John Walsh: Never mind the contents. I can't get past the title

Well he could have called it Burning Bush, but that would have drawn attention to his hearing God's voice in his head; or Beating About The Bush, but that suggests prevarication; or Bush Telegraph, only that implies a primitive approach to communications technology; or Bush Tucker but that's too closely connected to grubs and weevils. So they (you just know a committee of advisers came up with it) settled on Decision Points, the world's blandest title for a political tell-all. It suggests pages of quasi-intellectual chat – debating points, discussion points – with a hint that there's a tough guy around, who'll Make the Decision and send in the bombers.

Nobody knows why the titles of politicians' autobiographies are so boring. Or why so many of them involve two words: A Journey (Tony Blair), My Life (Bill Clinton), The Autobiography (John Major), Fighting Bull (Nigel Farage), Labour Pains (Peter Kilfoyle), Shephard's Watch (Gillian Shephard), Ministers Decide (Norman Fowler) and Screwing Up (Mark Oaten).

Perhaps they're meant to express bluntness. (No nonsense. Look here. Get cracking.) Perhaps their authors are nervous about anything that smacks of gesture or grandiosity. They like to suggest that, while not giving themselves airs, they've had a ringside seat at the procession of history. So we get The Vantage Point (LBJ), A View From the Foothills (Chris Mullin), and the slightly more vainglorious A Life at the Centre (Roy Jenkins).

Michael Heseltine called his memoirs Life in the Jungle, which sounds nicely self-deprecatory until you remember that his nickname was "Tarzan".

Some thought by the author, rather than his publisher, clearly went into choosing the title of Peter Mandelson's life story. The Third Man, with its nod to Graham Greene, hints at spying and secrecy. But Mandelson may have regretted aligning himself with the film's anti-hero Harry Lime, an amoral black-marketeer, responsible for the deaths of thousands.

No, successful political memoir titles remain as rare as hen's teeth. I can think of only two: The Time of My Life, which suggested (accurately) that its author, Denis Healey, had greatly enjoyed his brush with history, despite all the "silly Billys" he encountered. And the autobiography of Bill Rodgers, the least solipsistic and least regarded of the "gang of four" who founded the Social Democrats. His book was called Fourth Among Equals.

Comments