Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Political memoirs and open government. A publisher's take

"There are many who view political memoirs with a degree of scepticism. There are some who view them with derision. Commentators often question whether the recollections of senior politicians can be anything other than self-serving - simply an attempt "to set the record straight" by writing and perhaps "righting" history.

"Now, I take issue with cynical attitudes such as these - as I do with those who'd adopt them. It is very easy to say that politicians are secretive, that they control the flow of information to suit their own twisted ends. And yet, when these self-same politicians do in fact publish their "warts and all" accounts they still come under attack. They are, as it were, damned if they do publish, and damned if they don't.

"I am a publisher and I have a somewhat different perspective. Yes, these memoirs might be elegantly tailored to suit the designs of certain authors. Yes, they might filter out certain salient points whilst flooding readers with others the authors would prefer them to take on board. Nevertheless, often quite by accident, they do offer an insight into the mindsets, into the attitudes, and therefore into the worlds these authors/politicians inhabit during their long and turbulent careers.

"Here, I give an example of one particular encounter that occurred between three senior politicians as they plotted the downfall of several senior cabinet colleagues in addition to the "liquidation" of various officials and members of the public who were deemed to have become an "inconvenience". I think you'll agree that, though the individuals concerned are not actually identified (for reasons of national security) and though the specific operation to which they refer is not immediately obvious, this account offers an unprecedented insight into the secretive workings of the "inner cabinet".

The Right Hon. Mr X: I really don't agree with you Otto (codename). Calling it "Operation Strongbow" is a dead giveaway. It suggests that we are up to something involving physical violence.

The Right Hon. Mr. Y: Oh, utter rot, Hagrid (codename). Strongbow is the name of a cider for crying out loud. What are we supposed to be up to? A cunning plan to get people pissed?

The Right Hon. Mr. Z: He's got a point you know, Otto. We don't really want the word strong... or bow for that matter. People might not see the cider angle. They might just think bows and arrows... death, destruction and the like.

The Right Hon. Mr. Y: Oh for crying out loud!

The Right Hon. Mr. X: I think that we should go for something warm and cuddly sounding. How about Operation Fluffy Bunny? No one would have a clue what that was.

The Right Hon. Mr. Z: Or how about Operation Teensy Weensy Cutesy Little Guinea Pig? Who'd suspect that?

The Right Hon. Mr. Y: (Sneering) Yes, well how about Operation Looney Tunes? That has a ring to it. And if ever we got caught we could claim, I don't know, diminished responsibility.

The Right Hon. Mr. Z: You know, you might be onto something.

The Right Hon. Mr. Y: (Sneering again) It was meant to be a joke.

The Right Hon. Mr. X: (Cutting in) Listen. I think I have the solution. Let's simply call it Operation Operation. That way, no one will have any idea what we're talking about.

The Right Hon. Mr. Y: (Perking up) You know, actually, I like it. Operation Operation. Totally meaningless... That's exactly what the business of government should be all about.

The Right Hon Mr. Z: Sorry... I don't follow. How d'you mean?

The Right Hon. Mr. X: The business of government should be all about nobody knowing what the hell we're talking about... even with all this Freedom of Information bullshit. Everyone is still clueless.

The Right Hon. Mr. Y: Yep. I go along with that.

The Right Hon. Mr. X: So, we're agreed. We're calling it Operation Operation?

The Right Hon. Mr. Y: Sounds good to me.

The Right Hon. Mr Z: I suppose so...

The Right Hon. Mr. X: But, you know what. Let's obfuscate a little more.

The Right Hon. Mr Y: Yes?

The Right Hon. Mr. X: Yes... To confuse matters further, let's call it Operation Operation Operation. That way, no one will know whether we're talking about the Operation... or talking about talking about the Operation. Good idea?

The Right Hon. Mr. Z: Erm...

The Right Hon. Mr. X: GOOD idea, boys?

The Right Hon. Mr. Y and Mr. Z: (In unison) Yes... Mr. X.

Mad,bad and dangerous...

Gordon Brown was mad, bad, dangerous and beyond redemption. That's what former PM Tony Blair thought, if Lord Mandelson's political memoirs are anything to go by.

So why was Brown tolerated for thirteen years?

Perhaps because much of the Labour front bench was mad, bad and dangerous as well - especially in the final months leading up to the 2010 election.

The "beyond redemption" bit is also relevant. The thing about redemption is that you never know for sure when someone is actually "beyond" it... until of course it's too late, the penny finally drops and you decide: Yep, they are indeed, they truly are... beyond redemption.

It's like a lover who keeps on forgiving a partner, patching things up, splitting up again, getting back... until... eventually... they realise that the lover really is... beyond redemption.

Maybe the people around Brown all thought: he could change. He couldn't.

Still... all's fair in love and war. That's the other reason why Brown lasted for thirteen years. Probably.