I spent last night at the Paddy Power Political Book Awards 2014 as the great and the good from the worlds of publishing and politics gathered a the BFI IMAX in central London.
And what an enjoyable evening it was too: this was the second year of the awards, and already they have established themselves as an important event in the literary calendar for acclaiming the best in political writing.
My congratulations go to Charles Moore for winning the evening’s top prize of Political Book of the Year and a cheque for £10,000. His book, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, published by Allen Lane, was a deserving winner despite fierce competition from five other first-rate titles.
As a member of the judging panel, and also the sponsor and presenter of the award, I can reveal that the judges were unanimous in choosing the first volume of the authorized biography of Lady Thatcher for the main prize. As Professor Mary Beard, one of my fellow judges, noted: “This is an elegant and sometimes witty book; it is the kind of authoritative study that people will be referring to for decades – or even longer.”
Patrick Kennedy, the CEO of Paddy Power, presented a cheque for £3,000 (a prize I also donated) to Iain Martin, the author of Making It Happen (Simon & Schuster), which won the Debut Political Book of the Year. The book is the definitive account of the collapse of RBS and the disastrous effect it had on the British economy.
The Political Biography of the Year was won by Lucy Hughes-Hallett for her book The Pike (Fourth Estate), which details the life of Gabriele D’Annunzio, the Italian writer, poet and soldier. The full list of the ten award winners and the shortlisted titles can be seen here.
I should mention one final honour that was bestowed last night: the award for Lifetime Achievement was presented to Lord Dobbs, the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and the bestselling author of the House of Cards trilogy, which has been made into a hit television series both in the UK and, more recently, in the US. This award was presented – on screen – by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London and the recipient’s delightful response could hardly have been more charming.
I am not able to list all the hard-luck stories: the superb books that, as a judge, I read and enjoyed but that did not lift a prize last night. However, I would like to mention one of them: Alan Johnson’s This Boy. I thought the memoir of the former Home Secretary’s childhood, written with openness and humour, was a joy and an inspiration.
Indeed, I would recommend it to one and all. I now intend to invite him to lunch to discuss his book and other subjects further, and I very much hope that he will accept.
It was Iain Dale, the publisher and broadcaster, who came up with the idea of the Political Book Awards and, for the second year running, he played a key role in organising the event. For the second year too, the compère for the awards was the irrepressible Gyles Brandreth, the author and broadcaster.
Gyles was at his mischievous best last night but he also got it spot on when he said that the evening was all about “championing books”. I enjoyed the fact that politicians, writers/publishers and journalists of all political persuasions were present with the sole objective of highlighting the worth of quality political books.
My gratitude goes to all those, including the judges, who made last night’s event, attended by 400 people, such a success. Paddy Power, the leading bookmaker, was the main sponsor in association with Politicos.co.uk, the online political bookstore. My fellow award sponsors were the InterContinental Hotel Westminster, News UK and Total Politics.
I was also delighted to see that the Gusbourne Estate sparkling wines, in which I am now principal shareholder, were so much appreciated by guests throughout the evening, including by leading wine critics and the award winners.
I have no doubts that the Political Book Awards are here to stay and I am certain they are encouraging new authors, and reinvigorating established authors, into produce works of real merit.
My congratulations go to all those authors who won awards last night or whose books were shortlisted: I salute their talent and their hard work. The standard of political writing in the UK today is formidably high – long may it continue.