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Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour [Paperback]

Andrew Rawnsley
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 July 2001

Andrew Rawnsley's Servants of the People is a timely and fascinating look at New Labour.

Every new government promises to represent a new dawn, but for New Labour it was the Covenant that Tony Blair made with Britain. The party that won a landslide victory on May Day 1997 made the special claim that it represented a decisive break with the disappointments of the old left and the old right: its Third Way would transcend both. Having fashioned an extraordinarily wide coalition to secure power, New Labour would hold it as Servants of the People. Was that a grandiloquent way of saying the government would be enslaved to the opinion polls? Or has Tony Blair been pursuing a strategic plan, breathtaking in its audacity, to remake the political landscape of Britain in the third millennium?

'Downing Street is said to be 'furious' at this book - and it is easy to understand why. It is the first meticulous chronicle of all that has happened since that bright May Day three years ago which first brought the Blair government to office' Anthony Howard, Sunday Times

'Riveting ... the Government's dirty washing has been well and truly hung out in public' Rachel Sylvester, Daily Telegraph

Andrew Rawnsley is associate editor and chief political commentator for the Observer. For many years he presented BBC Radio 4's Sunday evening Westminster Hour, and he has also made a number of highly acclaimed television documentaries.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Edition edition (16 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140278508
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140278507
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 47,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

If revenge is a dish best eaten cold, there will be some hastily scalded--and scolded--mouths around Westminster. Heavily serialised already in two national newspapers, political commentator Andrew Rawnsley's account of the honeymoon period of Tony Blair's Labour government is the story of four men who wanted something so much they could not believe it when it arrived. It proved, to a degree, a Faustian pact. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell formed an inner circle without the Cabinet, but within earshot of their mutual blade-sharpening, while remaining glutinously bound by fierce personal desire. Rawnsley himself displays little of his subjects' "psychological flaws". Indeed, he would make a fine spin-doctor. His truffling turns up a barrowload of anonymous quotations, some whispered, some brayed, to support a punchy, racily confident narrative that begs between-the-lines reading to guess who has said what and why. He considers with clarity and wit episodes such as the now notorious Ecclestone affair, Geoffrey Robinson's home loan to Peter Mandelson, European monetary union, the Good Friday negotiations, Kosovo, the Pinochet affair, Scottish devolution and the trumpeted marriage of convenience between Blair and Brown. According to Rawnsley, while the antagonist Brown skulks around, grim of manner and unsung, Blair proves a more slippery customer. Unexpectedly gutsy over Kosovo and Northern Ireland, like Margaret Thatcher he remains at heart a conviction politician, and when his instinct deserts him, the exposed lack of ideological foundation can see him flounder, such as over the Mayor of London election. Rawnsley's final chapter, dealing with Blair's disastrous courting of the Women's Institute, inadvertently sets the stage for the fuel crisis, when the mask finally started to eat into the face. New Labour got itself into a spin, inevitably given its accelerating centrifugal force, but the Government still approaches the prospect of a second term-Blair's cherished dream--with cash in the coffers, and real achievements on the board. Andrew Rawnsley demands similar plaudits, for as vivid and plausible an account of the machinations of contemporary politics as there has been. And the burns will quickly heal. --David Vincent

NB: the latest edition includes a new preface and five new chapters which include information about the 2001 General Election


"* 'The most readable contemporary history to be written since New Labour was elected' Roy Hattersley, Observer * 'Riveting... the Government's dirty washing has been well and truly hung out in public' Rachel Sylvester, Daily Telegraph"

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DEMOCRACY IN PRACTICE 20 May 2007
With 38 more days of Blair's premiership to go I thought that this might be a good time to remind myself of how it all looked and felt in the year 2000 when the book was published. I am a regular reader of Andrew Rawnsley's weekly political commentary in The Observer, and he can always be relied on for an intelligent and fair-minded view, with an engaging public-schoolboy sense of the aspects of the matter (many) that are slightly or more than slightly ridiculous.

Rawnsley does his homework. For obvious reasons he can't name most of his sources or they would not remain sources for long, but I see no reason not to believe his claim that he found them at the top, in the middle and at the bottom of the parliamentary pile. His main text starts with Labour's election victory in 1997, but his short preface is in some ways the most interesting thing in the book, recapitulating the history of the `New Labour Project' that restored Labour to government after many had given up on it as being unelectable. Blair obviously occupies centre-stage, but the book is about his party and his government in general, not about him solely or even mainly. Blair had snatched the crown from under the nose of the longtime leader in waiting Gordon Brown, whom he had to placate with unprecedented power and influence as Chancellor and whose turn is now at last about to come. Never far from the spotlight except when he chose to be is also the machiavellian figure of Peter Mandelson, and manipulating the spotlights is of course Tony's loyal and brutal press supremo Alastair Campbell.

Labour had been out of office for 18 years. Neither Blair nor Brown nor any minister other than one fairly minor officeholder had any experience of government whatsoever.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating if dated 22 May 2006
By Reptile
An excellent book on politics. Rawnsley obviously had excellent access at the time of writing. He has a profound understanding of politics which does not detract from his ability to see the funny side. He is also a good writer with an extensive vocabulary and a sense of rhythm. It's just a pity that he decided not to write subsequent volumes or updated versions covering the whole period of Labour's term in office. This book can be whole-heartedly recommended to anyone who is interested in politics. We all should be. The more faults and failings our politicians have, the more we should keep an eye on them.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I found this book an excellent condensed 'history' of how the electorate of the UK were manipulated into voting for what was in effect a new political party, namely New Labour. What makes it even more astounding is that this smalll group of politicians and their cronies seem to be so fragmented and unsure of their own abilities, even after achieving so much. This concern is somewhat tempered by the fact that many of the assertions made by Mr. Rawnsley are not backed up by anything more than a 'Private Information' note. However, even if some of the book is not given corrobative credence it is none the less a 'good read' that I would recommend to anybody with even a passing interest in the antics of the present incumbent of 10 Downing Street, as well as the way his party copes with the new and exciting experience of being in power.
I look forward to the sequel with anticipation, especially if the words 'Private Information' are not so evident next time around!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than James Naughtie's The Rivals 28 Nov 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a fantastic read! Even though I read this in 2006, and Rawnsley's book only goes up to the 2001 election, it was riveting. Insights into the Dome, the Euro, the Kosovo war, which I had never known before, even though I am a close follower of political affairs. Rawnsley clearly has a number of good sources within the heart of the Cabinet, and his book doesn't have the same exclusively Mandelson-infused perspective that Naughtie's book, The Rivals, has. (And, save for the first couple of chapters, Naughtie's book covers more or less the same episodes of the 1997-2001 government.) Rawnsley is also a master at painting characters, and constructing dialogue, so you really get a flavour of what people are like, and the drama comes off the page. By comparison, Naughtie's book seems listless, based more on gossip in newspapers than genuine behind the scenes insights.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb account of New Labour 8 Dec 2000
Andrew Rawnsely, expert political commentator and broadcaster has certainly come 'up top' with this incredibly interesting account of key situations the Blair government have faced so far: Kosovo, The Northern Ireland peace talks, and the infamous Mandelson-Robinson affair, Bernie Ecclestone affair. Rawnsley's style of commentry is superb and witty. I, as a politics student, found the book invaluable to gain a more comprehensive understanding of New Labour and the tensions that have wracked this power-hungry, media paranoid government, right from election in 1997 up to the present day.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 7 Nov 2000
This really is an excellent summary of Labour's first three years in power. In turn both informative, revealing, gossipy and very entertaining. The spin (that dreaded word) around this book might have given the indication that this was little more than a dissection of the difficulties and conflicts within the goverment's hierachy and to be fair, a serialisation in the Daily Mail, would certainly have reinforced that assumption. Dont let that put you off....there is alot more to this book than that. In many ways Tony Blair comes out with more credit than may be assumed as does Gordon Brown and John Prescott (but not Derry Irvine). The extreme pressures of top level goverment are vividly portrayed and the tensions tantrums and blunders as well as the real achievements are related in teh form of an exceptionall witty thriller (if that makes sense) Read it
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinarily Readable
While The End of the Party propelled Andrew Rawnsley's name to the epicentre of Political Coverage, Servants of the People covers what may now seem very distant and forgotten, New... Read more
Published 17 months ago by A. J. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into new labour early years
An excellently researched book that shows the tensions in new labour was there from almost day one of the government. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Ian Gibson
4.0 out of 5 stars new labour
The book itself was as described on the site, the delivery time I cannot comment on as I was on holiday when it was deliverd. Read more
Published on 4 Oct 2011 by B. H. Whiteman
4.0 out of 5 stars Your main man
No, not Blair or Brown - Rawnsley! My idea of political comment heaven would be listening to Rawnsley, Peter Hennessy and Anthony Howard over a pint or three. Read more
Published on 2 Sep 2010 by Mr. Pj Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
If you want the real inside story of the Labour governement, without any of the personal spin, bias and personal feelings from political autobiographies or diaries, then this is... Read more
Published on 31 Aug 2010 by G. R. Brooks
5.0 out of 5 stars A history being lived
This book is an exceptionally well written insiders tale of the first years of the New Labour Government. Read more
Published on 10 Jun 2010 by Christian
5.0 out of 5 stars A book which speaks volumes
A riveting read. This veritable tour de force provides startling insight into the inner workings of government and only leaves the reader wondering why it did not elicit a more... Read more
Published on 28 Mar 2010 by Mr Anonymous
4.0 out of 5 stars A Convincing Account
This book is fairly authoritative. The reader is fairly convinced that he is getting an accurate picture. It is of course only one view. Read more
Published on 8 Mar 2010 by conjunction
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, shocking and revelatory
A real tour de force-Rawnsley's book is a must read for anyone interested in modern British political history. Read more
Published on 23 Dec 2009 by L. A. A. Goodall
5.0 out of 5 stars better than sex!
Unputdownable! I really enjoyed this book. It's incredibly detailed, evocative and shines a light in some very dark corners of public life.
Published on 1 Feb 2008 by Art Lover
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