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Supping with the Devils: Political Writing From Thatcher to Blair by Hugo Young

9 October 2007

I have a few non-politics books that I’ve been meaning to post, but I need to go back and make a few quick edits for clarity and style before I put them up. For now, though, here’s a nice collection of writings that I’m always willing to recommend.

Supping with the Devils: Political Writing From Thatcher to Blair by Hugo Young

Hugo Young was a prolific political journalist, who wrote for the Sunday Times from 1973 to 1984 and for the Guardian from 1984 until his death from cancer in 2003. His twice-weekly column at the Guardian provides the material for Supping with the Devils, a collection of his writings spanning the better part of two decades. And I would place him firmly in the category of writers I admire — because even if you don’t agree with what he says, you can appreciate the clear, lucid, and penetrating way in which he says it.

Supping with the Devils is a good representative mixture of Young’s writing. Most of his essays deal with current political events, but not all of them are focused solely on the doings and deeds in Westminster and Whitehall. Young writes about serving as a juror (‘we English probably make good jurors partly because of the diet of whodunnits that contributes to so much of our television intake’), about the murder of Stephen Lawrence (‘the larger effect is more to be hoped for: that whites get deeper into their heads the belief that racial justice is something rather more seminal than a branch of political correctness’) and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie (‘Perhaps it would be a different matter if all this was happening to Jeffrey Archer’), amongst other things. But the essay that really struck me most was possibly one of his most famous columns, published in September 2003, where he blasted Tony Blair savagely for squandering all of the political capital and promise he had held in his hands back in 1997. Young died barely a week after that column went to press, and there’s something heart-breaking about reading it now…there’s a sense that Young knew his time was running short, and he had to speak his mind before it was too late.

I’ve seen numerous comparisons made between Hugo Young and George Orwell. Both men wrote until the very end of their lives, writing with almost manic desperation as if writing was the only thing keeping them alive under the onslaught of tuberculosis (Orwell) and cancer (Young). I suppose it’s no surprise that I enjoyed reading this collection of Young’s writings almost as much as I enjoy dipping into a volume of Orwell’s essays and letters.

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