A full colour Andy Coulson looms ominously behind a black and white David Cameron on the front cover of Andrew Blick and George Jones’s book on aides to the Prime Minister. In a week when another former prime ministerial adviser, Damian McBride, has been spilling the beans on life behind the scenes of Gordon Brown’s government, the story of the apparatchiks who work in the shadows of the people in power seems ripe for revelation.
However, if this makes you think that the text is going to be filled with juicy disclosures about today’s politics then, after a compelling first chapter detailing the workings of Cameron’s Downing Street, you will be sorely disappointed. Although Blick and Jones share a publisher with McBride, the revelations here are rather more limited. Coulson’s last appearance comes on page 11, and the section on the PM’s political machine is done and dusted by the end of the introduction. McBride, meanwhile, is touched on in just a few sentences.
Salacious it isn’t, but this book is an extraordinarily well-researched and at times very readable chronicle of the people who have stood at the elbow of prime ministers since Walpole. Blick and Jones have knocked up an impressive list of interviewees, too, and it shows in the formidable breadth of this work.
The chapters on early prime ministers are the most sluggish. They do manage to draw a number of interesting parallels with the present day, including how Robert Walpole — or ‘Bob Booty’ as one contemporary comic musical called him — was pushed into a U-turn by opposition in the press. But this section is tough going, as the aides are presented as a collection of faceless CVs one after the other. I wanted to picture them and to get a sense of personality, but the authors were unable to turn words into faces.