Some people are avid readers, seemingly able to consume libraries worth of books throughout the year, but many others (including myself) only manage to read our books on our holidays.
The nature of my job means that I spend a lot of time reading reports, commentaries, legislation, letters and correspondence, and many other documents. This leaves little time for reading for pleasure or general interest, and time aside, sometimes the last thing you want to do is even more reading when you are hoping to relax a bit. I suspect this is the case for many people in the modern world.
Therefore, it really is the case that one of the things I most look forward to about being on holiday is the space to enjoy reading! When you do get the opportunity to read a novel or book of interest, it can be a real pleasure – often as much as the sunny weather and good food!
One book I had an opportunity to dive into recently was Rory Stewart’s “Politics on the Edge”. I have to declare something of an interest, of course, as Rory was my neighbouring MP for 9 years in Penrith and Border, and I always enjoyed working with him on Cumbria-wide issues that we had to deal with in Parliament. Not unsurprisingly, though, I can honestly say his book is extremely well written and a genuine pleasure to read.
For anyone with an interest in politics it is well worth looking into. It very much brought back memories of those shared 9 years in Parliament and all the political events that occurred. It truly was quite a remarkable time.
But political events aside, for me some of the most interesting parts were about Rory’s Ministerial career and his relationship with Civil Servants. Firstly, he highlights and is honest about one of the great weaknesses of our system – the continual changing of Ministers. This is not a new phenomenon, as all parties of government have created the same problems, but in my view it leads to short-termism and inconsistent leadership.
The other issue is the enormous power and influence that Civil Servants have, and just how much of this is centred in Whitehall. Again, this has been the case for some time (we even had a sitcom about the fact in the 80’s in the form of “Yes Minister”).
These issues were not raised as any kind of party-political point, but they remain very significant political issues nonetheless – and Rory’s book highlights this well. If these issues aren’t addressed, we will never have the level of democratic control or effective administration we should have. Frankly, this is something that appears to have been lost and, so far as I can make out, neither Labour nor my party have given much real thought to it.
Interestingly, however, the Parliamentary Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (which I sit on) is about to look at this very issue – I might suggest we ask Rory Stewart to be a witness!