Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 17:15 UK

Beach reading for Tory bookworms


By Terry Stiastny
The World At One, BBC Radio 4

It has become something of a tradition for the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman Keith Simpson to send his colleagues a suggested reading list for the Parliamentary recess.

This year's summer list comprises 27 heavyweight books, mostly on subjects like military history, political biography, constitutional reform and the economy.

Mr Simpson told The World At One that this was not compulsory reading for his colleagues, though he thought that some might see it as a reading list set by an Oxford tutor.

The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars by Patrick Hennessey
A View from the Foothills by Chris Mullin
Alan Clark: the biography by Ion Trewin (published mid-September)
Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown by John Campbell
Electing Our Masters: The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair by Jon Lawrence
Whitehall: The Street that Shaped a Nation by Colin Brown
Neville Chamberlain by Nick Smart (published August)
Attlee's Great Contemporaries: The Politics of Character by Frank Field
Harold Macmillan by Charles Williams
Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-1945 by Max Hastings (published September)
D-Day by Antony Beevor
Blood Victory: The Sacrifice of the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century by William Philpott
Democracy: 1000 Years in Pursuit of British Liberty by Peter Kellner
The New British Constitution by Vernon Bogdanor
The Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane
Democracy Goes to War: British Military Deployments under International Law by Nigel D White
Lords of Finance: 1929, The Great Depression - and the Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamad
Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky
The Spectre at the Feast: Capitalist Crisis and the Politics of Recession by Andrew Gamble
Restoring Financial Stability: How to Repair a Failed System by Viral V. Acharya and Matthew Richardson (eds)
Europe's Tragedy: A History of the Thirty years War by Peter H. White
Poland: A History by Adam Zamoyski
The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China by Jay Taylor
The Terrorist Hunters by Andy Hayman (currently withdrawn for legal reasons)
Terrorism: How to Respond by Richard English
The Defence of the Realm: The Official History of MI5 by Christopher Andrew (published October)
The Pathans by Sir Olaf Caroe

He acknowledges that some fellow Tory MPs were "frankly amazed" by the list - and one "young thrusting frontbencher" once emailed him to say that he was never going to have time to read all of them.

But he believes his colleagues - including the most senior shadow cabinet members like David Cameron and William Hague - do have both the time and the appetite for serious books and big thoughts over their holidays.

These are not the kind of books that you will necessarily find on the three for two table of your local bookstore - though some, like Anthony Beevor's D-Day, do make the bestseller lists.

As you would expect from a foreign affairs spokesman, military history features strongly, including Patrick Hennessey's book The Junior Officer's Reading Club, which Mr Simpson praises as "Siegfried Sassoon meets Mad Max" - though he admits it might be rather macho and male-oriented for some tastes.

Mr Simpson also singles out Chris Mullin's recent diaries, A View from the Foothills as giving an insight into life in Tony Blair's government. He also selects biographies of Neville Chamberlain, Harold Macmillan - and perhaps as a cautionary tale for would-be Tory ministers - Alan Clark.

Vernon Bogdanor - who is an Oxford tutor and who once taught David Cameron - also features with his book on The New British Constitution, described as a "bluffers guide" and offered as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion to the new Speaker, John Bercow.

I asked Mr Simpson why no fiction featured on his list - say, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall with its tales of Tudor politics and intrigue?

Mr Simpson says he did consider that - and that he is halfway through the novel himself - but he believes that his colleagues would think telling them what fiction to read was "a great impertinence".

He thinks that his fellow Tory MPs will be able to find what he jokingly calls "shilling shockers and bodice rippers" on their own account if they're in search of escapism.

'Unutterable trash'

We asked the World At One's political panel what they would be reading this summer.

International Development secretary Douglas Alexander said he would be avoiding bodice-rippers but was planning to read the book by his Liberal Democrat rival, Vince Cable, titled The Storm, on the economic crisis; as well as Timothy Garton Ash's collection of writings, Facts are Subversive; and, for his children, The Utterly Otterleys about otters in the Hebrides.

Conservative MP Richard Benyon said he would be reading The End of the Line by Charles Clover, on fish stocks, plus he said "some unutterable trash" to bring him back to humanity.

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey confessed to not yet having read his colleague Vince Cable's book - but it was on his list, as was Bob Woodward's latest and Mark Leonard's book on China.

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