The youngest member of Margaret Thatcher’s first shadow cabinet, Norman Fowler served in her government for eleven years before entering The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations by becoming the first minister to declare he was leaving politics ‘to spend more time with my family’. He was tempted back into front-line politics, however, by John Major, whose confidant he became and whom he served for two years as Conservative Party chairman. The Best of Enemies is a distillation of the diaries he kept through both periods, published now that he has ceased to be speaker of the House of Lords.
Fortunately for modern historians, Fowler spent eight years working for The Times before he entered politics and throughout his career he retained a journalist’s detachment and eye for the absurd. We know the general picture: my shelves groan under the weight of ex-ministers’ tales about the Falklands War and the Westland Affair. We have heard from others how Margaret Thatcher harangued her cabinets; we knew too that John Major was oversensitive about the media. But the diary entries still have an immediacy. Unlike ministerial memoirs, they haven’t been passed through the self-justification sieve. Although he wanted Michael Heseltine to succeed her,