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Breaking The Code: The Brandreth Diaries: Westminster Diaries, 1992-97 Paperback – 6 Jan 2000
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It has, for no especially good reason, been the convention that Government Whips not publish their memoirs, let alone their diaries. Gyles Brandreth's account of his five years in Parliament, and of his time as a Whip in the dying days of the Major Government, trashes that convention to give a memorable and entertaining account of days of drift and uncertainty. Brandreth has a good ear, and a sense of his own absurdity; he was placed to see disorganisation and disloyalty from close at hand, and is touching in his admiration for Major himself, whom he sees as a nice and able man with an impossible task. There are entertaining stories--some of them new; there is vitriol poured impartially on the press, Labour politicians and Tory disloyalists; and there are moments of charm in his tributes to his wife and dead friends like Simon Cadell and Stephen Milligan. The book also provides answers to the difficult questions of what private secretaries and Whips actually do--in Brandreth's case, the answer seems to be endless damage control in a doomed situation. There is an odd telling moment when he finds Peter Mandelson asleep in the Commons library with a Filofax on the table beside him--and virtuously abstains from peeking. --Roz Kaveney
About the Author
Gyles Brandreth is a former Oxford Scholar and President of the Oxford Union and worked in theatre, television and publishing before becoming MP for the City of Chester in 1992. He held a number of junior ministerial appointments before becoming a Government Whip. In the run-up to the 1997 General Election he was Lord Commissionar of the Treasury with special responsibility for the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Kenneth Clarke), the Cabinet Office, and the Deputy Minister (Michael Heseltine). He is married with two children.
Top customer reviews
Cutting (could he really say that about the fellow Tory he succeeded!!!), brutally honest account of the characters he came across.
His best mates appeared to have been Neil Hamilton, Jonathon Aitken and Stephen Milligan and he does admit to a lack of judgement at various stages in the book - indeed he celebrates his amatuerism, a brilliant David Mellor putdown of Brandreth is included showing that this author despite all the flaws he readily admits to, has a humility not found in the A.Clark diaries.
Excellent, full of inuendo, a book which for the most part makes politics interesting even if by the end he wasn't too unhappy to leave.
The awfulness of it all is vividly recounted. If I were putting together Labour's campaign for the next election, I think I would simply have chunks of this book broadcast. No further comment would be needed.
Though the book is mostly lighthearted, there are some touching undertones - such as Mr Brandreth's tributes to his wife and his response to the illness and death of close friends. There are some darker undertones too, as various Tory MPs are disgraced. Again, I felt touched by Mr Brandreth's loyalty to, for instance, the Hamiltons and Jonathan Aitken. Whatever one thinks of these people, loyalty is a good thing.
They contain all the wit you'd expect from the seasoned raconteur, but do also show that he tried terribly hard to be a good MP for the duration of his tenure. However hard the weekend constituency grind was, this was leavened by the excitement of being a member of one of the most prestigious clubs in the world, and his amazement at the workings and machinations of government are often hilarious.
In demand as a speech-writer/doctor, Gyles made many friends, but was obviously irritated that his relatively high media profile (and his penchant for loud knitted jumpers on TV) held him back from office. But this did give him one brilliant opportunity in the house - when baited by Prescott muttering 'Woolly jumper, woolly jumper', he responded: "The advantage of a woolly jumper is that you can take it off at will. The disadvantage of a woolly mind is that you are lumbered with it for life."
Eventually though he was made a junior whip, joining an exclusive sub-section of the Club, and finding it great fun, and this is what the title of the book refers to - whips do not talk about how they work - he broke their code by publishing the diaries.
One senses that by the end, when Tony Blair beat John Major and ended an era, Brandreth was eager to get back to his former life, and that his wife Michele was glad that he'd got it out of his system.
A fascinating read, and interesting insight into the main characters and events of the Major government from the PM himself to Ken Clarke, Norman Lamont & the ERM, and not forgetting the Hamiltons and cash for questions debacle, and all that sleaze!.
I've always thought Brandreth was much more than just an entertainer in a silly jumper, and this proves the point admirably.
To be read in conjunction with Major's book, I reckon- but I suspect you'll enjoy this more.
Anyone who wants to go into politics should read this book. It gives a great insight into the pressures and problems. Who would do it if they knew just how bad the hours, the constituents and one's colleagues can be. The stories about the drop outs are so sad.
I liked the insights into G.B.s private life - his grief at the death of his friend Simon Cadell, his love of his wife and his friendship with Prince Phillip.
Also, I'm a speechwriter and I found the book a treasure chest of one-liners and witty anecdotes.
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