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Thanks for no memories

One of the great mysteries of modern publishing is why Norman Lamont has never produced his memoirs.

Almost every politician in living memory has gone into print, and thereafter into the remaindered shelves: David Owen, Paddy Ashdown, Roy Jenkins, as well as many people who have actually been in the Government, have produced books about how they would run Britain if given a chance.

Margaret Thatcher went into print about how she did run Britain, and whoever wrote the book seems to have done a good job, because she has not written another one since.

All these books were serialised in the Sunday Times or some other paper, and were greeted with all the enthusiasm and respect with which we also greeted Hitler's Diaries from the same paper. They then slithered into that literary waste paper basket that is lined with Edward Heath's seminal works: The Joy of Sailing, The Joy of Music, The Joy of No Sex and The Joy of Being a Querulous and Trouble-making Elder Statesman on the Back Benches.

If people did not write books about themselves, they had books written about themselves by others, either quick biographies rushed into print to meet a one-day demand or, in the case of John Major, a book by his brother, which, if it is as funny as it is said to be, is probably still in print.

But still no book by Mr Lamont, either funny or serious. And yet Mr Lamont has been at the centre of some of the most sensational moments in modern British politics.

He was there when Black Wednesday came along. He was here when we tumbled out of the exchange-rate mechanism. He was there when the sacking of Mr Lamont was announced - indeed, he played the central part in all these things. He has been described by those who understand these things better than I do as the Nick Leeson of modern economics, whatever that may mean.

He has also often hinted that he would like to put his side of the affair, and that there is much more to it than Mr Major or anyone else has ever let on.

So why has he never written the book, which would let us into his mind and show us history from his side? Why, alone among politicians, has he shown the strength and dignified determination to keep silent? Why are there no Lamont Diaries?

Today, at last, I can reveal the truth. This column can take all the credit. For the last few years Mr Lamont has been under a lucrative contract to this column not to write his memoirs. It all started when, fresh out of office, Mr Lamont came to us to discuss serialising his memoirs.

"I have been advised," he said, "to get them into print as soon as possible in order to give my eye-witness account of history as it is being made."

"You mean, in order to cash in on your current controversial status before it all fades?"

"Well, I ..."

"I take it you have been round all the publishers and Sunday papers looking for the best deal?"

"Well, I ..."

"And they have all offered you a great deal of money to rush into print?"

"Well, I ..."

"If you are wise, you will ignore them. You will take my advice. You will accept my down-payment not to write your memoirs."

Of course, Mr Lamont was startled. It is not every day that a politician is paid to keep quiet. So I explained my strategy. If a politician rushes into print, he is a seven-day wonder. He is read, disbelieved and forgotten. But if he keeps quiet, he becomes a seven-year wonder: the man who never sold his story, the man who kept mum.

"You can be that man," I explained to him. "Maintain a dignified silence. Keep them wondering."

"But then how can I avoid being forgotten?" he asked plaintively.

"That's easy. Become a thorn in the side of your own government. Be a rebel. Be remembered as Lamont the Troublemaker. Be the only Tory to vote against your own party. And one day you will be able to write your memoirs and make a real fortune."

"How shall I survive till then?"

"Get a good job in the City. Directorships, consultancies, etc. But first sign a contract with me in return for not writing your memoirs, and take my advice on how to remain in the public eye."

The rest, I think you will agree, is history. Mr Lamont has remained in the public eye, but he has spared us his memoirs. If history is grateful to me for nothing else, that is probably service enough.

Tomorrow: Why Mark Thatcher has never written his memoirs.