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Why do so many of our MPs feel the need to write books?

10 June 2014

It sometimes feels like there is a never-ending flood of books written by politicians delivered to the Spectator offices. Almost every week a new one – or the invitation to a book launch of a new one – comes through the door. As I type, for example, I can see Fraser’s invitation to the launch of Tristram Hunt’s Ten Cities that Made an Empire (which Hunt was promoting on yesterday morning’s Start the Week), and a copy of Kwasi Kwarteng’s War and Gold on the bookshelf beside me. But what I want to know is, how do all these MPs have the time to write books, when they ought to be working for their constituents?

Not that Kwasi or Tristram should have the blame focused on them. They are far from the only ones, as the author pages of Biteback Publishing show. Even the Mayor of London has had time to write a book while in office: Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World. But at least his book was about what is, effectively, his constituency. Kwasi Kwarteng, on the other hand, isn’t writing about Staines, is he?


Either way, whether or not the various constituents stand to gain from their MP’s enthusiasm for novel writing, it’s unlikely that their books would have received the coverage that they do if the authors weren’t in the public eye. After all, not everyone gets an Andrew Marr quote on the cover of their first publication, like Liam Fox did, or the opportunity to write 1,000 words about their own book for the Telegraph (à la Jesse Norman). And, of course, a book written by an MP is almost guaranteed reviews in the press, even if it’s on a topic as thrilling as ‘achieving a better comprehension of human behaviour and applying this understanding to how we organise the financial system’ (Nadhim Zahawi and Matthew Hancock’s Masters of Nothing).

It’s also interesting to note how many MPs are willing to heap praise on their fellow politicians’ books. Having said that, even when she was an MP, I don’t recall any of Louise Mensch’s books receiving ‘critical acclaim’ from her fellow members – at least not publicly. Maybe it’s only a certain type of book that politicians are keen to endorse.

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  • mina
  • James Jones

    It is certain that Churchill wrote books for money.

    Perhaps some modern MPs do too?

    Everyone is entitled to make a living.

  • andagain

    Perhaps it is natural: an MP without an interest in words and communicating things is probably in the wrong job.

    And writing a book allows an MP to rause his profile, look smart and get paid simultaneously.

    It worked for Churchill, as I recall…

  • swatnan

    Its a nice little pension pot. You have to plan for the future.
    Even Nadine has written a potboiler.

    • swatnan

      Just realised that there is an ‘edit’ function; so no more excuses on SPAG!

  • peter dwyer

    MPs writing books!? Disgusting! It should be banned as a contravention of their constituents’ human right to full time representation in parliament.

    While we are at it, MPs should be paid no more than £40k a year (much more than the average wage) and banned from any outside earnings whatsoever. Then we would get MPs who were much more in touch with normal people. The MPs would be solely and selflessly devoted to the good of their constituents and Britain would be so much better run.

  • james peel

    This brainless blog confirms my impression that we will become a socialist, illiterate and barbaric basket place in a very short time…

    MPs should be housed in state dormitories, banned from all outside interests and earnings and essentially paid to be social workers. We are totally dumbed down.

    To think we had people like Churchill in parliament little more than 50 years ago. Enoch Powell, Roy Hattersley, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Douglas Hurd and Keith Joseph, Roy Jenkins all wrote books as MPs. That used to be something the public almost expected of their MPs in England. But I suppose we’re just not that kind of country any more, but for a journalist to criticise MPs for the crime of writing books is extraordinary.

    • autolycus

      i agree entirely. the idea that this young journalist, who presumably believes in a free press, is criticising MPs, who sit in a free parliament, for writing books is pretty extraordinary.

      If her view is representative of the younger generation, i can well imagine that we could have in a few years some turbo-charged left wing government banning MPs from publishing anything more than 50 pages long that wasn’t exclusively dedicated to promoting Marxist/Leninist ideology. Maybe we could give special dispensations to MPs who wrote about specific constituency affairs.

      If only Sir Winston Churchill hadn’t written all those books, think how well he would have served the constituents of Woodford and Epping.

      very bizarre. Camilla, you can’t know much about British parliamentary history. We have always had writers, some good, a lot terrible, in the house of commons.

  • james peel

    What the f*ck is this country coming to? I mean criticizing public elected officials for writing books for er, the public to read. Churchill, Disraeli, Roy Jenkins, Thomas More, Macaulay, Gibbon were all MPs for god’s sake. This is moronic in the extreme

  • Chingford Man

    Enoch’s books are still worth reading. Full of wisdom.

  • Alex

    Because the kind of people who go into politics believe that they are cleverer, more interesting and better people than the rest of us. Why else would we need them to tell us how to live our lives?

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Selling books has historically been a simple way for politicians to launder their payoffs. If a politico takes cash, it’s readily apparent. But if the committee for such and such a wonderful cause buys the books, it’s a clean payoff.

    There was once an American politician who took it to the extreme, and one of his moneybags benefactors had several pallets of the politico’s books delivered to his ski chalet, some hundreds of books, stacked-up handy to the fireplace. Everybody was happy (except the firewood cutter).

  • The Commentator

    When you sit in a parliament with no power you have to think of something to do to fill your day

  • White Lightning

    Because they are pathological self-publicists. Otherwise, they’d be doing a worthwhile job.

  • Makroon

    This blog-post could have been made interesting by publishing sales figures, and outing the weirdos who actually buy this stuff.

  • Louise Mensch

    you are quite wrong. It was my nomination for “Romantic Novel of the Year” by the RNA in 2010 which got me elected by my peers to the DCMS Committee. And I had the immense honor of featuring on Keith Simpson’s summer reading list :)

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh yes, you apparently wrote a few books too. Did you ever win the booker
      prize? And did you ever write about George Osborne and his pre- French
      revolutionary aristocratic looks, whilst writing your romantic books.
      Unfortunately I am not into ‘ chick lit’ so I have never had the pleasure of reading one of your books.

      • Louise Mensch

        No. I was too busy selling novels to worry about the Booker Prize :) luckily, the ‘chick lit’ demographic is somewhat bigger than the “George Osborne aristocratic looks” demographic, but I wouldn’t want to step between a woman and her fantasy. Carry on :)

        • The Commentator

          Read one of your books and thought it was pretty good, really quite erotic. But actually preferred your efforts as an MP, why did you leave?

        • Hexhamgeezer

          How about doing 50 Shades of Red – the inside story of CMD’s hopes or;

          50 Shades of Black – Gordon Brown – A Perspective or;

          50 Shades of Brown – Mark Oaten in the Undieworld?

    • Camilla Swift

      Oh gosh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise! I sort of liked the fact that you weren’t in the ‘MPs who write books’ clique.

      • Louise Mensch

        I’m joking (hence the smiley) but my one attempt at canvassing did revolve around my books. I suggested to my peers – for your readers who don’t know, MPs are elected onto Select Committees by the same party they are from – that they might want to consider somebody who had made her living in the creative arts all her life, starting the record business and getting her first book deal at 22. So I would put myself more in the ‘authors who become MPs’ category than the other way around.

        It did help immensely that PASSION (James Bond for girls) was nominated as Romanic Novel of the Year by the RNA in 2010… as I was able to point to this towering achievement and ask my peers how they could possibly help but swoon over my candidacy… a joke that led me to top the ballot and very much enjoy devoting my work in Parliament (outside of the constituency work) to specializing in DCMS, where I was best suited.

  • lgrundy

    Because they’ve got f*** all else to do.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Life is depressing enough without sticking reminders on one’s shelves of the political effluent who caused it.

  • HookesLaw

    Perhaps plagerism helps them rattle out the learned tomes

  • Kitty MLB

    Because politics is such a cold and shallow existence ( I hope there is a violin somewhere) they are voices that disappear in the caterwauling crowd and never
    get a chance to explain themselves in a creative manner.
    Its rather like opening a window to their souls until someone heartlessly closes
    the curtains.

  • MirthaTidville

    Its because they are so overworked and underpaid, they need some extra income!!

    • Andy

      Most of ’em don’t sell. If I was a publisher I wouldn’t give them much of an advance.

  • DaveTheRave

    Because they are bored.

  • Andy

    God knows. 90% of them can’t write.

  • Airey Belvoir

    Narcissism? Self-justification?

    • The Masked Marvel

      And money. Although most of them would be hard-pressed to say which was more important.

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