Magazine article The Spectator

'Odd Couples: The Great Political Pairings of Modern Britain', by Giles Radice - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Odd Couples: The Great Political Pairings of Modern Britain', by Giles Radice - Review

Article excerpt

Odd Couples: The Great Political Pairings of Modern Britain Giles Radice

I.B. Tauris, pp.304, £25, ISBN: 9781780762807

With the odd exception -- I think principally of Charles Moore's life of Margaret Thatcher -- the genre of political biography has known hard times lately. There are few faster routes to the remainder shop, other, of course, than the political memoir, most of which I presume are now written to create a tax loss for their publishers. This decline is not down to poor scholarship, but, I suspect, to the general distaste so many literate and inquiring people feel for politicians. Reading accounts of the New Labour years in particular is rather like touring an abattoir before the cleaners have been in.

So those who want to write about politicians must find new ways to do so, and Lord Radice, a former long-serving Labour MP, has chosen to look at partnerships of politicians. Most are straightforward -- the coalition partners Attlee and Churchill and Cameron and Clegg, for example, or brothers-in-arms such as Bevin and Morrison and Macmillan and Butler -- but I assume Heath and Wilson are paired in this book because Radice sought to contrive a way of discussing politics between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. Sadly the whole book is a contrivance, not because there was not a relationship between most of those featured (the other pairings are Thatcher and Whitelaw and Blair and Brown), but because he puts so little emphasis in his writing and analysis on the effects of the interaction between the respective couples.

The author has scoured the published works, and has himself witnessed the more recent events about which he writes. He has conducted interviews with others, though there is precious little to be discerned that is not already out there. And that is the problem with this book. It is likely to be read only by those with an obsessive or a professional interest in politics, and it is hard to believe that such people will not already know what Radice tells them. More than once, as I clambered over yet another tediously retold tale, I wondered what else he could have been doing with his time. Life is, after all, short.

In order to create the idea that he has something original to say, the author comes up with the conceit that his partnerships are divided between 'originators' and 'facilitators'. …

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