Unless you're a political geek, or a LibDem, you've probably never heard of Jonny Oates, but take it from me, if you read his book you'll want to know more about him.

This is not the book I expected it to be. Given his background in Liberal Democrat politics, and his position as Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg in the coalition years, I thought the majority of it would be about that. It isn't. Not by a long shot.

jonny oates

Huge credit to Biteback for publishing it, because unless its reputation spreads by word of mouth, a book by a LibDem backroom boy is never likely to set the tills ringing in Waterstones. During my two decades in publishing I occasionally got a manuscript which I would read and then decide that even if it only sold 100 copies, it was a book which deserved to be published. This is one of them. It's a corker.

Jonny Oates had what most people would consider a normal middle class upbringing. His father was vicar of St Bride's Church in Fleet Street. To all intents and purposes they were a normal family. Yet Jonny had a troubled childhood, and this is where the book starts. The first few chapters are in many ways the best in the book, and they set the scene for whart follows. At the age of 14 Jonny runs away from home. To Addis Ababa. Yes, in Ethiopia. And what a tale it is, too. Although is African sojourn only lasted a matter of weeks, he embarks on a love affair with the continent, and returns to teach in Zimbabwe and to work for Inkartha in South Africa in the mid 1990s.

The running theme through the book is Jonny's battle with his sexuality. He realises from an early age that he is different, but like so many gay men in the 1980s and 1990s he can't quite bring himself to come to terms with it. One of the best passages is when he describes his initial thought's on Lynne Featherstone's initiative to introduce the Equal Marriage Bill. He wonders if it is worth the political battle, given the existence of civil partnerships. His LibDem colleague, James McGrory, a decade his junior, tells him to snap out of it and of course it's the right thing to do. James is, as Oates describes him, a straight, Arsenal supporting man's man.

Jonny Oates

The final few chapters on the coalition years are no less gripping than what goes before, even if it is a well worn path covered in several books that I published by David Laws. However, Jonny Oates holds a very different view of George Osborne to David Laws. He does not emerge well here. At times Oates went through agonies of conscience and nearly resigned after one self-admitted cock-up. The one person to emerge with his reputation fully intact is Nick Clegg. This, you might think, is unsurprising, but it confirms what I have always thought - that Nick Clegg is a throughly decent man who did his best for his party and country, and who the history books will be kinder to than contemporary commentators.

I named this as one of my ten books of the year after having only read a third of it. Over the last few days I finished it and I have no hesitation in recommending it to you as my overall best book of 2020.

You can hear my hour long interview with Jonny Oates about his book on the Iain Dale All Talk podcast feed,

Buy the book at Politicos.co.uk for £13.99 (normal price £20), which is cheaper than Amazon.