Michael Cockerell (Biteback £20, 368 pp)

For half a century, master TV interviewer Michael Cockerell’s X-ray eye has penetrated the confected fronts of Britain’s political leaders, probing beyond the sound bite, pricking the Westminster bubble of self-regard.

These are the shocking truths he discovered. Sketch after sketch is presented, where foibles and beliefs can be exposed and analysed. Macmillan, Wilson, Thatcher, Blair — they’re all here, plus many others, skewered by their own words.

It’s full of surprises. Each of the nine previous prime ministers was asked if they were unsure about their abilities to perform the task. Boris, unbelievably, was the only one to say yes. ‘We all have worries and insecurities,’ he confessed.

UK-based literary critic Tony Rennell has rounded up a selection of this year's best political books. Pictured: Boris Johnson and Sir Alan Duncan

Tony Rennell is a British literary critic who has collected a list of the year’s most important political books. Pictured: Boris Johnson and Sir Alan Duncan

It’s written with panache and acumen. He astutely describes Boris’s regime as a blend of Shakespeare, Monty Python and The Sopranos, ‘penned by a scriptwriter on speed’.

The criticisms are tempered by sympathy for the unattainable nature of the job. Prime ministers are ‘constantly in the line of fire . . . theirs is an often thankless task.’ Worth remembering as we fry our leaders in the unforgiving pan of public opinion.


by Andrew Mitchell (Biteback £20, 384 pp)

Events, dear boy, events. Andrew Mitchell, the floppy-haired and bicycling Tory toff, has more reasons to recognize that old political principle than anyone. One event brought his downfall — the moment when, as David Cameron’s newly appointed chief whip, he got into a nasty spat with police officers at the gates of Downing Street and to whom he allegedly used the word ‘plebs’. He was destined for a promising career.

Given ‘Plebgate’, I wasn’t expecting to have much sympathy for him. Dad also a Conservative MP, family in the wine trade, Cambridge, loads of money and social connections — one of the born-elite, with an entitled manner (and manor too, no doubt!).

However, this is his wry, often disturbing account of his political experience. It shows a man who cares about his privilege and wants to make the most of it.

This was especially true in his tenure as international development secretary, where he faced sceptics who demanded that aid be cut and the Third World left to its own devices.

The inside story is engaging and entertaining, mainly from the backbenches.


Sebastian Payne (Macmillan £20, 432 pp)

In 2019, the Tories secured a stunning majority thanks to the collapse of the Red Wall of Labour seat. But was it a one-off — votes lent, rather than secured — or a seismic upheaval which changed politics for good?

Payne was a Gateshead-based London journalist who visited the North in search of disillusionment with Labour. The party tried to appeal to the working class, but was disillusioned with the class war rhetorics being spouted in Islington or Hackney.

Alan Duncan (pictured) shares his personal jottings as junior foreign minister in his political book In The Thick Of It

Alan Duncan (pictured), writes about his experiences as junior foreign Minister in his political book, In The Thick Of It.

Labour’s disdain for pro-Brexit voters was crucial in their decision to go blue. Even worse was Jeremy Corbyn, its leader at the time.

One grievance stood out in the list: His wishy-washy response to poisoning the Skripals at Salisbury by Russian agents.

This was too much for innately patriotic working-class voters, who didn’t trust him or Labour to do what was best for Britain.

They will trust Boris next time. The 2024 general elections will be the true test.


By Alan Duncan (Collins £25, 512 pp)

You might like to roast your politicians and make fun of them, this book is full of personal notes from junior foreign minister Duncan. Boris, he declares, is ‘a stain on our reputation’, Michael Gove ‘a martian’, Priti Patel ‘a brassy monster’ and John Bercow a ‘hobbit’. One would never have believed that Sir Alan, handsome and affable, had so much bile.

Duncan has never been to the highest table in politics. Is it because PM Theresa May doesn’t care about me? What is the point of me not being involved in Brexit negotiations? Why isn’t TV showing me more of the Brexit talks?

He tots up the slights and slings them back — while never slow in patting himself on the back. ‘I deliver quite a humdinger,’ he writes with effortless pride of a speech at the UN.

But though he was not a player, he did have a front-row seat in the self-immolation of May’s brief administration as she lost the plot on Brexit. Duncan, a Leaver, looks on with anger and sorrow at the duplicity and plotting.

However, his judgment is. . . on September 8, 2018 he tweeted: ‘This is the political end of Boris Johnson.’ It wasn’t. And when he described one fellow Tory MP as a ‘self-deluded, treacherous dunce’, I found myself wondering if he was looking in the mirror.