May, Balls, Clegg, Clarke: it is political biography season

As scores of politicians line up to release books, the first Theresa May biography is set to reveal far less racy details than David Cameron’s...

Brexit means Brexit, and party conference season means the release of a slew of political biographies and memoirs. Not as punchy a slogan as Theresa May’s, but at least we know there is a 100% chance of politicians and their biographers fighting over the prime slot in the conference hall bookshop. We have already had a glimpse of Strictly Come Dancing star Ed Balls telling Westminster to foxtrot oscar with his no-holds-barred memoir Speaking Out. The publication of Nick Clegg’s Politics: Between the Extremes – a typically peevish-sounding title from a man who always seemed annoyed to be deputy prime minister – has been timed to coincide with the start of the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. There are new books from the serial diarists Alastair Campbell, Alan Johnson and Chris Mullin. But the one which should be most eagerly awaited is the first biography of our new prime minister.

Virginia Blackburn, a journalist, has written May’s life story in a shorter time than the government has come up with any sort of policy on Brexit. Published by John Blake, Theresa May: The Downing Street Revolution charts her journey from a vicarage childhood to her effortless arrival in No 10 in July. But if the political book of last year’s conference season was Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott’s lurid, gossipy and vengeful tale of a prime minister and a possibly fictional pig’s head, this biography of David Cameron’s successor is a more straightforward affair.

The fact that the former PM simply had a racier life than the current inhabitant of No 10 – those experiments with cannabis at Eton as revealed by his first biographers, James Hanning and Francis Elliott – means books about him are a bit, well, sexier. Blackburn has tried, in the time available, to rummage around for some gossip or secrets but as she herself admits: “It has accurately been remarked that as an adult Theresa May has no wild side and that was also the case back then [as a child].” The future PM went to Oxford but “she was not a member of any similar society [to the Bullingdon Club] and there are no tales at all of riotous behaviour or unruly conduct involving farm animals”.

Another biography of May, by Comrade Corbyn author Rosa Prince, is to be published by Biteback in January, but there has not exactly been a rush of writers hurrying into print on Britain’s second female prime minister. The raw material is certainly a challenge. For now, if gossip, score-settling and political intrigue are what you are after, then surely Ken Clarke’s memoirs of 40 years on the political frontline, Kind of Blue (published in October), hold the most promise this conference season.

Jane Merrick

The GuardianTramp

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