Penguin published these three books simultaneously on 17 February: good timing, as it turned out, nicely anticipating the general election without being overtaken by it. Over the last half-century, Penguin have intermittently filled this kind of slot, beginning in 1947, when they commissioned the Labour MP John Parker and the Conservative MP Quintin Hogg, now Lord Hailsham, to produce books of a couple of hundred pages each. 'When the manuscripts were received,' the publishers were forced to reveal, 'it was found that while Mr Parker had kept closely to the length suggested, Mr Hogg's exposition had run to about double the size we had anticipated.' The result was that readers had to choose between the economical Labour case at one shilling and Hogg's Case for Conservatism at twice the price. The latter was also twice as good, it has to be admitted, and it is still worth picking up in a second-hand bookshop, where its price (I see that I paid 50p) has lagged behind inflation. Today, in the era of soundbite politics, Penguin keep to a standard hundred-odd pages from each contributor - half what Parker had, let alone Hogg - but it is enough.
LRB 20 March 1997 | PDF Download