PO­LIT­I­CALLY IN­COR­RECT

Re­cent Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal mem­oirs high­light risks in the sort of gov­ern­ment that also dom­i­nates Aus­tralia, writes Chris Bowen

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Party, I found the rev­e­la­tion that Miliband and Balls had only two con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the en­tire 2015 elec­tion cam­paign ex­tra­or­di­nary. A leader and the fi­nan­cial spokesman speak­ing two or three times a day dur­ing the cam­paign is more in keep­ing with my ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pleas­ingly, Balls avoids chronol­ogy and has gone for a the­matic book. No year-by-year ac­counts of his ca­reer. Rather he deals with the top­ics he re­gards as most im­por­tant for his life and ca­reer in chap­ters such as “Fam­ily”, “De­ci­sions” and “Re­form”. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, he writes about dis­cov­er­ing that he had an un­di­ag­nosed “in­ter­nalised stam­mer” af­ter his ap­point­ment as a min­is­ter, which ex­plained why he at times had trou­ble get­ting his words out at the dis­patch box or in in­ter­views. Iain Dale, the Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal pub­lisher and blog­ger (and for­mer Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date), calls Speak­ing Out “the best po­lit­i­cal book I have read this year”. I agree with him.

Alan John­son was a very dif­fer­ent style of Bri­tish Labour politi­cian. And the fi­nal in­stal­ment of his three-part au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, The Long and Wind­ing Road, is a very dif­fer­ent book. The first in­stal­ment, This Boy, was widely and rightly ac­claimed. His ac­count of his Lon­don child­hood is like no other by a politi­cian you will ever read. The Long and Wind­ing Road is, al­most in- evitably, not as com­pelling, but it is nev­er­the­less an in­trigu­ing and worth­while read.

Whereas Balls was full of am­bi­tion (as he read­ily con­cedes in the chap­ter ti­tled “Am­bi­tion”), John­son’s ap­proach to his ca­reer seems al­most lack­adaisi­cal. He en­tered par­lia­ment only be­cause Tony Blair rang him and sug­gested it. It had never oc­curred to him, de­spite the fact he had tran­si­tioned from be­ing a post­man to na­tional sec­re­tary of the postal union.

This lack of burn­ing am­bi­tion on John­son’s part shouldn’t be mis­taken for a lack of suc­cess. Quite the con­trary. He was a suc­cess­ful cab­i­net min­is­ter in a range of port­fo­lios, cul­mi­nat­ing in be­ing ap­pointed as Brown’s home sec­re­tary. He re­counts a de­light­ful ex­change when Blair, as PM, rang him and asked him to be­come min­is­ter for higher ed­u­ca­tion and to im­ple­ment the in­tro­duc­tion of in­come-con­tin­gent univer­sity fees, sim­i­lar to Aus­tralia’s sys­tem.

“But I’ve never been to univer­sity,” John­son pleaded. “Pre­cisely,” Blair re­sponded, alive to the fact a min­is­ter who had re­ceived a free univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion would be open to a charge of hypocrisy. John­son went on to nav­i­gate the mine­field and get the job done.

John­son is rem­i­nis­cent of a by­gone age, be­fore the emer­gence and dom­i­na­tion of pro­fes­sional politi­cians. But he doesn’t use his

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