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By Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC


Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 10.26.09Last night I spent a
hugely enjoyable evening at the launch of the Paddy
Power and Total Politics Political Book Awards in central London.

It was an enormous
privilege for me to be in the company of the great and the good from the worlds
of politics and publishing at the event staged at the BFI IMAX in Waterloo.

The two co-sponsors
were united in their determination to highlight excellence
across all areas of political publishing. It is long overdue that the brilliant
work of our political authors was more widely acclaimed.

The Day Parliament Burned Down by Caroline Shenton, published by
Oxford University Press, won the Political Book of the Year at the event,
hosted by Gyles Brandreth, the author and broadcaster.


Gyles was
at his mischievous best: entertaining – and occasionally even offending – many
of the guests (almost 500 in number) with his unique sense of humour, and his
recollection of seemingly endless first-hand stories that he has stored away
over the years.
However,
his passion for politics and books shone like a beacon, which made him the
perfect compère for the evening. It was certainly
good to see men and women of all political persuasions sitting shoulder to
shoulder in order to champion artistic talent.

I had the
honour of presenting a cheque for £10,000 to the winning author of the
Political Book of the Year prize. One of the judges, Professor Mary Beard, accurately
described the winning book as “microhistory at its absolute best”.

The
book dramatically tells the story of the “forgotten fire” of October 1834,
using a gripping re-creation of the suspense and drama of the occasion.
Caroline Shenton writes vividly, informatively and in an entirely accessible
style – and her book is formidably well researched.

Patrick
Kennedy, the Chief Executive Officer of Paddy Power, presented a cheque for £3,000
to Ian Cobain, author of Cruel Britannia:
A Secret History of Torture
(Portobello Books), which won the Debut
Political Book of the Year.

Owen
Jones, an author and columnist on The
Independent,
won the award for Young Writer of the Year. Fiona Phillips,
the former GMTV presenter, presented him with his cheque, also for £3,000. The
full list of prize winners can be read here.

As one of the judges and the sponsor of three
of the prizes, I was delighted to have played a small part in supporting the launch
of this new venture. I am confident that – after the undoubted success of last
night – the awards will become a prestigious annual event in the publishing
calendar.

My fellow judges and I considered that the
standard of entries has been breathtakingly high. This had the knock-on effect
of making the judges’ task of singling out a winner for each category all the
more difficult.

The co-sponsors of last night’s awards were
Paddy Power, one of the first bookmakers to have offered betting on politics,
and Total Politics magazine, in which
I have a controlling interest.

All the authors nominated for their work
deserve credit for combining the hard graft, dedication and raw talent that are
needed to produce a book of merit. Iain Dale, the publisher of Total Politics, should be congratulated
for coming up with the idea for last night’s awards. Many other people worked
extremely hard to make the event possible.

I have no doubt that in the years ahead
these awards will encourage new authors and reinvigorate veteran authors by
celebrating and rewarding their literary skills.

In fact, I am looking forward to the
Political Book Awards 2014 already…

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