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

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones