Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Breaking the Code by Gyles Brandreth

Writing about political diaries, Michael White praises Gyles Brandreth's diaries Breaking the Code:

Brandreth spent time as a whip during the 1992-97 parliament and his diary about that period, Breaking the Code, is a gem. Clark is normally credited with having written the best political diary of modern times, but – for my money – Brandreth is better by a mile.

Brandreth never seemed to receive as much recognition as he should have done for the book, perhaps because his pre-parliament career as a daytime TV presenter with a fondness for silly jumpers meant that he never had the political kudos of Clark. But, if you haven't read Breaking the Code, do. I've been looking for it on our shelves so that I can give you a flavour of it. Sadly, the office copy has gone missing. Someone must have pinched it. It's that good.

Indeed it is. And I find that I have been writing House Points in Liberal Democrat News for so long that I reviewed the book on 7 April 2000.

Here is that review...

Benet, Saethryd and Aphra

It is a while since I read Alan Clark's Diaries, but I am sure they did not begin with him starring opposite Bonnie Langford in Cinderalla. Gyles Brandreth's do.

To enjoy Breaking the Code: Wesminster Diaries (Phoenix, £7.99) you have to get past Brandreth's public image - the jokey sweaters, the affected voice, his children's names. Anyone who christens his offspring Benet, Saethryd and Aphra deserves to be reported to the NSPCC.

Set all that aside, and you have a readable account of the last Conservative administration. Elected in 1992, Brandreth began as a government backbencher. He makes it clear what an awful job that is. It's not, as young idealists fear, that you may be forced to vote against your principles. It's more that you vote in the small hours when you have no idea what is at stake and would much rather be in bed.

Brandreth did well, becoming a PPS within a year and later joining the whips' office. By then, however, it was clear that he could not defend Chester's 1000 majority. Even so, scheming on behalf of a nebulous Stephen Dorrell leadership campaign was an odd way to pass the remaining time.

The government in which Brandreth served lacked any policy direction. His diaries mirror this. He pokes fun at the Citizen's Charter, yet the only ideas which enthuse him are some guff from the Duke of Edinburgh about the importance of team sports.

The catastrophe the Tories suffered as a result is shown most clearly in the footnotes. Each time Brandreth mentions a new colleague, that person's dates in Parliament are given. Nearly every note ends "-1997".

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