Political Books of the Year. Where were the academics?

Last night was the second Paddy Power political book awards. And a jolly enjoyable night it was too.

Meg Russell’s book on the House of Lords was short-listed in the Practical Politics category, which was won by Tony King and Ivor Crewe’s The Blunders of Our GovernmentsThe award was presented to them by John Bercow, one of their former students. And Margaret MacMillan won the International Affairs prize for The War That Ended Peace.  Hurray for the academics, then.

Except that was, almost, it. In the other categories there was an almost complete absence of academic books – or, to put it another way, books written by academics. In the political history panel, for example, there were several short-listed books by professional historians but not one by an academic historian. This isn’t the fault of the judges (one of us, included), or of those doing the short-listing.  Nor is it that the work isn’t good enough. In panels where academic books got shortlisted, they had, if anything, a high success rate – as the two victorious books mentioned above indicated.  Rather the blame seems to lie with feeble publishers (and, doubtless some insular academics) who don’t put their books forward.  Where, for example, was Stuart Ball’s superb Portrait of a Party, the summation of decades of his work researching the Conservative Party in the inter-war years? Turns out his publishers didn’t submit it.

Presumably this is because publishers realise that, given their massive salaries and bountiful royalties that are already flowing into their bank accounts, academics won’t be interested in the £10k that comes with the book of the year prize (or the £3k that went with debut book of the year) or even the extra publicity and prestige that being short-listed might bring?  Assuming the prizes go ahead again next year, let’s hope that academic publishers get a bit more on the case.