It is more philosophical than your average political memoir—but the reader is left longing for something juicierby Alex Dean / July 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
First Confession: A Sort of Memoir by Chris Patten (Allen Lane, £20)
Chris Patten doesn’t like political memoirs: not the usual kind, anyway. At their worst, he writes in his own effort First Confession, they “seem almost written straight out of the office diary… who said or did what to whom… What colour boxer shorts was the prime minister wearing?” The standard memoir written by a politician specialises in tittle-tattle and not much else, he says, leaving the reader with little real understanding of the political system, and the people who inhabit it.
In this “Sort of Memoir,” as he subtitles it, Patten walks us through his time as Chairman of the Tory Party in the early 1990s, as well as his later stints as the Governor of Hong Kong, Chairman of the BBC and Chancellor of Oxford. But rather than giving us the minutiae of day-to-day work, he instead uses different events in his life as pegs from which to hang philosophical musings. “Who are we?” he asks in the book’s opening pages. “Which narratives, experiences and memories shape our behaviour?”
It almost comes off. Patten’s career is interesting—and unusual—enough to demand the reader’s attention, and the contemplative tone is engaging rather than irritating. He is clearly a man who likes to think—and knows his own mind. His recent foray back into the political sphere, when he claimed Theresa May was on “borrowed time,” shows just how much.
A fiercely pro-European wet Tory, Patten, you suspect, will only become more forthright as Britain leaves the European Union and ventures into the unknown. But while his book embodies an attractively genteel and reflective spirit, one is left longing for somet…