Philip Hensher

The autobiography of a fig leaf

Philip Hensher on John Prescott's autobiography

There are going to be plenty more of these, no doubt, even though the Blair administration doesn’t strike one as having been a government full of natural diary- keepers or memoir writers. Still, the incentive of publishers’ lucre presses strongly on those recently deprived of office — John Prescott, in this memoir, remarks guilelessly that he had no idea, until he stood down, quite how expensive London property was. Mrs Blair and now John Prescott have probably been wise to dash into print with books, however atrocious in execution and deplorable in intention, before too much time elapses. If past experience is anything to go by, there will soon be more ministers’ memoirs than there are customers to buy them; and, without a doubt, Prescott’s will be quite forgotten in a very few years.

I find this an astonishing volume, for a number of reasons, but the central one is that it doesn’t resemble a politician’s autobiography at all. It hasn’t been written by Prescott himself, who makes no bones about not being a great reader, to put it mildly, and having difficulty in writing anything at all. Instead, it is ghosted by the doyen of celebrity autobiographers, Hunter Davies. I doubt that either of them troubled the archive-keepers of Whitehall in search of detailed records of Prescott’s ministerial career. It reads exactly as if Davies, just as with his previous subjects, the footballers Wayne Rooney, Dwight Yorke and Paul Gascoigne, placed a tape-recorder in front of his garrulous subject and arranged his verbal reminiscences in chronological order. It did very well for a footballer, but Davies ought to have wondered whether such a method was likely to do justice to the august dignity of Her Majesty’s Deputy Prime Minister.

Or perhaps he took one look at his subject and recognised that, in all fairness, it was a bit late to start worrying about dignity.

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