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Peter Cuthbertson : Review - What the Immigrant Saw by JP Floru

6a5c8a1006bd361a5587066ac09c26400c9c92e9-thumbWhen I picked up 'What the Immigrant Saw', I wasn't sure if I would buy it. Despite knowing the author slightly through Westminster Association politics, admiring his work putting together 'Freedom Week', and years of attending events run by his employer - the Adam Smith Institute - I wavered. Am I that interested in a Belgian view of Britain, I asked myself?

I am very glad I then went on to buy this short but genuinely gripping book. The contents page told me this would be full of commentary on a broad range of topics I wanted to read about: the psephology of the last two General Elections, the financial crisis, the legacy of Thatcherism, being a campaigner in the London Mayoral Election and a candidate in the European Elections. He writes on each so well.

JP Floru is certainly a politician of fierce and serious convictions - but as the book shows, these convictions are deeply considered. The author's views clearly arise time and again from a combination of personal experience and theoretical understanding. The thoughtful way he traces his intellectual transformation from unthinking europhile to committed eurosceptic is only one example.

Unusually for political memoirs, and very welcome, the book dwells on the experience of the activist hoping to make an impact. Accounts of canvassing tough and safe areas alike, or of winning and losing selection battles, are usually confined to the margins of most politicians' books. His tales of working with two very different associations, in Islington and Westminster, will likewise be recognisable to activists across much of the country. Likewise his chapters on the work of a councillor. I appreciated the up-close examination and retelling of this side of being involved in politics. Even the early pages on being a City lawyer were amusing and informative enough to keep me turning the pages. John Grisham it ain't, but I'd recommend it to anyone considering this career path, as I did. It is a real insight into the dull and silly aspects to this line of work - and its career insecurity.

Another virtue is the author's thoughtfulness about some of the recent history he lived through. His account of the 1997 election, and the years preceeding it, is invaluable not least because as a party we already seem to have forgotten so much about our worst defeat since 1832. Instead of learning lessons from it, on more than one occasion, I have heard people use a phrase like "three election defeats under Hague, IDS and Howard". It's as if a large part of them actually thinks Hague was already leader when we lost in 1997, and as if our performance in government up to 1997 is barely worth examining. Certainly Floru is right to highlight the tax rises of the Major government: no one writes any more about Tony Blair's incessant campaigning against the (good alliteration here) "twenty-two Tory tax rises", but it was a brilliant way to damage the Conservatives' reputation as a tax-cutting party. I wouldn't like to guess at the electoral damage.

If I were to criticise the book, it would be for its (very understandable) metropolitan tinge. I am sure Floru would agree intellectually that floating voters outside big cities are not only far more numerous than those inside, but they often have quite different politics and priorities. But I fear his otherwise good electoral instincts are thrown off slightly by the insufficient heed he paid to this.

JP Floru knows how to write - whether he is telling a story or defending a policy. It is tremendously to his advantage that he's managed to put together under one cover a range of experiences and views that ought to give the book a very wide circulation within the Tory Party - and that deserves plenty of readers outside it. I hope this first book won't be his last.


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