Westminster Column - 10 Books for Christmas Reading

21st December 2015

For my Christmas column and the New Year break I hope I may suggest some of the best books to have been published in the last year or so in the hope that my constituents choose and enjoy!

Here goes:

1. Dictator - Robert Harris

This year has seen the publication of the third in Robert Harris’ trilogy about Cicero. Called ‘Dictator’ it charts the last portion of Cicero’s life. By now Caesar is the dominant figure in Rome and across the Roman Empire and Cicero’s life is ruined, with his possessions confiscated, his life in constant danger and his wife and children separated from him. His comeback requires wit, skill and courage and for a short but glorious period the legendary orator is once more the supreme Senator in Rome. A wonderful book routed in a fascinating history, it is an unforgettable tour de force from Britain’s finest novelist.

2. One Minute to Ten – Dan Hodges

Just published, Dan Hodges’ One Minute to Ten -a witty and subtle account of politics in the run up to the last General Election. Regardless of your political views I promise that you will howl with laughter as you enjoy this read.

Nor is it a hatchet job on politicians (we have quite enough of those already). The author who is already one of Britain’s most respected and admired journalists shows a rare sympathy and understanding of the pinnacles as well as the “nether regions” of party politics.

This is also the perfect size for a Christmas stocking.

3. High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain - Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer has been absent for much of this year writing the sequel to this excellent book which covers the early Victorian age and Victorian mind. From 1840 when Britain was wracked with poverty, unrest and uncertainty and the ruling class lived in fear of riot and revolution to the 1880’s when a Tory Government transformed Britain into a confident nation of progress and prosperity ushering in a new attitude to politics, education, woman and working people!

3. A Different Kind of Weather: A Memoir - William Waldegrave

This is quite simply one of the best political autobiographies produced in recent years. In humble tones William Waldegrave tells the story of his own career full of wise insights and thoughtful perspectives. Essential reading for those of all parties interested in politics. He is rather harder on himself than is fair!

4. A Very British Coup - Chris Mullin

One of the all-time great political novels by one of the Labour movements finest MPs of recent years. Set in Britain sometime in the future, ‘A Very British coup’ is brilliantly conceived and has been turned into a television drama. This exciting story has been given a new lease of life by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. Its sales have rocketed. I won’t say more for fear of ruining the story for you. A rattlingly good yarn.

6. Right or Wrong: The Memoirs of Lord Bell - Lord Tim Bell

This is a wonderfully indiscrete account of life among Margaret Thatcher’s inner circle. It was described as a chronicle of hand to hand combat with narcissistic lefties but since we don't have many of those in Sutton Coldfield I feel sure it will be a great hit with my constituents.

7. Winners: And How They Succeed - Alastair Campbell

The perfect antidote to Tim Bell’s book by one of the key architects of Blair’s election triumphs. Having masterminded Labours strategy which led to 3 successive General Election victories it ought to be required reading for the Corbyn team but somehow I rather doubt that it will be!

It's a great book and extremely well written which examines how winners tick and how they build great teams; how to deal with unexpected setbacks and new challenges. He sets out the very different worlds of business, politics and sport but explains how they can learn from each other.

8. Edmund Burke: The First Conservative - Jesse Norman MP

My parliamentary colleague Jesse Norman has written a first class essay on the brilliant 18th century Irish philosopher and statesmen, Edmund Burke. Burke was a fierce champion of human rights and a lifelong campaigner against arbitrary power. Burke has been almost forgotten in recent years but Jesse Norman argues in this penetrating biography that we cannot understand modern politics without him.

9. The War that Ended Peace How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War Professor Margaret MacMillan

This is a blockbuster which I mention for those who have the time to tackle this 700 page explanation of how Europe, following a sustained period of peace during which people looked forward with confidence to years of prosperity, progress and hope turned into a catastrophic conflict which killed millions of its men, bled its economies dry, shook societies to pieces and fatally undermined Europe’s dominant position around the world.

10. Borderlines - Michela Wrong

Finally, Borderlines by Michela Wrong; a brilliant journalist who has written about Africa for more than 20 years (including for the Financial Times) and is deeply respected for her understanding and knowledge of the continent.

This is her first novel set in a fictional country in the horn of Africa which is probably loosely based on modern Ethiopia. The novel is about a border dispute which clearly has associations with Ethiopia’s terrible dispute with Eritrea. The book is beautifully written and is a first class legal thriller which benefits from the author’s brilliant eye for detail.