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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Decline & Fall: Diaries 2005-2010 (Mullin Diaires 2)
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on 3 March 2017
I have read all three diaries, each one as engaging as it's predecessors. This final one, Decline and Fall was probably the one that intrigued me most. I hoped it would provide insight into the aftermath of the Iraq war, the banking collapse, the expenses scandal and the change of power and final demise of the Labour party in government. I think it provided some insights but not all. There was a noticeable complacency about Northern Rock and the first banking wobble even though there were frequent references to the party cosying up to wealthy individuals whilst taking an eye off the real financial problem brewing, the ad lib getting and lending of money didn't seem to raise any alarm bells, money ruled ok. The expenses scandal as seen by the public did not hit home fast enough. The consequences of the engagement in a war still leave a long shadow.
There are plenty of revealing accounts of individuals involved in this era, some perceptions mellowing with time. I have enjoyed all of the diaries, they don't provide the political answers to mistakes of the time but they represent ones persons intelligent view from the edge of the main stage. There is thankfully humour and compassion involved in these writings which make them all the more readable even with the passing of time and a new political scene.
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on 8 February 2011
This book looks at how a "Labour foot soldier" and former junior minister viewed what happened to the Labour government in the five year run up to their general election defeat in 2010.

All political diaries will, I suspect, be compared to Alan Clark's, and while I think this diary is informative, they are more "guarded" than Clark's and less inclined to salacious gossip chit chat. Equally, I don't think that Chris Mullen was ever quite in with the "New Labour In-Crowd," which makes them feel that they are reporting on power from a greater distance than Clark's did.

This isn't to say that they aren't informative and that you won't get a greater feel for the government and the Labour Party after reading them. You will. In the main he discusses his chats with other MPs pretty freely, so you'll learn what the party felt about the issues of the day. Equally, he re-joined the back benches in this book, and while he laments his loss of postion, we get to see what the 300 or so MPs who've no chance of further promotion actually do, which I found interesting in the light of the recent expenses scandal.

The final thing I'd like to say is the diaries are useful because they allow us to compare and contrast how the party and Tony Blair felt about "New Labour." Blair claimed he was trying to change the heart and soul of the party while creating New Labour. Mullen pretty much indicates that he failed at that in this book by suggesting that they might have accepted the need for change but didn't buy it "heart and soul" like Blair hoped they would. The blame for which lies with Blair I suspect, having read the two books now.

So, in short, a good, interesting book, but don't expect it to be gossipy!
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on 11 January 2016
I bought vol 1 in a charity shop and found them so interesting and readable that I bought vol 2 for myself and another copy of both for my friend. This gives you insight into how Parliament and political parties work, even setting aside the specifics of that particular time.
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on 16 February 2012
I have now read all three of Chris Mullin's diaries and can commend them all as a good read. All brought from Amazon.
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on 20 July 2017
Entertaining and informative
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VINE VOICEon 7 February 2012
I purchased this at the same time as the first set of diaries, expecting that it would be good to follow straight on where the first set left off. However, while the first set was interesting with some good anecdotal evidence of the inner workings of the Blair government, albeit from a rather slanted perspective, I actually found Decline & Fall a little "hard going" simply because I found that so much of it dealt with trivia - possibly the result of the fact that Mr M had by now discovered that he was a minute cog in a rather large machine over which he had no control and indeed, by his own admission, had absolutely no influence, and thus found myself having to force myself to read on, tempted on several occasions to abandon completion.
I suppose that when one's career satisfaction depends on at least being to be able to derive some distinction (whether that be by influencing outcome, or just making a bit of a killing, money-wise, I am not really too sure, maybe it's a bit of both!)but you would think that if a man is so disillusioned with his career path that he would vote with his feet and find something of better interest. However, methinks that despite everything, Mr M was still more than happy to take the money and run irrespective of the fact that he was unhappy with the way things were going and he was powerless to intercede and indeed, bit by bit could see the proverbial brown stuff about to hit the rather turbulent fan.
I have to say that resultant, I will not be purchasing the third book of the series simply because I see little point in encouraging the kind of spineless individual who accepts his lot, taking the tax payers money and moreover then attempts to build up his already reasonable pension pot by publishing his rather introverted memoirs! Blair, Mandelson, Campbell and even Brown may well have also gone onto publish their questionable memoirs, but at least their perspective is one of control and influence at the heart of government - whether you like these people and their politics or not!
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on 3 October 2010
This book follows on from his previous book and outlines in a humorous and often cutting way, the decline of New Labour. I could not put this book down.It is very highly recommended and is probably a better and truer view of the Labour dream that Blair's 'The Journey' will ever be.
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on 27 January 2012
Chris Mullin is not like most MPs, though there may be others we underestimate while knowing less of them.

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.
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on 1 October 2010
Reading events as they unfolded in Labour's downfall as the chicken's came home to roost from the perspective of an honest and kindly man, adds a more useful perspective than any of the other recent political diaries from Campbell, Mandelson and Blair. Regular monitors of our political masters will perhaps feel they know these disgraceful characters by now. But there is room for yet more evidence and confirmation. These other diarists seek to show themselves in the best of lights with breathtaking self-justification, obscurantism and occlusion. It is also astonishing at how stupid they all are. Not Rennaissance men by any stretch. Their diaries may be useful as an insight into the minds of their authors and for future historians, Mullin's diary on the other hand gives us something much more useful, no matter that he was only briefly a Minister and was soon relegated to the back benches. He is intelligent astute and sensitive and he comments on things that matter, sensibly and often brilliantly.

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.
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on 23 September 2010
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.
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