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on 22 May 2006
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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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. In addition the swarm of political analysts, pundits and commentators that had done much to wreck Blair's hapless predecessor John Major now buzzed incessantly round their heads, and the new government was unsurprisingly fixated on presentation. They were put through their presentational paces from the outset and after claiming to wash whiter than white they soon found they had plenty of whitewashing to do. The foreign secretary was forced into an abrupt and vicious parting from his wife: a highly questionable loan to the party was first accepted then denied then disowned; and a farcical folly called the Millennium Dome was devouring money in an inaccessible location on the Thames. However the public mood of trust in honest-faced Tony continued. Purely from that point of view Blair acquitted himself brilliantly over the public reaction to the death of Princess Diana, and a genuine masterstroke of real substance was achieved by Brown in giving independence in monetary policy to the Bank of England.

As it started, so it has gone on. New Labour had puffed themselves as inaugurating a new era, but behind the scenes they were just human beings - prima donnas, ego-trippers, inexperienced and sometimes incompetent, quarrelsome and jealous, but still perceived behind their dashing young leader as an improvement on what we had been used to, and astonishingly surefooted in putting themselves across. Rawnsley comments as well as reporting, but it is always clear what the basis is for his opinions, and that is the least and the most he should do. If I were to criticise anything in the book it might be that I would have welcomed some more of his own point of view, because it is always reasonable in never in support of any rigid standpoint. The narrative is slightly jerky, reflecting I suppose its origins in separate pieces for the BBC or the press. The writing is mainly good too, although I grimaced at the lordly metaphor `on such accidents...does the river of events turn.' Rivers bend surely, but I never heard of a river turning before and I hope I never do again; and who was the proofreader who let him away with the noun `perplexion'?

There is a real air of authenticity about this book, a sense of genuine endeavour to get to the bottom of things through the maelstrom of what we now call `spin'. It recaptures for me the real feel of the time and although I and the whole long-suffering British public are inundated with comment to the point of boredom and disgust Rawnsley's freshness of attitude, simple clarity and patent honesty keep my attention. I would say that I hope he will let us have some more of it all, but I sense that that is not so much a hope as a stone-cold certainty.
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on 5 November 2000
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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on 28 November 2006
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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on 12 May 2002
Covering the 1st term in office of a New Labour government, this offering gives a detailed account of the real story behind the many, many scandals, leaks and the overwhelming central aim of the government: presentation.
The account of the Bernie Ecclestone affair was especially interesting, if John Major had been involved in such murky business he may have been forced to resign, but Teflon Tony lived to fight another day (as did the Chancellor, who it is clear from this lied about his knowledge of the £1 Million donation to his party).
The personalities at the top of New Labour are also brought into focus. Peter Mandelson is it appears despised, Prescott ignored, Brown (as Blairs Press Secretary said) has "psychological flaws" and the Prime Minister not quite as clean cut as he would have us believe.
Very good effort.
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on 1 November 2001
Some of the content of this book would not be out of place in a policial novel such as "Primary Colors". Blair's constant dithering over decisions, the tensions between himself and Gordon Brown, and the other personal confrontations really blow the top on the notion of a united, New Labour organisation.
Also, given current events, the section on the Kosovan conflict gives some indication on Blair's thinking at the moment - the similarities are striking.
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on 8 December 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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on 11 October 2001
A really excellent and mature book - forget any perceptions of the younger, brash Andrew Rawnsley formed from the tv show 'A Week in Politics'. I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a number of reasons. (1) Logically constructed and well presented (2) The motivation for the book is positive and objective (3) The level of investigation is breathtaking - AR has clearly spoken to a huge number of people, and won their confidence (4) The characters are examined critically, but in a humane and often amusing manner.
More than anything, this is a human interest story with the most compelling plot - and will be of interest to those with only a light appetite for politics and current affairs.
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on 19 April 2001
This is an excllent buy. It looks at the day to day workings of No 10 and the workings of the New Labour Government which turns out to be the same old croanies with a different face. Andrew Rawnsley looks at a number of recent events and weeds out the facts that the new Blairites have tried to spin under the carpet. A good and lively read especially in this election year! Read before voting!
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on 7 November 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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