OK: Iain Dale has a hard life.
Today he hit the pits. He was reduced to regurgitating:
Conservative MP Keith Simpson [who] produces a list of books that his parliamentary colleagues might consider reading.
Well, either Dale or Simpson has probs. Let Malcolm list a few from the early part of this turgid recital:
- The outstanding read for the summer is Patrick Hennessey The Junior Officer’s Reading Club Killing Time and Fighting Wars.
Properly that’s: The Junior Officer’s Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars.
Funnily enough, the colon in the original title changes the meaning and tone considerably. Who didn’t recognise that: the Tory junior shadow minister (B.A. Hull) or the B.A. in TEFL (U.E.A.)?
According to Simpson (let’s assume that Dale has done his usual cut-and-paste):
his right of passage as a soldier was in Afghanistan and he graphically describes what it is like to serve there at the front as an infantry soldier.
Normally that’s “rite of passage”.
Then we are told:
This book is really “Siegfried Sassoon meets Mad Max” and Hennessey is shrewd enough to recognise that like Sassoon all that he has written is not necessarily fact.
Well, ignoring the sheer banality of the lack of punctuation, that begs a number of questions. To which version of Siegfried Sassoon does Simpson refer? Does he assume that the author of the poems and “George Sherston” (Sassoon’s semi-autobiographical “friend”, written up a decade and more later) are one and the same? How many Tories, who swallowed those Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928) and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) as their essential right-to-rule ancestral heritage bothered with Sherston’s Progress (1936)?
The last part of the trilogy isn’t fed to the public-school tradition because it expands on Owen:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
And that’s not good for recruitment.
In some ways, that third part of the trilogy, which locates Sherston in Palestine and Ireland before returning him to the last months of the Western Front, with episodes in Craiglockhart Hospital, anticipates George Orwell as a revelation of the sharp and shitty end of Empire. It is probably the most autobiographical, and personally revealing book of the three (the Palestine section is substantially diary entries).
Anyway, why does Simpson assume it is an unsurmountable leap from “Mad Jack” (the nickname his troops gave Sassoon) to “Mad Max”?
Quote frankly, anyone who describes Sandhurst (as Hennessey, according to Simpson, according to Dale, says) as “Hogwarts with guns” tells us all we need to know about our military élite. Fortunately each has a bat-man or a valet or whatever to change his officer’s socks while telling him what to think.
We are then asked to admire Chris Mullin’s A View from the Foothills. Of course, Simpson sees that as:
Self-deprecating, amusing, insightful and indiscreet, these are Alan Clark’s diaries without the sex and malice.
So, no ideology there. Unsurprisingly, that’s not the usual lefty reading of the People’s Chris (may his shadow never grow shorter), or of his book. However, that gives Simpson a hot-link to:
Ian Trewin who edited Alan Clark’s diaries has now written Alan Clark: The Biography, which will be published in mid September.
Curiously, that’s usually Ion Trewin, with or without some more semi-literate punctuation. Publication of Alan Clark: The Biography (Orion) is already announced for 14th September (and Amazon are taking discounted pre-orders). Yeah: that’s mid-September. Yawn…
Next, we are asked mix sand and salivation:
John Campbell is a prolific political biographer – Lloyd George and Margaret Thatcher – and we await with interest his authorised biography of Roy Jenkins. In Pistols at Dawn Two Hundred years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown, he has covered some familiar ground but with fresh insights and a sure feel for the historical context.
Campbell churned out a biography of Roy Jenkins, as far back as 1983. The puff for Pistols at Dawn (currently languishing at number 295,067 in the Amazon sales rank) merely suggests that Campbell “is currently writing” the Jenkins piece. Jenkins has been dead these last six years, so the word “authorised” jars a trifle. Equally, there is the “retrospective” edited by Andrew Adonis and Keith Thomas, which Alan Watkins (Campbell’s stablemate at the Indy) rated as “excellent. Campbell’s efforts, then, may be unnecessary, except, in due course, to add another pile to the remainder counter.
Malcolm, working from a hard-copy print-out, found that nearly gets off the first page: there are at least two more. There is, alas, a limit to what flesh-and-blood can stand.
Simpson (think Alan Whicker gone podgy and without the charm) is currently MP for Mid Norfolk (and, it is to be hoped, given a hard time by the LibDims in the future Broadland constituency). He is straight-down-the-middle Tory lobby fodder, another of those types who bore for Britain. His wikipedia entry, with his penchant for second-hand bookshops and taking his son to the cinema, can only be self-composed. This list adds nothing to his “intellectual” reputation, or his literary pretensions.