Why don’t more British politicians write books?

Book market on the South Bank in London

Second-hand book market on the South Bank, London. Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay.

I love books. Reading them. Having physical books around me. Even at times writing them. (Though that loves dissipates quickly in the face of the next appearance of writer’s block.)

Books also fulfil a purpose. It would be only a little twee to say that I’ve ended up the interim co-leader of a political party because I write. Emails (lots of them), books (yes, that one) and the occasional pamphlet, especially the one I wrote back in 2015 with ex-MP David Howarth setting out a core vote strategy for the party.

I’d hazard a guess that our pamphlet did more than any other thing I’ve done to move people from thinking ‘Mark could do our next training session’ to ‘Mark could be our president’.

What books should you read to become a better campaigner?

That was one of the questions I was asked when taking part in a virtual book club meeting this weekend with Liberal Democrats in Hull and neighbouring areas. more

For people who run for the version of president that comes with a motorcade, helicopter and a town centre house, writing a book is a standard part of their campaign. Would-be American Presidents regularly write one or even more books as part of their campaign. Doing this is not only a way to set out your stall. It’s also a way to get your thoughts in order.

In other words, it’s a darn good thing to do, whether your sites are on a global stage or a rather more parochial one.

Yet in British politics, writing a book is not generally seen as part of what (would be) political leadership is about. There are occasional exceptions. Though they tend to be from people who are writers anyway. Otherwise, book writing is left to retirement.

But why? That’s a question I mentioned in my interview with The New European. The interview covered both being interim co-leader of the Liberal Democrats as well as my new book, Bad News.

But here’s what I had to say about book writing:

He has a book out, Bad News: What The Headlines Don’t Tell Us, in which Pack, not a journalist, attempts to walk the layman through understanding the way news is written. It’s very readable, admirably unpreachy and a rarity, a book by somebody in (relatively) frontline British politics.

Pack agrees (on the last point). “If we were in US politics, there would currently be a whole batch of Liberal Democrat MPs who would just have had books out setting out their stall,” he says.

“And I think that’s a real shame. There is a real virtue in writing in terms of actually helping coalesce your own thoughts, even if no-one else reads the book.

6 responses to “Why don’t more British politicians write books?”

  1. And why don’t so many of them read books? A book is an excellent way to escape from the rigours, problems and disasters around you and that escape can enable a reader to return refreshed. Macmillan did it, Wilson did it, Paddy did it, but some seemed not to and slid into the mire.

  2. That’s a very good point Sean. President Trump is notorious for never reading books (indeed, never reading anything). Enough said on him. What does BoJo read ? Gove ? We know that SpAd Dominic Cummings read a book on herd immunity (and where did that get us ?). More seriously, what does Sir Ed Davey read for pleasure as opposed to for briefing ? Sir Vince ? Wera Hobhouse ?

    I’ve just read a great book on the history of Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre; just ask if you’d like my review.

  3. I look forward to renewed interest in my ‘The Liberals in Hampshire, a part(l)y history’ series which, in the absence of active campaigning, people currently have time to read. In response to enquiries I can post them. My e-mail is martinkyrleliberal@gmail.com

  4. It is only perhaps since the digital revolution that fewer politicians write books (and write fewer of them). Gladstone, Disraeli and their ilk wrote lots and read even more while continuing to run the country. In more recent times, Churchill stands out as a writer and, more recently Roy Jenkins was a prolific writer of serious historical works (as well as being the last truly liberal Home Secretary). Most politicians of substance leave a memoir behind (some excellent, some much less so) but that indeed is not the same as a work of scholarly objectivity – or indeed of readable fiction.

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