OPINION: A reading list tells its own tale

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust

It's end of term at Westminster and as our politicians head for their holiday destinations, an inordinate amount of attention is paid to their summer reading material.

Traditionally, politicians of stature are willing to make known their intended poolside reading. It's a way of demonstrating their intellect and up-to-the-minuteness or revealing their current fascinations.

I've no doubt that some lists are - how shall I put it - more a statement of ambition than fact. Or at least, reading lists may be edited to send out the right kinds of signals. I bet there are plenty of copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix being slipped into politicians' suitcases this summer, but Master Potter is eerily absent from most of the book lists.

Despite the posturing, it's worth taking a look at the books that politicians claim to read. The summer holidays are the longest period of uninterrupted time that politicians have during the year to stop and think. So the books that accompany policy-makers on their holiday can turn out to be pretty influential in shaping their ideas. A book gift for a Minister at this time of year might turn out to be a good investment.

Time and again the same kinds of books crop up on policy-makers' reading lists: political philosophy, biography and chronicles of significant events in history. This year there is the prospect of reading some of the new analysis of recent world events, polemics on the implications of US hegemony, or reflections on the likely impact of the advancing frontiers of genetic research.

It's unlikely that we would find a book about the future of the voluntary sector tucked into any policy-maker's suitcase. More's the pity. At a time when the sector is being invited to play a bigger role in society but lacks a clear focus, we sorely need some reflection on where we're going.

But we are hardly awash with books that offer insight into the contribution that the voluntary sector might make to civil society in coming years.

There is certainly a gap in the market. Perhaps one that ought to be filled in time for the Christmas reading lists?

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