If you ever spent any time in British or Irish politics at branch and street level, you’ll love “Things can only get better” by John O’Farrell. In fact, it is, along with Joe Klein’s “Politics Lost” and Mark Steel’s “Reasons to be cheerful”, one of my all time favourite political books.
Managing to be thoughtful, touching and laugh out loud funny, O’Farrell describes his time in Labour, starting out as a young idealistic left wing activist in 1979, and ending up a middle class middle aged Blairite on the eve of Labour’s 1997 landslide. He tells of how the Labour left, with the best of intentions, put ideological purity ahead of winning support in the country, and of how even left wingers like him came around to the fact that all political activists come to realise: That you have to change to suit the voters, not the other way around. But what really makes the book so enjoyable are the stories of canvassing and branch meetings which can translate to any party.
Featured is the branch meeting where you’re terrified that a new member will meet the resident nutcase and leg it, never to be seen again, or the fact that the committee writes to the same 100 members only to get the same six committee members at the next meeting, or the member who is obsessed with a single issue which they shoehorn into every debate. They’re all here, and they’re all familiar to hacks from wherever on the political spectrum you come from. Great fun.