authors index

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Kenneth Robinson
Look at Parliament
Panther, London, 1962
(96 pages)

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Iain Sproat
The Picture Life of Edward Heath
Franklin Watts, London, 1971
(price: 95p; 48 pages)

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Jane Elizabeth Bowler & Julian Roup
A Day With An MP
Wayland, Hove, 1981
(price: 3.50; 284 pages)

In the normal way of things, kids simply aren't interested in politics. Just one of those things, I guess. You might get the occasional William 'Wee Willie' Hague, but do you really want one? ('No' would appear to have been the British people's answer to that question.)

Politicians being the preening, prancing Narcissi that they are, however, they're convinced that everyone should know all about them. So what we have here are three MPs from different decades indulging in a vain (both senses) attempt to interest children in the life and world of politics.

Sir Kenneth Robinson was a decent, liberal-minded MP of the old Labour school. (He wrote a biography of Wilkie Collins, which shows how old Labour he was - such a thing would be regarded as unpardonably elitist in Blair's dumbed-down New Estuary Party.) He also served as a Health Minister under Harold Wilson in the 1960s, but is probably best remembered for initiating the first post-Wolfenden debate in the Commons to call for the legalisation of male gay sex. His book is a rapid round-up of the history, buildings and activities of Parliament, and is mostly sound, though perhaps a trifle simplistic:

Just as we in England hundreds of years ago had kings who ruled by themselves, so some countries are governed by a single man today. He is usually called a dictator, and he probably took power by force or by plotting. In those countries the people have no chance of choosing their ruler. If they do not like him they may perhaps revolt and if they succeed, someone else may take power. They may then find that he is no better than the man they got rid of. (pp.91-92)

The text is accompanied by a series of line drawings by Michael Jackson (not that one), which are revealing in their own right. Here for example is a depiction of the chamber of the Commons - white men are not under-represented:

The 1980s version of the story approaches the subject as a day in the life. (This is part of a series that also includes days spent in the company of an oilrig worker, a vicar and a footballer.) The MP they've chosen to follow around is the young Tory member for Anglesey, Keith Best.

Elected at the age of 30 in 1979, Mr Best was at the time entirely unknown (though he had written the book Write Your Own Will in 1978). A few short years later he was to attract unwanted attention as the epitome of 1980s greed, when he received a four-month gaol sentence for trying to obtain BT shares by deception. My lawyers would like me to point out that this sentence was later quashed, and that Mr Best was undoubtedly a decent and honourable man whose notoriety was entirely undeserved. In fact, after that low point, he went on to much better things, becoming Director of the organization Prisoners Abroad in 1989. By the early-21st century he was working for the Immigration Advisory Service and - being an ex-Tory MP - found himself to the left of New so-called Labour when it came to issues of immigration.

The book is entirely charming and makes no mention of share-dealing whatsoever. Instead it focuses on the reality of an MP's life: 'Keith takes a taxi to Westminster' is a typical headline for a page, which then shows a photo of a taxi and a few lines explaining that traffic in London is heavier than it is on Anglesey. Later on 'Keith waits to make his speech' whilst 'Afterwards he enjoys a cup of tea.' Top stuff.

Keith Best and the long arm of the law
Keith helps the police with their enquiries

A slightly different way of selling politics to the youth was tried by Iain Sproat in 1971. Nowadays, of course, the name of the former Tory Sports Minister is known and revered through the entire civilized world, but back then he was a newly-elected MP for Aberdeen and looking to establish his presence in Parliament.

His chosen method was a hagiography of his leader, and then-Prime Minister, Ted Heath, written in very large print over a meagre 48 pages and copiously illustrated. It must have taken the best part of an afternoon.

Probably the highpoint is the flyleaf note on the author: 'Like Edward Heath he is a bachelor, but at 32 Iain Sproat does not regard this as very remarkable or significant.' Obviously it was neither, and Mr Sproat got married in 1979. Mr Heath, on the other hand, never did. Funny that.

The Trinity
Tricky Dicky, Steady Teddie and Brenda

non fiction