Slipping in an extra review this week to make up for the paucity of postings last month. I have other reviews still to finish, but this one seemed to come out most easily.
The Hands of History: Parliamentary Sketches 1997-2007 by Simon Hoggart
Based on an earlier review of Playing to the Gallery, Simon Hoggart’s collection of Guardian parliamentary sketches from the early Blair years, it may come as little surprise to learn that I eagerly picked up a copy of The Hands of History, Hoggart’s more recently published collection of sketches spanning the Blair decade. The index at the back of the book is not quite as funny as the previous one, but it gives readers a good idea of what to expect within. John Prescott, master of the unintelligible and angry speech for any occasion, from party conferences to PMQs. Sir Peter Tapsell MP (Louth and Horncastle), one of the last of the old Tory knights of the shires, whose oratorical style almost demands that the Hansard editors cast his words in bronze. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) and his collection of wigs. More inane New Labour jargon, more Conservative party leadership
circuses contests, more of Tony Blair’s verb-free sentences…all of the old friends and foes are back.
Much of what I said earlier about the humour of Hoggart’s parliamentary sketch-writing still holds true, though seeing a much broader range of sketches reveals a few small weaknesses that are common to anyone who writes on regular subject on a regular basis. The most notable one is that Hoggart has quite a few standard jokes, several of which are mentioned above, and seeing them repeated in successive sketches grows a little tiring over time. (Though in one of his editorial notes, he mentions that some readers will write in to complain if he hasn’t made one of his usual references in a while.) The Hands of History does manage to catch the highlights of the Blair decade, sticking mostly to the well-known incidents and leaving out much of the day-to-day petty dramas. (I wish he’d included this sketch from mid-February 2006, if only for the amusement value, but space in the book was at a premium and the incident itself has almost certainly been forgotten.) Hoggart often has a fine gift for picking out the metaphors from the reality, as in this description from the time in May 2004 when Fathers4Justice protestors threw flour-filled condoms at Blair during his Question Time:
What an amazing shot by the protestor, throwing from hundreds of feet along a downward trajectory! And how marvellously apt! It had been aimed at Blair but it had exploded all over Brown. The protestors had thrown Britain’s finest political metaphor.
Like Hoggart’s previous book, The Hands of History knows its intended readership. If a collection of parliamentary sketches about the past ten years sounds like it would be entertaining reading, then it is not likely to disappoint — even if the politicians mentioned within do, more often than not.