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Book Reviews

Blue Thunder: The Truth About Conservatives from Macdonald to Harper

by Bob Plamondon

Conservative Party insider Bob Plamondon’s new book, Blue Thunder, promises to tell “the truth” about all the leaders throughout the Tories’ various incarnations. The truth, according to Plamondon, is that party leaders who managed to win elections and hold power (sorry, Joe Clark) made for great Conservative leaders, while the rest were either not tough enough, incompetent, or died shortly after taking over as leader.

Plamondon lays out a framework for determining the most successful Conservative leaders. His criteria include: “Do they offer a vision that inspires the nation?” and “Are they absolutely committed to winning?” The book would have benefited from more of an explanation about why these criteria were so important to Plamondon or why they should matter to anyone who isn’t either a die-hard Conservative or an aspiring Conservative insider. As it is, this book is unlikely to appeal to anyone who doesn’t fall into one of those categories, and those that do may well find that there isn’t much new here.

Plamondon’s analysis and conclusions are predictable: Sir John A. Macdonald good, Kim Campbell bad. For non-Conservatives, the book will, not surprisingly, come across as a little too partisan in places. For example, in 35 pages on Brian Mulroney, there is just one dismissive reference to the Karlheinz Schreiber scandal. To his credit, however, Plamondon offers a balanced assessment of the current prime minister.

Blue Thunder probably works best as a reference text of sorts for political history junkies. The workmanlike and humourless prose will definitely not reward a casual reader, or anyone who spends long stretches reading the book. Almost by default, the book’s cleverest line belongs to convicted felon Conrad Black, who writes in the introduction that former prime minister John Diefenbaker’s “strengths are indisputable but often hard to identify precisely.”

The footnotes for this research-heavy, 504-page book are posted on the book’s website and are not included in the book itself. I don’t know if this is a common practice, but it is unquestionably an annoying one. It’s a little like watching a movie and instead of simply showing the credits at the end, you are invited to go to a website to find out who was in the cast.

In some ways, then, Blue Thunder is similar to the Tories themselves: a few strong moments separated by long stretches of relative insignificance.