Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005 to 2010 by Chris Mullin
|Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005 to 2010 by Chris Mullin|
|Genre: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Excerpts from the Mullin Diaries from 2005 through to the end of the author's time in Parliament and the implosion of the New Labour administration. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: August 2010|
|Publisher: Profile Books Ltd|
At the end of A View from the Foothills we left Chris Mullin wondering why he was no longer Tony Blair's Africa minister at the Foreign Office. He was never to get a definitive answer to this, but was later told that Blair handed out the junior ministerial appointments rather like sweets, with few worries about how people would feel if they were missed out or sacked. In Decline and Fall we see Chris come down from the foothills of politics and return to the backbenches. He might no longer be in a position of power, but he's still in the thick of it. Perhaps though, some of the enjoyment is draining away from the job as he sees himself with years more of doing nothing very important.
The diaries cover the period from 2005 to when Chris left Parliament for the final time in 2010. Through Chris's eyes we see the departure of Tony Blair and the coronation of Gordon Brown, the winning of the 2012 Olympics, the London bombings, the global financial crisis and the 'Great Expenses Meltdown'. You might well think that there's not much more to be said on any of these topics but the more measured and thoughtful approach in Decline and Fall gives a new perspective.
Perhaps the most striking point is that an administration which seemed to make much use of the spin doctor failed to make any capital at all out of the fact that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were the people who pulled the global financial system back from the brink of collapse. It's no secret in other countries but doesn't seem to be considered in the UK and Chris hopes that history will treat Brown more kindly than the voters have done. Here Brown is blamed for the financial crisis. The Conservatives make much of the debts that have been left to them – failing to mention that the cause of the problem were the city bankers.
On the expenses scandal you might have expected some triumphalism given that Chris was one of the saints of the episode and famous for his black and white television, but there's no blame, no malice and even sympathy for those caught up in the scandal. Having no need to worry for his own back he looks more to getting a system which will bring in public respect and he feels that one way to begin that process is to stop having a summer break which lasts for the best part of three months. Regrettably not too many of his fellow MPs thought the same way.
Most fascinating of all was the fact that everyone seemed to be well aware of Gordon Brown's shortcomings well before he took over the reins, but they still managed to carry him into power unopposed whilst predicting the problems ahead.
Chris has the knack of explaining background in such a way that the layman can understand the what and the why. He's never patronising and lacks the urge of many politicians to prove that they're better than the common man. Reading the diaries you have a feeling of being in the House of Commons, in his Sunderland constituency or with his family: there's a real sense of time and place.
I found it a refreshing read as Chris judges people by their actions and not the colour of their politics. He can be quite scathing about Labour politicians who fall short in his judgement but equally generous to politicians of other parties who act well. There's a complete lack of malice or the unedifying sound of axes being ground.
It's a very easy read, but not light-weight by any means. I read the book over the course of two glorious days (granted, I did very little else) but even knowing what was going to happen I still had to keep reading. The style is self-deprecating and engaging; in places it's laugh-out-loud funny from the sublime of Chris's interactions with his daughters to the ridiculousness of some of the reporting in the tabloids and the broadsheets. The book is highly recommended.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you haven't read A View from the Foothills then you really should. If you'd like to know more about the expenses scandal then you might like to try No Expenses Spared by Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner but be warned that the tone and approach are very different. For another political diary from an earlier period – this time the Callaghan years – have a look at Downing Street Diary: Volume Two by Bernard Donoughue, although you won't find that book such an easy read. For some fiction by Chris Mullin try A Very British Coup.
Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005 to 2010 by Chris Mullin is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.
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Can't wait to read this book - it sounds like a real treat in store for the the many who enjoyed the first volume of Chris Mullin's diaries!