Michael Dobbs

The author and former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party takes issue with DJ Taylor's claim that Britain is unable to produce good political novelists
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The Independent Online

Poor old Jeffrey Archer. As if he were not in enough trouble already, DJ Taylor attacks him, Douglas Hurd and almost everyone else for not being able to write political novels like the Americans. But picking on Jeffrey is, in this instance, simply wrong. He has written a shelf full of novels, but only one I can recall that was about British politics: First Among Equals. Yet let's not immediately strangle this famous chicken because a few feathers are out of place.

If the Americans produce more political novels than Britain, it is largely because only former politicians and failed politicians have the time to write. America has both. Quite correctly, Taylor praises the literary skills of Gore Vidal, a failed politician who could never have both written and ruled. Today's politicians are too busy pursuing joined-up government to produce joined-up writing. And if, by sheer endeavour, they do, they get hammered for it ("Tut, tut! She's at it again, just like Edwina. What about her constituents?")

Literary editors do not help, either. If a politician produces a novel, there's a damn good chance it will be given to their worst enemy to review. Nothing like a bit of encouragement, eh?

The British political novel is alive and kicking. Even if you don't care for Currie or Hurd or Renton or Widdecombe, let alone my creations Urquhart or Goodfellowe, there are plenty of others. Let's hope Chris Smith produces a few more. And John Mortimer's writings about the odious Leslie Titmus are far, far more entertaining and skilful than Primary Colors.

Politics has everything you could want to throw into a novel, from the sordid to the sublime and the plain silly. Perhaps it's almost too easy: you take reality and then water it down, just to make it credible.