Christmas Books: Politics - Sad, Bad or Odd - Are They So Different from the Rest of Us?

Article excerpt

How tempting in the current cynical climate to take a single message from these books: do not on any account be a politician as they are sad, bad or odd - sometimes all three. The diaries of Tony Benn, Alan Clark and Edwina Currie are, for different reasons, tinged with melancholy. In the case of Benn and Clark their political lives are drawing to a close. They are getting old. Clark's volume ends with his death. Benn's wife Caroline dies of cancer. On a more Shakespearean scale, Time plays a cruel role in the lives of ambitious politicians. In the 1970s and early 1980s Benn was at the centre of all the great turbulent political events, seen as a possible future Prime Minister, a left-wing version of Margaret Thatcher. Less than 20 years later, in this volume of his diaries (Free at Last! Diaries 1990-2002, Hutchinson pounds 25), Benn gets a thrill out of flying back from John Smith's funeral (another funeral) in John Major's plane. In the space of two decades he has moved from aspirant Prime Minister to excited passenger on a prime ministerial flight.

Alan Clark was never as close to the political centre as Benn, and never as close as he thought he was. Surprisingly, in The Last Diaries (Weidenfeld pounds 20), he reveals himself as a deluded fool, still seeing himself as a possible leader coming to the rescue of his tormented party. Clark was funny and perceptive about the absurd pomposities of his colleagues. Evidently he could not see through himself. This is especially bizarre as, in this volume, Clark so obviously floats around the margins, initially outside parliament and then returning as a backbench MP.

Briefly Edwina Currie got very close to the centre of power, or rather future power. Her affair with Major ended several years before he became Prime Minister. Her Diaries 1987-1992 (Little, Brown pounds 18.99) are interesting for that single revelation made in advance of a newspaper serialisation. The affair does not feature greatly in the diaries themselves and is only interesting because of what it tells us about him. The Prime Ministerial high-wire act looks even more precarious in retrospect, as he must have wondered at least once a day whether Currie would bring him down. To her credit Currie restrained from doing so and was unfairly criticised for revealing the affair last September. Anyone with a hint of an ego would want to claim their place in history. These diaries show that Currie has more than a hint of ego.

While a sense of sadness and lost opportunities link the diaries there are no common factors in terms of quality. Currie's diaries are dull. …