In Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics
, Matthew Parris gives us a brilliantly diverting autobiography combined with a comprehensive and merciless picture of the politicians he has dealt with, both in his own time as an MP and subsequently as writer for some of our most august newspapers.
He is not only the most astute of political commentators, he is one of the most completely entertaining. Matthew Parris made little impression in his career as a Tory candidate (for which, as a sardonically witty and iconoclastic gay man, he was perhaps not best suited), but in his subsequent career as one of the shrewdest observers of the political scene, he has few equals.
The book's jacket gives some idea of the unbuttoned tone here: while John Mortimer "thank(s) God for Matthew Parris", Alan Clark is quoted as describing him as an "absolute sh**". And it's Parris' fearlessness (combined with that scalpel-honed wit) that makes this hefty volume the kind of book that (despite its length) will be consumed avidly. Parris was close to the centre of power (Margaret Thatcher no less) but always remained an outsider. Of course, his spell in Mrs Thatcher's office is by far the most entertaining part of the book, his dealings with the Iron Lady being no less than catastrophic. But while delivering devastating pen-portraits of that lady, he is equally exuberant in his pictures of such luminaries as Peter Mandelson (whom he famously "outed"), Tony Blair and Michael Portillo. This is eccentric, highly personal writing, but the combination of mordant humour and fierce intelligence is absolutely irresistible. After reading it, the reader may wonder how Parris lasted for five minutes as part of Margaret Thatcher's humourless government. --Barry Forshaw
About the Author
Matthew Parris was born in Johannesburg in 1949. For seven years a Conservative MP, he quit to present LWT's Weekend World, after which he became a regular parliamentary sketchwriter for The Times. His books include READ MY LIPS and SCORN WITH ADDED VITRIOL (both available in Penguin), and INCA-KOLA, about his travels in Peru. He has also made a number of television documentaries, including most recently an account of his sojourn on a remote sub-Antartic island.