Boris Johnson and Kemi Badenoch among ministers donating bizarre books to Downing Street library

Boris Johnson and Kemi Badenoch among ministers donating bizarre books to Downing Street library

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He may well be known as the first prime minister found to have broken the law while in office, and the PM who attended a party amid a public health crisis, but Boris Johnson also brought back a little-known government tradition during his time in Downing Street which has seen some bizarre books donated to No 10’s library.

As noted by The Spectator, Ramsay McDonald started inviting government ministers to give books to the library in the iconic building when he was in charge back in the 1930s, and after it soon fell by the wayside with his predecessors, Johnson brought it back in 2021, during his time in office.

A list obtained by indy100 under the Freedom of Information Act reveals Johnson kicked things off by donating his own book on Winston Churchill, The Churchill Factor.

Other individuals who dropped off a copy of their own work include Lord David Cameron (he donated his memoir For the Record), current chancellor Jeremy Hunt (that was his book on “eliminating unnecessary deaths in a post-pandemic NHS” called Zero) and Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell (he chipped in a copy of his 2021 memoir Beyond A Fringe).

Former home secretary Priti Patel and current Scottish secretary Alister Jack are the only two ministers to have donated more than one book. Patel dropped off two books on the history of British policing, while Jack donated Jeremy Clarkson’s Diddly Squat and Giles Milton’s book on Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

Jack wasn’t the only one to donate a copy of Clarkson’s book, either. A copy was also placed in the library by farming minister Sir Mark Spencer.

Always good to have a spare…

Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose time in government under Johnson included serving as Commons leader, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and business secretary, donated a copy of An Humbler Heaven (yes, the title contains a typo) by his father William, which The Guardianreports is all about “his keen Roman Catholicism and the value of religion in general”.

Books on history handed in to No 10 include The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte (from Welsh secretary David T C Davies), Captured at Arnhem by Peter Green (from ex-Welsh secretary Robert Buckland) and Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman (from former attorney general Michael Ellis).

Former Cop26 president Alok Sharma donated a copy of A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough, while current education secretary Gillian Keegan gave over a copy of Freezing Order by Bill Browder (about “Russian money laundering, murder, and surviving Vladimir Putin’s wrath”) and Paymaster General John Glen handed in Boy on a Bicycle by Hayden Phillips (a memoir about his time as a civil servant).

And for the books which are perhaps rather fitting for the type of turbulent politics we’ve seen under Tory rule, Michael Dobbs’ House of Cards (yes, the book which inspired the popular TV series) was offered up by ex-Cabinet Office minister Nigel Adams, and a book about “who survives when disaster strikes” called Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley was handed in by Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey donated Mary Ann Sieghart’s book The Authority Gap (on “why women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it”), and former defence minister Ben Wallace donated Gerald Seymour’s IRA thriller The Journeyman Tailor.

Although arguably the most unusual contribution came from Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, in the form of The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – a book which carries the subtitle “why good people are divided by politics and religion”.

Just last month, Haidt published his latest book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, which blames smartphone usage for poor mental health in children.

However, the book has since received criticism from fellow academics, with California researcher Candice Odgers writing in Nature that Haidt is “telling a scary story about children’s development that many parents are primed to believe”.

She added: “The book’s repeated suggestion that digital technologies are rewiring our children’s brains and causing an epidemic of mental illness is not supported by science.”

Even the US National Academies of Sciences queried Haidt’s findings, saying in December that “contrary to the current cultural narrative that social media is universally harmful to adolescents, the reality is more complicated”.

Haidt also co-authored a book with Greg Lukianoff titled The Coddling of the American Mind which took aim at so-called “safetyism”, criticising – according to The Guardian’s review of the book in 2018 – discussions around microaggressions and identity politics.

We would be upset that Liz Truss has been unable to donate a copy of her own book - given it came out earlier this month and she’s no longer in government – but we’re really not.

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