The best political diaries (United Kingdom)

Richard Vinen Author Of National Service: A Generation in Uniform 1945-1963
By Richard Vinen

The Books I Picked & Why

Harold Macmillan: Volume 2: 1957-1986

By Sir Alistair Horne

Harold Macmillan: Volume 2: 1957-1986

Why this book?

It is rare for anyone with real power to write an interesting diary. They do not have the time or the self-awareness. Harold Macmillan is the exception because his diaries are fantastic and those that he writes as prime minister are much better than those that he writes earlier in his career. He is such a lonely man (England’s most famous cuckold) and one senses that his diary is his only real confidant. He is also so extraordinarily aware of historical change. He is himself a considerable historian and one who reads very widely even when prime minister. There is a moment in the early 1960s when he gets back to Downing Street after a weekend in the country and writes in his diary about having read Theodore Zeldin’s, The Political System of Napoleon III – not exactly bedtime reading for most people but a work that inspires Macmillan into some interesting reflections on Charles de Gaulle.


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The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955

By John Colville

The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955

Why this book?

The opposite of Macmillan in that Colville was very young (in his mid-twenties when he started this diary) and fairly junior. What makes this book extraordinary is partly that Colville’s is Churchill’s Boswell – he was the prime minister's private secretary and saw him almost every day. Partly too, this book captures an odd kind of upper-class life that survived even during the war. It is strange to read about riding in Richmond Park in the middle of the London blitz.


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The Harold Nicolson Diaries 1907-1964

By Nigel Nicolson

The Harold Nicolson Diaries 1907-1964

Why this book?

Like Colville, Nicolson is not very important in himself (a backbench MP for most of the time) but one who matters because he knows so many greater figures and because he writes with such honesty – particularly interesting when his predictions turn out to be wrong. If you get hooked, you can read the earlier edition, which is in three volumes.


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Who's In, Who's Out: The Journals of Kenneth Rose: Volume One 1944-1979

By Kenneth Rose

Who's In, Who's Out: The Journals of Kenneth Rose: Volume One 1944-1979

Why this book?

Rose wrote the Albany column in The Sunday Telegraph and it is tempting to dismiss him as a gossip columnist who spread amusing and implausible stories about the bons mots of Princess Margaret. In fact, Rose was a more substantial person. He was interested in the British establishment but aware of himself as an outsider (partly because he was of Jewish origin). He was also, particularly during the early part of his career, an odd kind of modernizer – close to Tony Benn, whom he had known at university.


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The Alan Clark Diaries: In Power 1983-1992

By Alan Clark

The Alan Clark Diaries: In Power 1983-1992

Why this book?

Clark was a nasty man – not a lovable rogue but a real bastard with Nazi sympathies and a taste for young girls. The first volume of his diaries, however, are brilliant because they are so extraordinarily uninhibited. He reveals everything about himself including his own fraudulence.


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