LEADING ARTICLE: Political life with added seasoning

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Move over Delia. German chancellors can write cookery books too. Helmut Kohl's new book, A Culinary Journey Through Germany's Regions, will soon be jostling with Jocelyn Dimbleby, Elizabeth David and others for space on the shelves of bookshops, if not the most fashionable kitchens. Astute Rhinelander that he is, Chancellor Kohl has spotted a gap in the European market. While the cosmopolitan middle classes may be lapping up bruschetta and sun-dried tomatoes from Italy or tapas and paella from Spain, pig's stomach and rye bread from Germany have not yet taken off. But their time will come, if the 18-stone Kohl has his way. A Helmut Kohl's Winter Collection is surely only just round the corner.

More remarkable than a German enthusing for fine food is a politician revealing a hinterland, as Denis Healey used to describe his outside interests. What a relief it is to find a politician with a passion beyond politics, the semblance of a normal life, an ability to enjoy pleasures. Sadly there is little sign of a British equivalent in the House of Commons.

Politics in Britain has become a grimly earnest world inhabited only by the determined professional. With little light-hearted let-up to the machinations of government or the frustrated speeches of opposition, Westminster is not a place for the frivolous. True, John Major has a rarely indulged passion for cricket. And Tony Blair enjoys spending time with his family. But these are hardly signs of diverse and interesting personalities. And the sober faces of Jack Straw and John Redwood never reveal a glimmer of genuine enthusiasm for ordinary recreational activities.

Where are the Healeys and Heaths of the current generation? After electoral defeat in 1974, Ted Heath published books on sailing and music and travel including Sailing: A Course in My Life and Travels: People and Places in My Life. Meanwhile, Denis Healey's autobiography is dripping with references to art, music and literature. Admittedly both men have chosen rather egocentric ways to sell their enthusiasms. But with both there is a sense that politics is the foremost but not the only important force in their lives. With the modern crop of politicians it seems that their characters and interests are moulded to suit their rise up the career ladder, the demands of public appearance, and political niceties.

Top politicians with the potential to write a best-seller seem mainly to be abroad. Bill and Hillary Clinton may yet enrich our reading with Rural Property Investments: A Beginner's Guide. But here in Britain the prospects are not bright. The best we might hope from Tony Blair is a short memoir of his days as an aspirant rock star, and Lady Thatcher could pen a do-it-yourself guide to growing old gracefully. As for John Major... Well it isn't clear what Mr Major could convincingly demonstrate an interest in. Motorway maps of Great Britain - with cones and Happy Eaters clearly marked, perhaps?

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