A book by Labour's veteran left-wing firebrand Tony Benn had a major influence on the early political thinking of David Cameron, the Conservative leader disclosed yesterday.
Mr Benn was at the time considered the devil incarnate by Tories, his far-left radicalism anathema to Conservatives. Yet his volume Arguments for Democracy was one of the key texts read by Mr Cameron when studying politics at Oxford in the 1980s – as was another book by a left-wing thinker, 1984, by George Orwell.
Mr Cameron revealed his unconventional influences at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival when interviewed by his Oxford politics tutor, the constitutional theorist Professor Vernon Bogdanor, who said the future MP was a brilliant student and could have become an academic.
Asked by Professor Bogdanor which books had influenced him, Mr Cameron told a packed audience that he had read classical thinkers of the right, such as Hayek, but added: "Actually, two of the books about politics which influenced me were both written by Labour supporters. One was 1984 by George Orwell, who I think wrote brilliantly about the follies of the left when taken to extremes.
"The other was Tony Benn's book Arguments for Democracy, a very powerful book which makes the important point that we vest power in people who are elected, and that we can get rid of, rather than those we can't."
He added: "So maybe that's a novel answer to what books made me a Conservative but of course I also read very widely in terms of conservative writers and thinkers."
Mr Cameron said his recent reading had included al-Qaeda by Jason Burke, which he said was a book everybody ought to read.
Listen to Cameron at the literary festival below