New publication 'The Political Lives of Postwar British MPs: An Oral History of Parliament'

The History of Parliament Trust is delighted to announce the publication of a volume based on the Trust’s ground breaking oral history project. The Political Lives of Postwar British MPs, authored by the project’s coordinators Dr Emma Peplow and Dr Priscila Pivatto, delves deeply into a unique archive of nearly 200 interviews with former MPs to immerse the reader in what political life at Westminster was really like between the 1950s and early 2000s.

Through extracts from their interviews, this book provides striking, vivid and sometimes poignant insights into the life stories of individual politicians, including their personal, as well as political experiences. They come from a range of backgrounds and had varied experiences of Westminster – from cabinet ministers to backbench rebels; those who sat for decades to those whose time as an MP was fleeting; the ‘old boys’ to union officials and the comparatively few women – this is a surprisingly diverse picture and one that challenges the public perception that politicians are all the same.

Some examples from the book:

I’ve spent most of my life I think, since my teenage years, knocking on doors. I do find it fascinating. When you knock on the door, the door opens and you’ve got a split sec¬ond judgement to make. Somebody appears in front of you: a little old lady, a young person, a burly man and you’ve got to sort of pitch your appeal rapidly, trying [to] make an instant impression. […] It’s the attempt to try and build this bridge between the political class, who are seen as something away and different and strange, all got two heads, very odd, and ordinary people who live ordinary lives, and try to bridge that gap. I thought it was absolutely crucial, certainly if you wanted to go on and get elected.
John Cartwright (Labour/SDP, October 1974–92)

I remember someone […] giving me the great lecture of: ‘This place now belongs to you. You’ve been anointed by the popular vote. You can go anywhere. Do anything.’ So that afternoon I opened a door that said ‘Members only’ and found myself facing a row of urinals.
Helene Hayman (Labour, October 1974–9)

Once you’ve been a whip, it never leaves you. [...] It was a very different kind of set-up, than it is now. It was all male; it had been operated as, certainly until the time I went there at least, as a pseudo-military operation. [...] The Wednesday morning meeting of the whips, where the silver salver and the silver tum¬blers came out, with the different whips’ names engraved on them. The champagne went round the table with the orange juice, and we drank the health to our former members and the prime minister [...] and then got on with business. It was tradition. [And] to be part of that, sitting around that table.
Timothy Kirkhope (Conservative, 1987–97)

The book explores how and why MPs became interested in politics, how they found their seat and fought election campaigns, what it felt like to speak in the chamber and balance the competing needs of party, constituency, and personal conscience (or ambition). In the process, readers will be given a rare glimpse into the spaces inhabited by MPs, political rivalries and friendships, and the rise and fall of careers. This book provides deep insight into the political lives of MPs in our age.   

The e-book is currently available from Bloomsbury Academic

Pre-order your version in print, available 20 August, here.

“Thanks to the heroic efforts of the History of Parliament Trust, these oral histories have preserved in amber an authentic but otherwise fleeting portrait of Westminster for the ages. Anybody seeking to understand the interior life of Parliament – indeed how the United Kingdom is governed – will find this book indispensable. And thoroughly fascinating!” –  Russell Riley, Co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program, University of Virginia's Miller Center, USA

“Every page of this fascinating book pulls into focus the human drama of electoral politics over the past half-century. Here are political lives being made and re-made, from childhood through to old age, and from the constituency campaign trail to the Parliamentary despatch box. Peplow and Pivatto are wise and sensitive guides to this unique repository. Their book will captivate anyone with a serious interest in the people who govern us.” –  Helen McCarthy, Lecturer in Modern British History, University of Cambridge, UK

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