When it comes to bookshelves, I’m unashamedly nosy. So as Ed Balls gave a briefing on Neet statistics last week, I concentrated on jotting down the books he kept in his office. The results were interesting enough for us to launch an occasional series — “on the bookshelf” — devoted to snooping into politician’s libraries.
Balls is unlikely to be impressed at being our first victim. But he shouldn’t worry. His office collection, for the most part, stands to his credit. There are a couple of odd choices (Gerald Ronson’s autobigraphy?). But the quality is generally high (particularly for an office) and there are no embarrassing texts on “Great Chancellors”. Indeed, I probably regard Balls more highly after having taken a peek into his library. See what you think.
There is an obligatory Churchill section: Gilbert’s Churchill a Life and Churchill Speaks. A smartly bound three volume work on John F Kennedy takes up the top shelf, but I couldn’t make out the author. No sign of Robert Caro’s masterpiece on LBJ (at home?).
Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy makes an appearance. This is on my bookshelf too — a compelling take on statesmanship from Metternich to Truman to, uh, Kissinger.
The American pollsters take up space. Stan Greenberg a veteran pollster and hired gun for the Labour party gallops though his political battles in Dispatches from the War Room. Placed nearby is Mark Penn’s Microtrends: all you need to know about “mom-fluentials” and “office park dads”. Probably one of the best guides available for finding the endangered species of “Labour loyalists”.
What’s the strangest book he owns? It has to be Gerald Ronson’s autobiography Leading from the Front. The former jailbird and property tycoon explains how “he fought his way to the top of the business ladder, lost everything twice, then clawed his way back up again”. Just what an education secretary needs.
There is something resembling an SDP section. It includes biography of Hugh Gaitskell, the original Labour moderniser and mentor to the SDP, and Edmund Dell’s A Strange Eventful History: Democratic Socialism in Britain.
On policy? Over to You, Mr Brown — Anthony Giddens tells us “how Labour can win again”. (He suggests a thoroughly uninspiring campaign slogan of “Safer with Labour”.) Also Instruction to Deliver, Michael Barber’s shrewd take on public service reform.
There was one mystery: a book called “The New Capitalism”. No luck finding it on Amazon. But wait. Could it be Robert Peston’s latest book, which is released in 2010? Surely Balls wasn’t given a sneak peek?
(In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you a bit about our bookshelf in the FT Commons office. I’m afraid to say it is stacked to the gills with duds. Highlights include a Turkish translation of Olli Rehn’s book on enlargement, Hilary Clinton’s It takes a Village, and Jimmy Carter’s attempt at a novel: The Hornet’s Nest.)