Decline and Fall, Chris Mullin, Profile 2010
This is the second volume of the Mullin diaries. He writes very nicely, but he does threaten us with another two volumes. I think this one is enough for me. He says at the beginning " those… in the foothills and not the heights of politics do not have to waste time on self-justification. I like to think I am in this category, though that is for others to judge." Hah. I guess the advantage of this volume is that he reminds us of what was said on certain key occasions, sometimes informing us of it for the first time. Tony said at the first PLP after the 2005 general election "I was loyal throughout three defeats. All I ask is a bit of loyalty throughout three victories." (p.6). When Mullin was sacked as Africa minister he received a rather touching note from the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who wrote "I am deeply saddened to learn that you have been replaced as Africa minister. I had stayed up late at night to listen to your victory speech…and I had hoped and assumed that your tenure…would be much longer" (p.13). How many British government ministers would wait up to hear if a parliamentarian in another country had been elected, and send him or her a personal note? Let's have some humility, and some perspective.
Robin Cook died on Saturday 6 August 2005. For those of us who have been in politics his unexpected death was a "remember where you were when" moment. I remember getting the news while we were at the Swaddles' excellent summer party, and Paul showing me the message on his mobile.
There are times when the lack of editing shows. "Gareth Peirce spoke to a meeting on 8 November 05 about the Terrorism Bill… he offered two nuggets" (p.47). Even I know that Gareth Peirce is female. Does not inspire confidence.
He got bollocked by his GC (p.60) for voting against the Government on the Terrorism Bill. Constituencies I am familiar with, they would bollock you for voting for. Reading, your fellow Labour MP would arrange a briefing for the Guardian Diary, using the word "slavish". Another world. But he does learn things occasionally. He went canvassing for a council by-election in his constituency in the middle of the loans-for-peerages scandal, and found - no-one mentioned it. He doesn't expand on this, but anyone who knocks doors regularly knows this. The screaming Westminster media issues are not what the people actually care about.
Could not resist this: "Angela (Eagle) and Martin (Salter) are among The Disappointed. He because his talents have not been recognised… I suspect they believe that the Coming of Gordon will be to their advantage…" (p.105) This is May 2006, almost a year after Salter's five-week stint as a PPS before getting sacked.
But here we go: "disgracefully he (Tony Blair) uttered not a single critical word of the Israelis (sic) despite the mayhem they have caused" (p.116, July 2006, more than four years ago, quite early in the days when the pathway to respect on the left was to add a spice of Jew-hatred to the stew of your argument.) Israel's "assault on Lebanon was a war crime" he says (p/116)/ What did he think of Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, done for very similar reasons, namely that the invading state believed terrorist attacks were being launched on its territory from within the invadee. Ah yes (p.261): "It appears that the Georgians started this with an attack on South Ossetia, a disputed enclave (no it's not, Ed.)…also, the Americans have been messing around, training and arming the Georgians right under Russian noses." Oh, we can't have that. Sovereign country, schmovereign country. Better not talk to any of them in case the Russians get upset.
The humour is often ponderous: "the letter (telling Tony to go, in September 2006), said to have been instigated by Chris Bryant and Sion Simon, was signed mainly, he says, by "bright, shiny, upwardly mobile New Labourites" (p.123) "it is like a mass suicide pact by members of a religious cult." Ha bloody ha.
Perhaps a sign that Mullin does not always see clearly what is around him (p.135) "today I successfully managed to top up my mobile phone account via a cash machine" (in November 2006, wtf?)
But nice quotes. Eg Noel Coward's note of commiseration to Valerie Profumo on her husband's resignation (p.136) "Do remember that nothing ever matters quite as much as one thinks it does". Also, and differently, I wonder if Bruce Grocott minds being quoted like this: (in December 2006, re Tony, p. 139) "I can give you a list of his strengths as long as your arm, but he is not the best judge of people"/
Great Matters That Should Not Be Forgotten, No. 1: Trident (p.157) the argument for renewing it, or one of them, was that greater dependence on the Americans would thereby be avoided. And Mullin's take on that? We are still waiting.
Some of the quotes though are funny: Gordon (March 2007, p. 159) cited Nixon, then V-P, attending the celebrations for Ghana's independence and going round the place shaking people's hands and asking "How does it feel to be free?" to get the response from one "How would I know? I'm from Alabama".
Allegedly (p.162) "Gordon's henchpeople" have a distressing tendency to bully (March 2007). No shit, Sherlock . "If they accept an invitation to lunch, they are liable to turn up with a file of your recent writings, with passages of which they disapprove highlighted in green, and proceed to hector you as to where you have gone wrong". Oooh, now I know where Reading Labour boys got it from.
The departure of Tony and the election of Harriet as deputy are not really discussed (see, for example, p.185) on the assumption that everybody knows. But look at the paragraph above. But he has the gall to write, of the departure of Tony from the Chamber for the last time "For once the New Labour machine delivered", Both crass and wrong.
Hilary Armstrong quoted (p.202) "Gordon has the advantage (this is October 2007) of not having to contend with counter-briefing, there was hardly a day when Gordon's people weren't briefing against us. It's amazing that Tony lasted as long as he did. " Mullin of course throws General Secretary Peter Watt to the wolves (p. 215-16), and when he finally decides to stand down Mullin says rather well, "No weeping or wailing or rending of garments. No-one throwing themselves at my feet begging me to reconsider" (p.246) No indeed, that is not how it works.
Some intriguing little things, at least for me: "the Treasury have insisted that they won't rescue the Post Office pension fund unless the private sector are given a stake" (p. 299). Is that why the Post Office is being privatised then? I thought it had to be, under EU legislation.
Mullin is not much of a constituency representative reallly. He talks about constituent asylum cases. Several of them. In detail. and is rather ignorant on the subject of asylum law. Maybe he is referring to each and every asylum case he had, given the whiteness of Sunderland. I had to have a part-time person just to deal with immigration and asylum.
Mullin refers blithely to "the Israel lobby in Washington" as if it were a given. Oh dear oh dear. But he is good on media and political gossip. Smears were proliferating against John Reid (p. 320, April 2009), when it was thought Reid might run against Gordon. Rebekah Wade made it clear to him (Mullin says Reid told him this) "the smears would stop, if he let Gordon have a free run".. Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, from Salter's wife, saying if I sacked my parliamentary researcher, who was also my husband, the briefing against me would stop. I didn't sack him.
As in the first volume, the latter part of the book is tinged with regret, frustration and thwarted ambition. He thought too late of running for Speaker (p. 348), if only, if only, he had not already announced his intention of standing down from the House. So, like most, he leaves the House with sadness and regret.
All in all the book is mean-spirited. His fellow North-East Labour MP, Ashok Kumar, died suddenly and unexpectedly in March 2010. The funeral was held, in the North-East, on a Friday, and Mullin did not go. What could have been more important than that?
Nice writing Chris, but you are not a nice man, and/or book shows that up in y ou. Your legacy will be A Very British Coup (for those of us who still remember) and the Birmingham Six. Nothing else. A failed minister and a failed MP. Oh and a rubbish public speaker as I recall.