Chris Mullin's minor acts of rebellion thankfully continue into his retirement. Clearly he has chosen to tackle head on the slightly more well known book by one Anthony Blair by deciding to publish the second volume of his diaries on the same date as "A Journey - or Gordon why I didn't sack him". Neither for Mullin has this book been subject to vice like embargo or threat of a pre publication legal jihad. Indeed it was covered in lengthy extracts by in Radio 4's Book of the Week programme where it was beautifully read by Sam Dale.
Mullin is that rarity, an independent minded MP whose career was not as important as his politics. This simple fact is missed on so many slavish "party creatures" who fail to understand that being an MP and having some views of your own actually endears you to the voting public. Mullin of course was somebody who while aspiring "Blairites" formed a disorderly queue for Ministerial jobs actually turned down the first job he was offered and when eventually he did accept a second offer, walked away when he felt he could make better use of his time. "Decline and Fall" is the second part of Mullin's diary (following the wonderful "View from the foothills") and chronicles those years between 2005 -2010 when Tony "The Man" Blair and other "inhabitants of the stratosphere" played out complex political feuds which would have shocked the Roman Senate (where at least the knives were unsheathed). Mullin's judgements throughout this diary are fascinating and often uncannily right. The departure of Tony Blair particularly his triumphant last performance in the Commons is vividly captured and Mullin's judgement drawn from a Lib Dem peer was that Blair's response to admittedly dire opposition questions was the "bowlers were outshone by the batsman" . He also concedes through gritted teeth that the PMs departure chimed with the showbiz maxim that you must "leave with the crowds still wanting more". Subsequently on the big push that occurred to coronate Gordon Brown as Prime Minister he comments ruefully about the latter's "populist claptrap on Britishness" and "promising to be tough on terrorists". With real foresight he concludes that "if this is all he has to offer the cupboard is well and truly bare". Mullin did not know how right he was.
Mullin is a great writer/diarist and holds your attention. You sense his real incredulity at the decision by one time uber Blairite Jack Straw to become Gordon Brown's campaign manager. "What an operator" he exclaims. Throughout the book he charts the terrible back biting and dysfunction of a party whose new Prime Minister "depresses everyone" and led Mullin to record the rueful judgement by Kelvin Hopkins MP (Lab Luton North) "that we have replaced a psychotic with a neurotic"
Amongst numerous fascinating entries none are more riveting than the slow build up of the MPs expenses scandal with the publication of the Daily Telegraph revelations. Mullin does not at first appreciate the gravity of this and ponders how "we can counter this blizzard of lies" but then sadly accepts "that we have brought so much of this on ourselves...entirely self inflicted".
As for positives you come out of reading this book thinking that not all politicians are bad people, you almost admire Alistair Darling for his coolness under pressure during the banking crisis. You feel for Mullin on the loss of his dear old Mum and especially when he poignantly dreams that she has revisited him. And you save a warm smile for the comment of the late great Tony Banks MP who with characteristic wit said of his elevation to the House of Lords "Wonderful, I've gone from being a boring old fart to a Young Turk in a single leap".
Throughout the book the charming idiosyncrasies and character of Chris Mullin shine through. This a man who after all remains one of the 0.5 per cent of the British population who still watches television in black and white but felt rather guilty about claiming £48 for TV licence. Like Alan Clark and Tony Benn he is the type of person we want our politicians to be, warts and all. Certainly he was often infuriating and a clinger to old labourist ideals well past their sell by date, but in his valedictory speech to the Commons he is someone who can stand up with pride and state the following "I am a socialist with a small "s", a liberal with a small "l", a green with a small "g" and a democrat with a capital "D". It is a fine political epithet for a much missed politician.