I have to admit that my heart sank a little when this book arrived from Amazon, it's got a rather dull front cover and at 600 pages is something of a brick. Nevertheless, I had read a couple of good reviews in the papers so I thought I would give it a go...and three hours later I was still reading it. It's a truly engrossing account of ministerial life on the lowest rung of the ladder, Mullins upon being promoted to junior minister for transport and environment sets himself just three goals for the duration of his tenure: an end to night flights, greater regulation of leylandi hedges and cancelling his ministerial car. Two years later on leaving his post he reflects that he has failed on the first two counts, and merely reduced the ministerial bill (from £700 to £400 per week) for the third. In the intervening months he catalogues with almost daily despair his lack of any policy influence and how he is slowly ground down by the civil service machine.
There is a real gearchange in the diary after he returns to the back benches after tendering his resignation. It is clear that he finds a new enthusiasm once he escapes from the stifling Whitehall centralised control structures designed to ensure that everyone remains "on message", where every interview and TV appearance has to be approved and prepped to mirror exactly the party line. Now just a humble MP he finds himself with much greater influence through his select committee work.
The second part of the diary therefore progresses much more like a conventional political memoir. We get to hear at first hand government reaction to 911, the political infighting between Gordon and Tony, the divisions over first Afghanistan and then Iraq, the inside reactions to the scandals, the media hysteria, the sackings, the election triumphs. I found it an absolutely fascinating read. The greatest compliment you can pay a autobiography is that it makes you feel like you yourself are living that life. And this book achieved that feat. Want to be a government minister? Want to be an MP? Then read this book and live it through someone else's eyes.