131 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Mullin - A wonderful second diary instalment from "the Minister for Folding Deckchairs"
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...
Published on 1 Sep 2010 by Red on Black
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Let the chaos begin..........
Mullin raises one good point at the start: literally minutes after Tony Blair was re-elected in 2005 he faced calls for him to resign!! And so the sniping, back-stabbing and infighting begins in earnest for the next two years. And for what? To have Labour's most sucessful leader replaced by a charisma-free personality vacuum. Mullin paints an interesting picture of...
Published 18 months ago by Caterkiller
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131 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Mullin - A wonderful second diary instalment from "the Minister for Folding Deckchairs",
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best description of the failure of the Brown years,
This review is from: Decline & Fall (Kindle Edition)Although Andrew Rawnsley's "End of the Party" is more erudite and more thorough, this description of the worst of the Brown years is the best I have come across. It is gossipy, full of insight and really interesting in what it reveals not just about Brown but about all those around him. New Labour is in total meltdown, they lurch from crisis to crises and Chris Mullin is always there on the sidelines knowing exactly what is happening but powerless to do anything about it.
The way that MPs are moved from job to job, never having time to get on top of their brief, never really knowing what they are expected to do and rarely meeting with those nominally in charge speaks volumes. It is a mix of the mundane and the important, showing that often politicians are unable to distinguish between the two.
He much be VERY pleased that he chose to bail out at the last election.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding,
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The end of new labour,
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An antidote to self-serving memoirs,
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Mullin does it again,Decline & Fall: Diaries 2005-2010
This book keeps the high standard set in previous books. Using humour and pathos the author manages to prove that all politicians are not automotons and at the same time gives a peek at the tensions within government.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Painful to read this most important log of political truths and lies.,
Mullin would also like people to recognise the good as well as the bad that politicians can do, and he loathes members of the public and interest groups who are stuck in that fixed mode of 'professional moanerdom'. There is no dialogue or resolution to be had with such types. However, the diary throws an unusually insightful light on why there has been a major disconnect between politicians and public and a commensurate fall in respect. It is not all to do with our natural iconoclasm and latterday lack of forelock tugging. It is due to a massive underestimation of the public's intelligence, albeit that not all can articulate their sense of outrage well.
Mullin cannot understand the new breed of politicians use of managerial speak nor the huge number of wasteful initiatives wrapped in presentational marketing packages, the big conversations, the so-called consultations, the claims for stakeholderdom, that in the end signify absoutely nothing but an attempt to pull the wool over people's eyes and give civil servants something time consuming and expensive to do. He highlight's for example, Ed Ball's endlessly naive initiativitis at Education and contrasts it with what is really happening in Sunderland where early years breakfast clubs and child care pilots are collapsing for lack of funding. Mullin seeks to make sense as he goes along of all that happened - the new speak,('Going forward' is just one example he gives), the ghastly powerpoint route to policy. He is astonished at the appoinments of callow youths to Ministeries, at Blair's messianic self righteousness and cultivation of Bush, like some blushing bride, and Brown's utter lack of emotional savvy. But Mullin can't make sense of it all and he despairs. We get a drip feed perspective on what was over time eventually revealed across the media, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from drugs policy to Guantanamo Bay and rendition, from Ministerial reshuffles that gave no one a chance to get a grip, particularly on Africa, the job Mullin loved when he ahd it. We become reminded in one sitting, of a whole barrage of hideous errors of judgement and appalling self serving behaviours of the leadership and the sycophancy of the accolytes. We are also made yet more aware of the fear politicians have of the media, the abuse of media power as well as the tough task media had at getting to the truth. There is no doubt that the realtionship between the media influenced everything New Labour did, and on occasion rendered them impotent in some areas where they might have done some good, or were used as an excuse for doing no good at all.
If you are a reader who believed as Mullin did that getting into power required compromise and a bigger tent, and that once in power, truly progressive and effective policies would result, you will be shocked and disillusioned all over again. It is so painful to read at times because most of the important events, actions and responses over five years are all there, compacted in one place. Mullin is not at the top table even as a Minister for Africa. This does not mean that he does not know roughly what is going on and why. His antennae as acute as his interpretations, the occasional overarching summations of Labour's legacy and its reasons for defeat, as well as the crumbs of information and commentary help to close the circle of doubts for the reader about so many issues. Why did Brown get rid of the 10 pence tax rate? (answer: to be able to afford the 20p tax rate and thus appeal to middle England as a tax cutter) and Brown's incredible slowness in coming to realise what he had done and how difficult it was to wriggle out of. The idea that the prosperous years from 1997 were little to do with either Blair or Brown- it was the bubble market that did it for a while. Both Blair and Brown's seeming economic success was due to timing of the economic cycle, with bull markets built on a tide of debt, rising house prices and what we came to know as unsound derivatives, and all ready to crumble at some point whoever was in power. It was an illusion of permanent prosperity all along. Blair and Brown's ignorance about the way economies work, belief in economists themselves, de-regulation and belief in the power and corrective capacity of the market did for them and us. This is hinted at rather than expounded, for Mullin is a little weak on economics.
There is comment on the fondness of much of the Labour leadership for privileged lifestyles and the very rich. Not so Mullin, an ascetic and spartan man. Yet some odd relationships emerge that Mullin has himself with people like Nicholas Soames or his comments on Prince Charles good qualities on a day spent in the luxurious gardens at Highgrove. Still, it is interesting to know that Soames has qualities a man like Mullin finds attractive. Mullin does not break secrets and confidences learned on Parliametnary committees, and unlike some diarists, appears not to alter sincere commentary because of a concern about how he wants to appear to others.
On political errors Mullin was passionately against 90 day detention. Blair's then Brown's crass support for 90 day detention without trial is a running theme throughout 2005-2008. Brown's character and behaviour towards colleagues and staff is also noted, reflecting what many in New Labour knew already but failed to tell us, that Brown was unstable, insecure, bad tempered and politically inept.
Blair on the other hand was overly secure about his own rightness, and in this book, despite Mullin's missplaced admiration for some aspects of the 'Man', Blair comes over to the reader as a person without a spiritual centre at all. Instead, he is a chameleon in love with himself and power. The reader can use Mullin's diary entries to track and confirm Blair's semi-presidential, sofa - government autocracy and contempt for the Labour Party itself.
There are many intances of smaller things that disgust, such as Cherie Blair's hairdressing bill paid for by a bankrupt Labour Party that had Tom Watson resigning, Hazel Blear's and Tessa Jowell's sycophancy, the way MPs stuck to having 80 day Summer recesses and how keen they were to vote themselves pay increases above inflation while denying public sector workers the same. Mullin is not always right in his condemnation of such issues as nurses pay demands, nor on his interpretation of progress in some areas of educational attainment. Mullin speaks of the way the leaders show no interest in ordinary folk or backbenchers. They march everywhere fast, aloof from everyone else,surrounded by minders. No time is spent with the 'shop floor' who need to raise real issues of injustice concerning their constituents' lives. Brown acknowledges Mullin only when he needs a vote from him to become Labour leader.
It is a true dossier of disrepute although Mullin, because he is assiduous in being positive on some achievements and how they were realised, was ultimately probably unaware of the impact of this diary; the totality of the disaster which he describes. Mullin does offer counter arguments and some fascinating information (on certain shocking asylum and immigration issues, oor on how how a small change in the rules stopped 14 and 15 year old Bangladeshi brides being taken out of school and sent to arranged marriages before returning to Britain with their husbands), the reasons for the appalling lack of affordable housing that were an inheritance of the Tories but which the Labour Government has a lamentable record , and on many other social matters that should have been priorities for Labour but which got sacrificed for other silly presentational initiatives. It's a tragedy. (But I also learned quite a few things to counter my own ignorance on the reasons behind some policy that I have too easily dismissed.)
Mullin is almost one of us (not hindered by aspiration any longer, increasingly in the diary he says he is without any influence at all on anything). His own humility is such that there is no danger of ego getting in the way of the narrative.(We can allow him his occasional delight in being congratulated for his passionate and brilliant campaign work on the Birmingham Six and the Guildford 4 ).
After an eary career editing Tribune and two decades in Parliament, by 2008, at a personal level Mullin feels a failure. He has become, quite understandably, an addict of the political life. He sees the prospect of vegetable growing as an unsatisfactory ending. For many of us, vegetable growing would be a blessing. He is also trapped within his own caring nature and impulse to 'do good' and make a difference while also deeply tired of trying to do these things. He sounds fed up with his constant championing of some disadvantaged people- many of whom are ungrateful and some of whom are the very people who just trash his neighbourhood so frequently. Mullin doesn't live in a gated community although one senses sometimes that he wishes he did not have to experience the daily horrors of deprived urban areas. Perhaps as a displacement activity he regularly spends time cleaning up the litter in his street. His retirement should offer a time of more 'spiritual' reflection and perhaps even more writing (one hopes). At least he can reflect on this: that a some people believe him to be one of the few former politicians who remains generally 'clean' and untainted and is extremely worthy of admiration. In that sense he is a man to give us hope. With his first two diaries he has made a great contribution to posterity and almost despite himself, shone a searing light into the corridors of power in the UK during the late twentieth and early 21st centuries.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read,
This review is from: Decline & Fall: Diaries 2005-2010 (Mullin Diaires 2) (Paperback)I was worried that this would not live up to the previous volume but I couldn't have been more wrong. It was extremely readable and a fascinating insight into some very recent history. I would recommend it highly.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very compelling,
I have read all three volumes of the diaries now and they follow a very similar pattern. Chris epitomises the local councillor version of an MP, by which I do not mean to demean him, but to emphasise how devoted he is to the needs of his constituents, and then on across the nation, rather than to himself, his reputation, his advancement, etc. That said, he has a good eye for the bigger political issues and gets pretty frustrated about the foolishness going on around him in the House. Nor was he a soft touch for some of the idiocy going on around him from New Labour, criticising heavily the waste of money in government, and the growing fecklessness among some of his constituents. In this, he was very Old Labour, but before it got bogged down in the extremities of the 80s. In this, therefore, he could have given better guidance to those in power under New Labour than they seemed to get from elsewhere. Sadly, they seem to have treated him as a bit of a curiosity rather than a useful bellwether for future policy.
Churchill said Attlee was a modest little man with a lot to be modest about, so it is claimed, and one might be tempted to say the same about Chris Mullin, but Attlee is generally listed now as one of the great prime ministers - whether or not you agree with his political direction - and the same could hold for Mullin as MP. Time after time, he may have disagreed with the Tories, but he did listen to them, and he was far from slavish in following his own side, often being very critical in his diaries. That he was friends throughout with Christopher Soames, yet also maintained good relations with Tony Blair, despite his occasional bouts of rebellion which infuriated the whips, says a lot for him as a character.
We could do with more like Chris Mullin, especially now he has left the House, though we shouldn't imagine that a House full of nothing but his type would be enough to get us by. Overall, I have a great fondness for Mullin; his politics of the left are not mine, but he makes them more palatable to me than most from his side, and I wish some of my lot would do a little more at times to emulate him in his quiet understanding of what is needed.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic self deprecating but passionate account,
Who should read this? Obviously any aspirant politician (from parish councillor to parliamentarian), I would argue it is a must for civil servant as Mr Mullin is extremely pragmatic about what can be achieved, by whom and at what pace. However it the british citizen who would benefit most. Mr Mullin's down to earth perspective of what life is really like for all but the 3% of high profile MPs is refreshing and appropriately restores faith in the political class.
This book really deserves the plaudits it is receiving.
PS just re-read a very british coup (Mullin's fiction) - this is still a fantastic political novel
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Decline & Fall by Chris Mullin