Most Politics Departments would struggle to host hundreds of bibulous political authors and journalists, particularly if accompanied by MPs, literary luminaries and academic liggers. Not 10 Gower Street, which last night embraced big tent politics by hosting The Orwell Prize’s 21st birthday awards in its garden marquee.
The prize was established in 1993 by Professor Bernard Crick, a founder of the Department and Orwell’s biographer. Each year a jury honours an author and a journalist whose work best meets Orwell’s ambition “to make political writing into an art”.
Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s chipper account of his impoverished West London upbringing, This Boy: Memoir of a Childhoodwon the book prize. The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad scooped the journalism award for his forensic coverage of Syria’s civil war-see a recent article here. Both winners faced stiff competition from a shortlist that included Not For Turning, Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher and David Goodhart’s British Dream about the history and impact of immigration. The journalists’ shortlist featured lead-writers from the Economist, Financial Times and Telegraph.
The journal Political Quarterly is a prize sponsor, as is Orwell’s son, Richard Blair. Alongside the main awards, the department’s Deborah Mabbett received the best essay prize for her incisive writing on welfare reform. The evening saw two new awards launched for the coming year: one to reward young political writers, while a prize for the best investigative reporting into social iniquities is being sponsored by the Rowntree Foundation.
Today – amidst EU and local polling – hangovers and political egos are being nursed while print and social media coverage of the awards proliferates and the marquee is dismantled downstairs. Meanwhile, the Department’s long association with both Orwell and distinguished political writing, as exemplified by both Bernard Crick and Ben Pimlott, will continue. The latter’s biographical work is examined in detail by Dermot Hodson in an interview with Orwell Prize chair, Jean Seaton, published here this week.
David Styan is a Lecturer in Politics