Books I'm reading
As I've spent the weekend feeling really not well - one of the downsides of parenthood is that babies seem to pass on coughs and colds to their parents that they shrug off and the adults are knocked out by - I've been catching up on some reading.
I have a bad habit of having 3 books I'm reading at once - a paperback for reading on the bus - and usually a couple of hardbacks for home that I flit between.
The 2 doorstop sized ones I'm currently ploughing through are both highly recommended for anyone into Labour history:
- Greg Rosen's "Old Labour to New" tells the entire history of the Party through excerpts from key speeches to Conference and in Parliament (that's where the Gaitskell quote in my post earlier this week came from). Although Greg shares most of my politics the commentary is objective and I think people from any strand of Labour opinion will find gems in here that inspire them. The main thing that struck me is that most of the dividing lines are not new - the policy challenges have changed but quite a lot of the speeches in the '30s about rearmament or the '50s or '80s about CND could just as easily be made now about Iraq or Trident.
- Giles Radice's diaries - published a couple of years ago and I feel guilty in admitting I hadn't noticed them when they came out (despite having enjoyed his book "The Rivals" about Crosland, Healey & Jenkins). It's a really good read. You can't help but feel sorry for a man who would probably have been a minister if he was 10 years younger or older but instead spent the bulk of his career in opposition - through no fault of his own as he consistently backed election-winning policies. You also can't help admiring someone who although he was a political protege of Shirley Williams and a personal friend of most of the SDP defectors (slices of the early pages of the diary are accounts of dinner party menus chez Bill Rodgers or John Horam) stayed loyal to his Chester-le-street CLP and his union, the GMB, and never considered leaving Labour. Radice's book should be read in parralel with John Golding's "Hammer of the Left" and Diane Hayter's "Fighback" - whereas they narrate the history of the old Labour right in the '80s from the perspective of grassroots organisation in the CLPs, unions and NEC, Radice gives you an insight into the more rarified world of another segment of the Labour right focussed more on the Fabian Society and Hampstead dinner parties.
Regular readers will have picked up that culturally I am more of a leaflet-delivering Labourite than a think-tank pamphlet reading one. However, Radice's 1992 Fabian pamphlet "Labour's Southern Discomfort", in analysing and suggesting solutions to Labour's chronic unpopularity in the South, was that rare thing, a pamphlet that actually had a major impact on making a political party more electable.