This is a biography that takes you right into the heart of 1950s Conservatism in the same way that Robert Caro’s life of Lyndon Johnson takes you right into the Senate of the same period
Your next book is very British.
I have deliberately chosen to be a bit arcane with my third book: Reggie by Lewis Baston. If you want to realise how conservative movements all over the world are exceptionalist in the same way that Republicans believe in American exceptionalism, then nothing could be better than reading histories of obscure British politicians. This is a book about Reginald Maudling, who was a very senior politician, singularly undynamic – so much so that when punched by a Member of Parliament over Bloody Sunday [the shooting in Northern Ireland of protesters by members of the British forces] because he was Home Secretary at the time, somebody shouted, ‘My God! She’s woken him up!’
This is a biography that takes you right into the heart of 1950s Conservatism in the same way that Robert Caro’s life of Lyndon Johnson takes you right into the Senate of the same period – it is very difficult to do if you live in another country but very important to understanding something as nationally individualist as conservatism.
Maudling was twice a contender for leader of the Party, once in a very serious way, and he lost because really, although he was thought to be the finest politician, he was thought to be too lazy. He then ran to seed, and ended up having to resign because of his relationship with a corrupt architect called John Poulson. And I think that Lewis Baston makes it pretty clear that Maudling’s business relationships were corrupt, I suppose in the way that Caro does with Johnson as well.
Maudling therefore emerges as a bit of a wasted talent. But, on the other hand, he does reflect the kind of solid centre of Conservatism that wouldn’t be familiar to an American audience in the way that Margaret Thatcher is. It was the Conservatism that preceded her, the equivalent of Eisenhower conservatism. I also recommend it as a wonderful book of British history and it’s very well-written.
When Jim Callaghan, later the Labour Prime Minister, took over from him as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1964, Maudling, as he was leaving, popped his head around the door and said, ‘Sorry to have left it all in such a mess, old cock.’ And Callaghan thought he meant his office, but he meant the national finances.