You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Top Stories

For the Record: signs of trouble before David Cameron book hits shelves

The Guardian logo The Guardian 13/09/2019 Ben Quinn and Alison Flood

© Getty It is the fruit of three years’ work, at least some of which is presumed to have taken place inside a £25,000 shepherd’s hut.

The much-anticipated publication next week of For the Record, David Cameron’s 752-page book promising a candid account of his time in politics, is expected to be the moment a man widely blamed for Britain’s greatest postwar crisis will make a concerted bid for control of his tainted legacy.

The stakes are high for everyone involved. “A car crash” was the view of a senior publisher at a rival to HarperCollins, which purchased the rights for a reported £800,000 in what it described in October 2016 as a “hotly contested” deal. Despite his referendum defeat, Cameron’s stock then remained relatively high, even if the figure paled in comparison to the reported £4.6m earned by Tony Blair for his book.

With the UK mired in Brexit-related culture wars and teetering on the edge of a potential no-deal departure from the EU in six weeks’ time, the same industry figure suggested the timing of the book’s release could not be worse, viewing the publication as an ordeal that HarperCollins would need to “get over and done with”.

“I’m sure the events will be hard to manage in that he’ll be heckled, it’ll be very hard for him to get through the Brexit part of the discussions. It’ll just be a massive struggle,” he said.

© Reuters Signs of trouble are already there. Some independent bookshops say they will not be stocking the £25 hardback, often out of deference to left-leaning or remain-backing customers. In the eyes of many, the chaos of the last three years will forever be linked to the hubris of the Etonian former Tory leader.

“We will probably get one or two people asking for it but I’m not going to make a big thing – we might get firebombed,” said Jane Howe, the owner of the Broadway Bookshop in Hackney.

Another indicator is pre-orders: the bookranked as low as 335 in the Amazon charts as recently as Thursday. Such a position suggests it may be on course for sales closer to those of Gordon Brown’s My Life, Our Times than Blair’s A Journey, which shifted more than 10 times as many copies as Brown’s in its first seven weeks.

As for style, one might expect For the Record to fall somewhere between the density of Brown’s book and the breeziness of Blair’s, which curled toes with one particularly purple passage of a sexual nature. Reportedly based on 53 hours of recordings from monthly meetings Cameron held with the Times columnist and Conservative peer Daniel Finkelstein, it was originally slated for the publication last year but publishers are said to have demanded a 100,000-word cut.

A more optimistic vision of how it will fare was offered by James Daunt, the Waterstones chief executive, who said the chain was hoping it might fill an “Obama-shaped” hole in its political biography section.

“Our early indications are that it is going to be extremely popular. It looks as if it’s going to be really a big publishing event, although until we see it and have it in our shops we are not going to truly know,” he said. He described the interest in pre-orders both online and in-store as “strong”.

“There is clearly interest but political biographies are quite febrile things. Some take off and some fall flat and it’s not always because of the content. At the end of the day, if the Guardian, the Times and others have reviews that reinforce expectations among some that this really does explain things then we will sell a lot.”

Leave vs Remain: Images of divided Brexit Britain [Photos]

Of significance too will be the reaction to a serialisation this weekend in the Times, part of the same Murdoch-owned media universe as HarperCollins.

Overall it’s a tightly controlled publicity schedule. The only events on the calendar are An Evening with David Cameron, at a yet-to-be-revealed central London location on 6 October, and an interview by the BBC’s Sophie Raworth at the Times-sponsored Cheltenham literature festival a day earlier. Conspicuously absent are bookshop signings of the sort where irate members of the public could show up, although the timing of another, lesser noticed event on 1 October in Washington DC may be significant.

Cameron will appear on the campus of George Washington University for an event that will “provide, for the first time, his perspective on the EU referendum and his views on the future of Britain’s place in the world following Brexit,” the advance notice states. Meanwhile, 3,537 miles away at the Tory party conference, his fellow Conservatives will be grappling with the turmoil from a still-undelivered process.

At the conference will be some of the memoir’s most eager readers, including, possibly, the present incumbent of Downing Street. An added twist to the intrigue about what Cameron will say about Boris Johnson is provided by political whispers that he backed Jeremy Hunt over his one-time fellow Bullingdon Club member to be Tory leader.

David Cameron And Boris Johnson During The' London 2012 One Year To Go' Ceremony In Trafalgar Square. London. (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images) © Getty David Cameron And Boris Johnson During The' London 2012 One Year To Go' Ceremony In Trafalgar Square. London. (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images)

There are no shortage of potentially explosive questions. For example, will Cameron opine on whether the referendum result did or did not give a mandate for a no-deal Brexit? At least one person who has discussed the book with Cameron suggests there may well be fireworks.

“I have talked to him about it a little bit and my impression is that it will be quite a revealing book,” said Iain Dale, the broadcaster and political commentator. He said a poignant aspect of the book would be Cameron remembering his son Ivan, who had severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy and died at the age of six. Charities working with disabled children are among those set to benefit from the book’s profits.

“He is not somebody who I think will want to write all-out attacks on people but there are also some very human stories that he will have to address – his relationship with Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, for example. I suspect that will be one of the most difficult chapters to write.”

Of course, any difficulties in writing about his relations with the two most prominent cabinet ministers to declare for the leave campaign are likely to be trumped by the challenges of addressing Brexit at its most brute level.

While cautioning against expecting any mea culpa, Dale added: “He will know that history will remember him for the Brexit referendum. Every prime minister is remembered for one thing in a sense, even if they may have done an awful lot else.”

Week in pictures: Striking images from around the world [Photos]


More From The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon