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The Politico’s Book of the Dead edited by Iain Dale

16 September 2007

One of my tags for this blog is ‘dead politicians’. This review’s designed to make full use of it.

The Politico’s Book of the Dead edited by Iain Dale

Despite the morbid-sounding title and the very creepy illustration on the front cover (zombie Alan Clark!), this book is a collection of short biographies — or rather, obituaries — of various British politicians and political figures. Most of the obituaries are recent ones, from within the last twenty years or so, but there are a few from earlier in the twentieth century. The only real criterion for inclusion in Politico’s Book of the Dead seems to be that in one way or another, the individual has made a strong contribution to modern British politics.

It is easy to see the reason for some of the editor’s selections. Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson get fairly long entries, as does John Smith, Tony Blair’s predecessor as Labour Party leader. Sir Oswald Mosley (of British Union of Fascists fame) and Alan Clark (of Diaries fame) also have detailed biographical entries. Some of the deceased are more known for their connections through famous relatives than for their own deeds — Megan Lloyd-George and Violet Bonham-Carter are two such individuals. Quite a few are relatively obscure, often known only for one event or action that gave them the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. But most interestingly, there are obituaries for three fictional political figures: Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby from the television series Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister, and Harry Perkins from the book and later TV mini-series A Very British Coup.

Most of these obituaries were written at the time of the subject’s death, though some were written specifically for this book. The majority given here tend towards the fairly dull and watery, mainly (I imagine) through the wish to not speak ill of the dead. In Alan Clark’s case, for example, his marital infidelities are brushed aside rather blithely (in my opinion). I also would have liked to see obits for at least all the dead prime ministers and party leaders since World War II, and the book doesn’t offer that either. But Politico’s selection is a fairly representative sample of British movers and shakers both past and present, and it’s good for picking up and reading a few at a time to expand your knowledge of the late great and good.

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