Books: Polonius or Pollyanna

HOW TO BE A MINISTER by Gerald Kaufman, Faber pounds 8.99

Gerald Kaufman's face dominates the cover of this new edition of his book. The eyes are Body Shop bright and the mouth suggests cleverness and humour. On his chin-cupping hand is a gigantic, multi-stoned ring, of the kind that small girls and vain men admire. It tells us that this man - although once himself a minister - is never entirely serious; that the elaborate theatre of politics appeals just as much as (if not more than) the grim and important exercising of power. No wonder he is much in demand at the many seminars and courses currently being held to prepare the neophytes of New Labour for office.

But should the nervous men and women - most of whom were not even in Parliament when Labour ministers last stalked Whitehall - listen too closely to what Gerald has to tell them? And should we seek to track their progress by reading this book and noting which of its injunctions have been observed?

Probably. For one thing, those of us who question the sanity of men and women who work all hours for small remuneration, little recognition and with seemingly small success, can learn from Kaufman's description of the epicurean, almost sensual, pleasures of being a junior minister. There's the car, the Private Secretary to be summoned at the depression of a buzzer, the special lift, the Red Box to be delivered when the neighbours are at home and watching. And, above all, the sense of being there.

Kaufman's Polonian injunctions on mastering your briefs (in the non-Mellorian sense), squaring colleagues, time management, the commission of small courtesies (as you sweep past your backbenchers in the limo at 2am, "have the grace to stop your car and offer a lift to anyone going your way"), and defeating the innate conservatism of the civil service (for whom he has an appropriately wary admiration), are terribly sensible and wittily presented. The writing in this book was good enough to make me miss my stop on the Northern Line last week, forcing me to endure the misery of waiting for another train to return me to my destination. Tube users know that there is no higher compliment.

But entertaining though he may be, Gerald is no Pollyanna. He is quite prepared to recommend courses of action which - while effective - are not pretty. Here, for instance, is how you deal with questions from your own side:

"If they have tabled a parliamentary question to you, remember that they have done so because they want something out of it; make sure they get it. If need be, ask them what answer they want and, if at all possible, provide it."

And this is his advice on scoring points off the other side in a debate:

"Try to goad some of the more vulnerable Opposition MPs into intervening in your speech, and have ready a weakness in their political record with which to respond to their intervention. You can make sure they will be present by sending them notes telling them that you will be referring to them. They will be too curious not to turn up, and too furious not to intervene. Then you will have them."

Lady Olga Maitland can expect many such notes should Labour win power this spring, and junior ministers seek to make their reputations the easy way. Mr Kaufman's suggestions may help them; just how this serves the cause of parliamentary accountability and good government is not so clear. But then, this is not Jonathon Porritt's guide to being an Ethical Minister.

Good fun the book most certainly is, but could a Labour aspirant like Stephen Byers or Estelle Morris - let alone a John Prescott - read it and emerge ready for the exigencies of power? Kaufman himself acknowledges his debt to Harold Wilson, who "helped me to acquire the most precious commodity for anyone who holds ministerial office: experience". Can there be a substitute?

Perhaps not. But what Kaufman makes clear is that - in practically no time at all - the soft, pudgy, white-fleshed politician will have constructed around him or her (by an establishment created for that purpose), the thick, horny carapace of government. And there will come a day when we will wonder why we ever asked how this or that Shadow could be a minister.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas