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Downing Street Diary Volume Two: With James Callaghan in No. 10 [Paperback]

Bernard Donoughue
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Sep 2009

The first volume of Bernard Donoughue's Downing Street Diary was described by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph as 'the best account of Harold Wlson's last days'; 'the sheer scale and detail are fascinating' wrote Peter Riddell in the Times Literary Supplement. This second volume covers the three years, 1976-79, when Donoughue was Senior Policy Advisor to James Callaghan.

At first Callaghan quickly established dominance over his cabinet and restored calm after the plots and scandals of the later Wilson years. His incomes policy reduced inflation and, in the teeth of opposition from the left wing, he negotiated the notorious IMF loan at the expense of eliminating some of Labour's most cherished dreams. By 1978, Callaghan, a politician of great patriotism and decency, seemed to have succeeded in steering Britain into calmer waters. But then the storm broke. Trade union militants brushed aside their mediocre leaders and launched a ferocious attack on Callaghan's pay policy, driving up inflation and demonstrating the government's impotence. In the diaries we see the prime minister and the government paralysed as the 'Winter of Discontent' began to bite and politics took to the streets.

As Labour drifted to inevitable defeat in the 1979 election we see Callaghan fighting honourably. From the smoke of battle there emerges a striking new leader: Margaret Thatcher. The diaries describe vividly both the decline and final collapse of 'old' Labour and how Mrs Thatcher took the opportunity to launch her crusade to dismantle trade union power and much of the British public sector.

Besides James Callaghan the chief figures in this volume of Lord Donoughue's diaries are Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Crosland, Michael Foot, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Tony Benn.

Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico (3 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845950941
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845950941
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 360,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"These diaries...convey a fresh and vivid sense of the tensions and strains of this period" (Literary Review)

"Donoughue's diaries of his time as political advisor to Jim Callaghan are proving gripping reading" (The Times)

"Superb book... historians will plunder the Donughue diaries to gain an understanding of one of the great turning points in modern British history. But this book also has a huge contemporary resonance. It is very accessible to the general reader an I cannot recommend it highly enough" (Daily Mail)

"An admirable and important contribution to British history ... A copy of Donoughue's fascinating book should be sent to every minister in office" (Roy Hattersley Observer)

"As an inside account of the collective political nervous breakdown suffered by the Labour movement in the late Seventies, these diaries have no equal" (Daily Telegraph)


`this superb book... a huge contemporary resonance... very accessible to the general reader and I cannot recommend it highly enough.'
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good addition to the Wilson Years 20 Oct 2009
This second installment of the Donoughue Diaries focuses on his continued position as head of the policy unit in No.10 following the resignation of Wilson and his replacement as Prime minister by James Callaghan it is a daily account of Donoughue's inpressions of the comings and goings at the centre of government.

The different styles of leadership, Wilson more gossipy, Callaghan more serious, comes through in the content and pace of this second volume, without the combustible Marcia Williams, the focus shifts away from the personalities of No. 10 and move to the precarious position of the Labour Government in the late 70s, at it attempts to remain in office and power.

Tracing the government's survival through the loss of its parliamentary majority, votes of confidence, the IMF crisis, pacts with the Liberals and the Ulster Unionists and on to the fateful decision of Callaghan not to call the election on October 1978 and then having to face the 'Winter of Discontent'.
Donouhue's contemporary account of each of these crisis' which come thick and fast acts as a useful guide both to historians and present day politicians.

Donoughue gradually resigns himself to the reality that he might be out of a job at any time.

If the reader can forget the eventual outcome of events, the diaries become an interesting commentary on a government fighting for survival and gradually sinking through its own ineptitude and 'events' coming against it.

It also gives an insight into the lost art of 'Cabinet Government' of which Callaghan was the last great master.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascination 2 Nov 2010
By Jonbob
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent account of how the wheels of government rotate. Bernard Donoghue is very much to the right of the Labour Party and seems bemused why his economic logic is not accepted by those to the left. His failure to understand their principles, putting it down to simply plotting thier own future political careers show he never grasped the principles of politics. However it does shine a light on the subsequent turmoil in the Labour Party and why things fell apart. The only time Bernard becomes angry is towards the end of the Labour Government where he clearly resents the ability of the trade unions to represent their members effectively than a minority government could represent the people. The only time he shows any vitriol is towards local govenrment workers, despite regularly being confronted by the duplicity of the senior civil servants who continued to run Government behind the scenes. It all makes for facinating reading. Jim Callaghan does come well out of this as does Roy Hattersley which probably explains the latters positive review of the account!! But if you want to understand government and if you want to understand why Labour was out of power for so long this, along with Bernards` Wilson Diaries, is the place to start.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Same Old Same Old 9 Jan 2009
Having read Bernard Donoughue's Downing Street Diary Volume One which covered the time he was in No.10 with the whiskey sodden and increasingly paranoid Harold Wilson I picked this second volume up with anticipation. I was disappointed.

At least with the antics of self important Marcia Williams, whose hold over Harold Wilson was never fully explained, the paralysis at the heart of government could be understood in its historical context in the first volume. The country was run by people out of their depth whose presence at the centre of government was an ego trip rather than a political cause. As Donoughe says bitterly of Harold Wilson "He sadly cannot resist a chance of getting into the news".

In the case of Jim Callaghan's time as Prime Minister there was something more interesting to talk about such as the Lib/Lab Pact which was on/off and a matter of political expediency rather than political conviction. As long as they kept the Tories out of office nothing else mattered. It sounds familiar.

Of course the Liberals had their problems, most notably Jeremy Thorpe who was allegedly nominating people for peerages at 60,000 a time on behalf of the Liberals and then pocketing the money for himself. The author himself whines that Walter Winterbottom didn't know "how much I did to get him his knighthood", moans that a civil servant who was identified as being hopeless received an award and mentions he put forward Robin Day's name, which shows that nothing has changed over thirty years - other than the names.
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