Blunkett heads for beach with Hattersley

1st August 1997 at 01:00
David Blunkett's eclectic reading habits - from Roy Hattersley to Ellis Peters - have won him a place on a bookseller's list of the keenest readers in the Commons, although he describes the erudite AS Byatt as "over-rated" in the same survey.

The Education and Employment Secretary, who is eager to read Hattersley's volume of memoirs, Who Goes Home?, over the summer recess, was the only member of the Government's education team who managed to reply to the Dillons survey of MPs' reading habits.This is despite having to get taped or brailled versions of his books.

His choice of book for his Majorcan beach is fascinating for Westminster-watchers aware that Mr Blunkett and Mr Hattersley have not always agreed on matters educational, and that the former deputy Labour leader appears to have fallen foul of the Prime Minister.

Mr Blunkett is now on the shortlist for the Dillons Parliamentary Bookworm of the Year title, to be awarded on August 4. The winner will receive Pounds 500 in book tokens - half to keep and half for a school or charity.

Mr Blunkett's vote for the best living author went to William Trevor, author of Felicia's Journey. He confessed to an addiction to thrillers and to Ellis Peters's medieval whodunits - he listed Peters's Heaven Tree Trilogy as his favourite reading of the past year.

MPs were also asked to name a children's book that they "look back on with nostalgia" (Mr Blunkett chose Jack London's The Call of the Wild). The question carries an in-built bias against contemporary writers - which Dillons hopes to remedy in future. However, the replies from the 111 MPs who took part show a departure from the domination of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton in previous surveys, with books by Peter Dickinson and John Burningham appearing alongside The Cat in the Hat.

One book the education team all ought to read over the summer is Just William at School, a collection of 10 stories by Richmal Crompton just published by Macmillan.

"The Outlaws' Report" sees William and friends preparing their response to the 1942 Beveridge Report. "Look here! Everyone's talkin' about better conditions an' shorter hours an' things, an' what I want to know is what's goin' to happen to us?" says Crompton's anti-hero. "School's not nat'ral at all."

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