Most politicians write autobiographies to ‘set the record straight’ and provide retrospective justification for their careers. That is not the case with this book. ‘It occurred to me that to track down myself would enable me to discuss an issue that had begun to intrigue me, namely the relationship between politics and identity, the things that had shaped me and whether and how they had come to reflect my life and opinions. As I wrote, the question of identity moved from the wings to centre stage, and roiled politics and nations on both sides of the Atlantic.’
‘Who am I? Who are we?’ Chris Patten’s career has taken him from the outer London suburbs to the House of Commons, a seat in the Cabinet, last Governor of Hong Kong, Chairman of the BBC and Chancellor of Oxford University. About all of these he is enlightening and entertaining. He has unexpected and telling things to say about each of the three Prime Ministers for whom he worked – Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major. But his political heroes – Baldwin, Macmillan, Butler – came from an earlier time: he is proud to be ‘wet’, and reckons all his paladins were pretty damp themselves. But more, Patten uses each phase of his life as a spur to reflect upon its contemporary situation – education, America, conservatism, Ireland, China, Europe and finally the question of links between violence and religion. Unlike one No.10 press secretary, Patten definitely ‘does God’.
At the end, the reader has an impression of someone who knows himself as well as any of us can, and who continues to think, passionately and intelligently, about the world around him. Wise, funny and opinionated, First Confession is a different sort of memoir, a meditation on personal and political identity which, in an age of simplification, reminds us of the complexities of both.