters - his house shares its latitude with Oslo, Stockholm and Leningrad. It is this hardness, as well as the greenery of September in Scotland, which calls to him.

Mr Clark saw in the Thatcher years a chance of saving England from a benevolent spendthrift mediocrity, from bien pensant indolent unwitting decadence, from consensual, supercilious, insensitive but inevitable decline. He thought it both right and his right to be part of the counter-attack. But he found Mrs Thatcher's army to be composed very largely of people whom he makes no bones about considering second-rate.

He has a good word for John Major, it is true, but his views on the rest of the party and particularly of Kenneth Clarke are balm to the ears of academics as they wait for the Chancellor to perform the ritual demonstration of macho determination on their staked out and defenceless institutions, the 'hard sacrifices' that Fleet Street hacks and Government spokesmen are so vociferously calling for.

It is a stupid and typically English waste of talent and ability that has condemned Mr Clark to political impotence. John Major put Chris Patten's electoral defeat to the country's advantage, magnificently so, in sending him to Hong Kong. Can he not do the same for Alan Clark, with his ruthless determination and his unimpeachable and expressive French, by sending him as our permanent representative to Brussels? No-one apart from Lady Thatcher could deal so drastically with the Eurocrats and the Federalist conspirators as Mr Clark. He could well, if given his head, be the salvation of Mr Major's European ambitions.

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links