Renton whips up a good read

SUMMER reading can often ignore the political novel and history. Here's two I recommend, plus one turkey.Let's start with Chief Whip, Tim Renton's history of Government Chief Whips and the part they play in cajoling would-be free spirits through division lobbies to support policies with which they don't agree.

SUMMER reading can often ignore the political novel and history. Here's two I recommend, plus one turkey.

Let's start with Chief Whip, Tim Renton's history of Government Chief Whips and the part they play in cajoling would-be free spirits through division lobbies to support policies with which they don't agree.

The dark arts of the Chief Whip and his assistants are explored. They know all the financial and sexual peccadilloes of the MPs in their charge and they can use this to good effect by putting pressure on recalcitrant and wayward backbenchers who might be inclined to rebel.

Renton was Chief Whip during the greatest drama in post war political history - the Conservative Party's hysteria in 1990 when it stared defeat in the face and finally plunged the dagger into Margaret Thatcher, who had never lost an election in her life.


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The Chief Whip, of all senior Cabinet appointments, must be uniquely loyal to the Prime Minister. He or she is responsible for getting Government business through the Commons and for keeping disciple in the ranks. But in a leadership contest, there comes another loyalty - to the party and ensuring it does not fracture.

Renton's insight into this least known arm of Government makes enthralling reading. The first recorded whip took place on November 25 1621 when Sir George Calvert wrote to Sir Julius Caesar > requiring Caesar's attendance in Parliament on the following day "and every day as long as the House sits" to support the King's cause.

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The excellent New European Publications has just reprinted Disraeli, James Anthony Froude's 19th century biography of the great statesman. It is the first in the company's planned series Classics Revived and contains much material on which more recent studies of the Victorian Prime Minister and novelist are based.

Froude was Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University and wrote the biography with the help of Ralph Disraeli, the Prime Minister's brother. Disraeli's power struggle with Sir Robert Peel over Free Trade was one of the Tory Party's defining moment

Finally Spin, the first novel of former Whitehall press officer Martin Sixsmith who was a fall guys in the Stephen Byers-Jo Moore farrago.

Spin is a parody of Sixsmith's time in Government, including a one paragraph reference to 2,000 deaths at Canary Wharf when - yes, you've guessed - two hijacked aircraft crash into London's imitation of New York's twin towers and what a good day to bury bad news.

Set in the next decade when New Project has replaced Labour and New Liberals succeeded the Lib Dems and Ken Clarke's Europhile Tories, it deals with media manipulation from Downing Street, a Prime Minister with a dark past and hints at paedophilia and sexual abuse at the heart of Government.

Sixsmith invents the Department for Society, a Maoist successor to the Home Office which aims to control the number of children couples are allowed to have and which deals with immigrants, asylum seekers, and diversity in an authoritarian but populist manner.

But the lampooning just doesn't work and I'm afraid this is one which really ought to be left on the shelves at the airport bookshop.

Chief Whip (£25 published by Politico's), Disraeil (£11.95, New European Publications), Spin (£16.99, Macmillan).

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