978-0-14-029374-6 / 9780140293746

An Accidental MP


Publisher:Penguin UK



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About the book:

If the BBC had found me a small war somewhere, none of the rest of this story would have occurred.
There is a photograph in An Accidental MP of Martin Bell, brow furrowed, mouth open, eyes glazed with what could be incomprehension or incredulity. This could almost be the freeze-frame embodiment of this engaging self-penned account of his by-election victory over Neil Hamilton, Tory MP and the parliamentarian most associated with sleaze, and his subsequent career as parliament's first Independent MP for almost half a century. A self-admitted layman in politics with no party allegiances, Bell was sick of the dumbing down of BBC news into "newzak" when he accepted the suggestion of standing as a candidate, almost in the course of after dinner chat. However, not everyone wakes up the next morning with a call from Alastair Campbell. As an Independent he had no party machine, "more a contraption" to guide him through the procedural minefields. This in itself would have made for a fascinating everyman story to lead readers through the palace of Westminster, its personalities and processes. Yet perhaps it is Bell's sense of fair play that prevents him from taking us through more of the details of his excellent adventure. He almost comes across as an anachronism, but his self-righteousness seems reasonably well-placed. His passion is undeniable, his sense of injustice acute, and his narration of the effects of landmines and the disgraceful treatment of paratrooper Major Milos Stankovic by the Ministry of Defence pertinent and compelling. His discussion of the Kosovo war is strong on commitment, although readers looking for more detail might find deeper argument in Michael Ignatieff's Virtual War. There are few surprises for the cynical: parliament is increasingly populated by cronies, MPs debate too long, and Peter Mandelson really is the prince of darkness. Yet this is a fascinating read carried along by Bell's self-effacing wit. Apparently he is toying with the idea of continuing beyond his pledge of one term. One doesn't know whether to pity his foolhardiness or envy his next great adventure. --Larry Brown

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