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PAINSTAKING BUT DULL
on 2 January 2011
This is the fourth of Seldon's books about British Prime Ministers of the past 20 years. The others read well, notably the biography of John Major and the second about Blair, "Blair Unbound".
This one was less rewarding. It is about of the length of a full biography, but covers only the period of Brown's premiership. It is immensely detailed and by no means uninteresting, but, despite (or perhaps because of) being less gossipy than Andrew Rawnsley's "The End of the Party" (which covers 2001-10), it lacks the panache and flow of the latter. In truth it gives the impression of being assembled in too much of hurry. At the very outset, the various introductions and prefaces are off-putting, lapsing from the first person singular (presumably Seldon), to the second plural (Seldon and Lodge?) and even to the third singluar (either/or). Certain sentences are repeated in quick succession; and the narrative itself, presumably to give contemporary appeal, begins and ends gratingly in the present tense (though not in fact consistently).
The general thesis seems to be that Brown was too dysfunctional - and some of his acolytes too bruising - to be a truly effective Prime Minister, but that, facing financial meltdown, he did a remarkable job in the circumstances. This is a reasonable enough conclusion, but, my golly, it takes a lot of pages to tell the story.
I very much hope that Tom Bower will update his biography of Brown that ended in 2007 as I think someone could do much better and help to present this perplexing subject in the round. In fact, Rawnsley, to an extent, has already done so; and several writers, Mandelson, Rob Wilson and David Laws included, have offered much more illuminating accounts of the very final days in and beyond the bunker.