Saturday, 3 April 2010

Left vs. Right book review

After commenting yesterday on two books which covered the same subject I thought it might be interesting to write a review of a couple of books which are thematically similar, but from very different perspectives.

First is The Unfinished Revolution by Philip Gould. The book covers the period of Gould's
involvement with the Labour Party, right from its unelectable days in the 80's, through to the rise of Blair and the modernisation of the Party.

One of my favourite pet peeves about political books rears its head early in this one. Gould writes as if he spent his life on a quest, searching for dragons to slay, but in truth he spent a substantial amount of time tilting at windmills.

All that aside, there is some really interesting stuff in here. It is particularly interesting to see the early conflicts between Blair and Brown, especially when you consider how the battle played out in recent times. I have a wholly new respect for Mandelson after reading this and I think I better understand why he has remained so steadfastly involved in the party.

On the campaign front I found the idea of pledges fascinating. I've done messaging work, and its truly impressive how the messages of the campaign were distilled down into short achievably pledges. After decades in the wilderness the Party had a huge challenge to get back to the political mainstream.

Conservative activists should read this book, particularly as we approach an election and ask whether the Conservative Party is in a position to replicate 1992 or 1997, and whether attempts made to rehabilitate the Party have been successful outside Westminster.

The second book is one which I was recommended by a friend of mine. I quickly discovered he was a source in the book, and had to question his motivation. For all that this is an excellent book, although it is not a cheery read.

Back from the Brink by Peter Snowdon charts the fall and rise of the Conservative Party, from the last days Thatcher through to late 2009. Snowdon has done his work, with over 150 people quoted as sources, some of them big names. There are plenty of unnamed sources, and some of them have clearly used the opportunity to stab enemies, past or current, in the back.

The second half of the book, charting Cameron's rise to the head of a fractious Party, is more interesting. Somewhat light on insight about the Campaign, the book does a marvellous job of laying out the fault lines and personalities within the party.

Seeing behind the scenes during the infamous 'election that didnt happen' is really interesting. Personally I had never considered quite how vital this event was, but looking back, it seems likely that without this the Party would be in opposition for another 4-5 years and Brown would have a Parliamentary majority of 40-60 members. Staggering when you think that we're now staring a hung Parliament in the face.

Of the two, I personally enjoyed Gould's book more, despite its somewhat florid prose. Labour were forced to work a lot harder for a lot longer than the Conservatives (in my opinion) to regain the public's trust. The brutual length of the campaign to rebrand the Labour Party is spelled out in detail and offers insight which is hard to come across.

Back from the Brink also offers insight, but also makes it pretty evident that a few extremely fortuate events helped bring the Tories back. Of course its fair to say that the harder you work the luckier you get, and the Tories have certainly worked.

Both books are worth a read, regardless of your political affiliation, and give specific details of the tools and tactics used by each Party to reinvent itself for the electorate.


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