Jeffrey Archer is a hugely talented writer. While most people consider Kane and Abel his best work, I have always leaned to First Among Equals.
First Among Equals refers to the idea of the British Prime Minster. Rather than a President who is the boss, the commander in chief, the PM is meant to be equal to his colleagues. Arguably that diminished with Thatcher and Blair who preferred a presidential approach but I’m rambling.
There are 4 key characters.
- The son of a conservative who has switched his loyalties to Labour and ran against his former friends to win a seat near Edinburgh (Edinburgh shout out woooo).
- A conservative MP in the South of England from an aristocratic family, a representation of the old guard in the party who are feeling increasingly under assault from the newer, hungrier and more energetic Conservatives from radically different backgrounds.
- A determined but unscrupulous Labour MP who although principled politically and refusing to back down from his hard left stance, is a total scumbag to his wife.
- There is a newer conservative MP, not from a wealthy background, struggling to make ends meet who is enticed into a financial scandal.
The book follows their intertwining stories as the years pass towards the ultimate culmination of who out the four will become Prime Minster.
So how can this book help your own writing?
Everything in the story feels so real. The characters are not carboard cutouts in a crude backdrop of a world. From the MP bars, to the dialogue between politicians, family dynamics, the parliament itself, all of it feels so concrete that I could reach out and touch the political benches at Westminster. It is extremely detailed descriptions that ring true, an impressive technical knowledge that is very accurate. This is hard to quantify exactly but if you read the novels, you will know exactly what I mean. I would suggest reading his novels to see how it is done, he is an amazing storyteller.
Another point is balance. Although Jeffrey Archer was a Conservative MP, he muzzles it in for the sake of the story. There are good and bad guys on both sides of the political spectrum. On the Conservative side Seymour is a slimy, self serving aristocrat but in the same party is Kerslake who is a good guy, from a modest background, trying to help. On Labour, Fraser is a decent character who went against his family out of genuine political conviction. Gould may be a hard working politician but his personal relationships are loathsome.
Imagine how boring the book would be if every Conservative politician was a straight arrow and every Labour MP a moustache twirling villain. It would be cliché and boring. The balance is what makes it interesting.
Two things to take from this book in summary.
- Make it real
- Balance when it comes to politics is good
On a final note, I found it very odd that the ending was changed for American audiences and several plot points were cut out -because they didn’t think Americans would follow a multiparty system? Nonsense!