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"