Reportage

The New Labour Retrospective

Chris Mullin’s political diaries….

cmIt somehow seems ridiculous to be looking at the emergence of New Labour as a part of British history already some twenty years in the past. Many of us will, I am sure be looking at that period and wondering where those years have gone. But gone they have and much has happened since, indeed we are still seeing significant events occurring as a result of that political period and the movement spearheaded by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson in particular.

It was a remarkable time in British politics as well as popular culture, which saw a collective of artists, musicians and authors find global acclaim under the ‘Brit-Pop’ bandwagon and one which the Labour government of the day were quick to hitch a ride upon. Britain, it seemed had awoken from a John Major post eighties slumber and a new subculture grew from roots not only in the art colleges of the south of England but that of inner city Manchester. Music, food and fashion found fame and fortune in revisiting its British heritage and new artists such as Emin and Hirst helped make British art a hugely bankable commodity.

Of course the ultimate legacy of the Blair years is and will always be the Iraq War and I shall leave that topic to a million other websites to write about. But there was far more to that period and twenty years on it is easy to forget how this new type of Labour politic was created and evolved. Politically it was every bit as beset with infighting and conspiracy as any previous Conservative government and one only has to watch an episode of the quite brilliant The Thick of It to get a flavour of political manoeuvring during the Blair/Brown years. That manoeuvring, the so-called black arts of politics was given a new and rather ugly lease of life under Mandelson and Campbell in particular and would prove to be one of the defining points in the legacy of the New Labour years and a legacy now ripe for studying.

Chris Mullin was Labour MP for Sunderland South from 1987 until 2010. A man whose appearance always reminded me of a previous Dr Who incarnate he incurred the wrath and scorn of not only the right-wing media but that of the incumbent Labour leader Neil Kinnock who objected to his selection for a parliamentary seat. ‘Is The most Odious Man in Britain?’ asked one newspaper headline! Well, whatever one’s political persuasion he has written three volumes of political diaries which have won many plaudits and justifiably so. As a Labour MP who held three ministerial positions he was ideally placed to observe and record the inner workings of Blair’s government in a series of books which offer a fascinating insight into policy formation, political spin and the fallout from both.

I read and collect diaries from all political factions and having no particular political leaning helps, I believe, to build a clearer picture of the wheels of government and how it operates. I have books by some whose legacy I find particularly unsavoury but whatever the person and politics their diaries offer a perspective the reader may not have previously considered and Chris Mullin’s honest, often self-deprecating entries make for an often amusing, thought-provoking insight into a party which would become as far removed from its recent past as was humanly possible to be.

Twenty years in politics is a long time indeed. In 1997 we saw Tony Blair move his party further away from the Far Left than Kinnock could ever dream of. Jeremy Corbyn and his backbench allies were as marginalised as never before but Oh! what a turnaround in 2015/16! The once golden boy of the Labour party is persona non grata, the unspoken name. Replaced by his total opposite, a man deeply ensconced in the political idealism which saw Labour humiliated during Thatcher’s reign. It is, it would seem, history repeating itself.

But that is for another decade. Me, I am boiling the kettle and sitting down to Mullin’s entries for 1996. Get yourself a copy and relive through Mullin that brief, manic period when Rule Britannia meant Moss, Gallagher, Hirst, Beckham, Raves and lest we forget, Diana.

Chris Mullin’s political Diaries:

A View From The Foothills

Decline and Fall

A Walk-On Part

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