Books of the year 2013: Politics


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The Independent Culture

There is no argument about what is the 2013 political book of the year. Charles Moore has lived since 1997 with the task of producing Margaret Thatcher's authorised, posthumous biography, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography (Allen Lane, £30). His first lovingly and painstakingly written volume was rushed into the bookshops within days of her death. It took three pages of close type just to list the people Moore interviewed. The narrative took another 750 to reach the conclusion of the Falklands War.

No one is indifferent to Thatcher. There is a proposal before Parliament to add a Margaret Thatcher Day to the nation's calendar, while at this year's TUC annual conference, the bookstall did a brisk trade in "I Still Hate Thatcher" mugs.

Moore is with the believers. He does not doubt that Margaret Thatcher's instinctive, stubborn beliefs in self-help, sound money, low taxes and patriotism extricated the UK from near terminal decline. Being a believer, compiling a work that Baroness Thatcher approved but that she would never see, he was able to interview people who would never have spoken so freely to any other chronicler. The result is a serious text enlivened by scores of vignettes and unexpected observations.

Alderman Alf Roberts, the father she idolised after he was dead, apparently had a reputation around Grantham for groping women. Her sister, Muriel, described their mother as a "bigoted Methodist". A 17-year-old Jewish girl whom the Roberts family kindly took in so that she could escape Nazi-ruled Austria found their home life so stifling that she soon moved out. When Thatcher first visited America as Leader of the Opposition, her hosts formed the opinion that "she's not the sort of person you would find very agreeable on a one-to-one dinner-date." Yet, love or hate her, she is an intriguing subject.

The year also saw publication of two outstanding and starkly different political memoirs. This Boy (Bantam, £16.99) by the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson is one of those "you couldn't make it up" stories, in which a boy, raised by his single mother in a two-room flat with no bathroom and then by his teenage sister after his mother died young, soared above these early disadvantages.

Power Trip (Biteback, £20, by Gordon Brown's disgraced former spin doctor Damian McBride, comes more under the heading "is he making it up?". It purports to be a confessional, in which one chapter opens with the words: "I wasn't always a nasty bastard, but you could argue the signs were there." There is a boastfulness in this self-flagellation, an undertone that says, "you may not like me, but do not underestimate me", and yet McBride writes well and has produced an absorbing account of the dark side of democratic politics.

Tony Benn came out with what will be the last in his extraordinary run of political diaries, which began in 1964. A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine (Hutchinson, £20) opens in 2007, when Benn was 82. It is mostly politics, with the occasional touching comment on his being old. "I lay in bed this morning and thought: if I die this morning, what a wonderful way to go," one entry runs.

No one from within the Coalition Government has broken ranks to kiss and tell yet, but the year saw the publication of 5 Days in May (Biteback, £12.99) by Andrew Adonis, which details Adonis's struggle to lure the Liberal Democrats into coalition with Labour. The columnist Matthew D'Ancona has written the first major study of the progress of the coalition so far, In It Together, The Inside Story of the Coalition Government (Viking, £25). It is not as racy as, for instance, Andrew Rawnsley's book about New Labour, either because the participants do not hate each other like the Blairites and Brownites used to, or because they are not telling yet.