A Walk-on Part: Diaries 1994 - 1999 by Chris Mullin
|A Walk-on Part: Diaries 1994 - 1999 by Chris Mullin|
|Genre: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Another irreverent look at the life of an MP. This volume - the last to be published, but the first chronologically - covers the election of the first Labour government for nearly two decades. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 496||Date: August 2011|
|Publisher: Profile Books|
|External links: Author's website|
We tend to remember where we were and how we heard about the deaths of people like John F Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Princess Diana, but I'd add another person to the list: John Smith. I remember sitting in my office and a colleague coming in to tell me. She added 'I suppose we'll have that dreary Gordon Brown as leader now'. We'd many angst-ridden miles to go before that came about but Smith's death is the opening entry in this, the third volume (but first chronologically) of Chris Mullin's Diaries. This book covers the first period of 'New Labour', from Smith's death until Mullin's assumption into government in July 1999.
I approached this book with some trepidation. Both the first and second volumes to be published were witty, indiscrete (but never maliciously so), observant and wonderfully entertaining. Why was this volume being brought out as the final volume in the set, when it should have been the first? I don't have a ready answer to that, but my other fear (based on all the political memoirs which have flooded the market of late) – that here was someone else maximising his pension fund - was allayed. It takes just a little time to get into its stride – the death of John Smith isn't the vehicle for Mullin's trademark humour – and we were a little way in before I felt that the natural style of a diarist really emerged.
New Labour's time in power has been dominated in the public consciousness by Iraq and all that followed and then by the financial meltdown of the later years. It's easy to forget the success of the introduction of the minimum wage, changes in the Lords or the part the UK played in Kosovo – and difficult to see how anything ever came about when you read about the tooing and froing before action or legislation. Mullin was a member of and subsequently Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and perfectly placed to give a commentary on all that happened. There's fortunately only limited mention of the death of Princess Diana and far more about the deaths of the people who really mattered to him – his secretary, Jacky and Joan Maynard, the trade unionist and Labour politician.
The inside knowledge of what really goes on in politics is gold dust, but the book is lifted above being a mere political memoir by the inclusion of snippets about Mullin's daughters. As the book opens Sarah is just five and Emma – The Tiny Tyrant – is yet to be born. Their (mis)understanding of what their father did for a living had me laughing out loud on occasions.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you are starting the diaries with this volume then you can have the pleasure of going on to read A View from the Foothills and Decline and Fall. Other political memoirs pale in comparison but we have read and can cautiously recommend Off Message: The Complete Antidote to Political Humbug by Bob Marshall-Andrews.
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