Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Blairism: the final years

In A.Graham, Reviews on June 29, 2012 at 10:23 am

“Decline & Fall”, the diaries of Chris Mullin. 2005-2010. Profile Books, £9.99.

The rise of “New Labour”, “Cool Britannia” and all the other cliched slogans heralded the end of the grim, bleak years of Thatcher and Major. At first the change of Government seemed like a breath of fresh air. Many Labour loyalists may have resented all the re-branding that accompanied the rise of Blairism – but nonetheless at the time they still cheered Labour’s poll victory on May Day 1997.

By the time we reached 2005, the gloss had departed from “New” Labour, Britannia was no longer cool – and party membership had slumped drastically. And the party’s rich donors were deserting in droves. Blair had led us into war in Iraq, playing second fiddle to a US president whose ineptitude was only matched by his own sense of complacency. As for the Government, it was beginning to look as though it had at last outstayed its welcome.


These last five years of New Labour rule were recorded in the diaries of former Tribunite and MP for Sunderland South, Chris Mullin. His diaries are a refreshing antidote to the exercises in self glorification that pass as memoirs of many former political leaders. Indeed, I’d venture to suggest that they stand alongside those of Tony Benn – himself a noted diarist who recorded events with honesty and candour. .

Although Mullin had served as a junior Minister in the Foreign Office, by the time this volume of his diaries begins he had returned to the back benches. – which perhaps gave him a certain freedom to view the unravelling of New Labour. And might also account for a certain cynicism.

Having said that, his warm affection for his family and indeed many of his parliamentary colleagues still shines through. This is no hatchet job – but it does serve to remind us of many events that marked New Labour’s final years in power.

Throughout, he refers to Tony Blair as “the Man”, and outlines his practice of preferring to rule with the aid of an inner cabal rather that through full Cabinet, of making up policy on the hoof whilst launching political initiatives out of the blue. One case in point was the decision to renew the Trident missile system. There seemed general agreement that a brand new Trident system would serve no useful purpose. Mullin suggests that it was political – a case of “keeping up with the Joneses” – in this case, the French.

He seems to have more time for Brown, who he refers to as Gordon. He sees him as a person of integrity – but he’s dubious about his temperamental ability to lead a government; pointing out his obsession with micro-management, and his somewhat erratic temper when under stress.


One area, particularly amongst his own constituents, that concerned Mullin was the fate of the migrant community – facing harassment and bigotry on the one hand and the threat of deportation on the other. He worked hard to try to persuade Government Ministers to halt deportation orders, and to prevent immigration families being split up by bureaucratic decree. Sadly he wasn’t always successful.

And he continues his watching brief on Africa, paying frequent visits with parliamentary colleagues.

Amongst those he counts as a friend is Tony Benn (by this time, of course, no longer an MP, but instead “devoting his time to politics”). There is an amiable dialogue between the two of them, but Mullin confesses to being a bit hurt when he is accused of “selling out” in Tony Benn’s diaries. But this doesn’t impede the continuing friendship.

As for whether he could be said to have “sold out” is a moot point. Mullin certainly seemed to have accommodated himself to the cross currents and intrigues of Parliamentary life – though a certain weariness becomes evident as we reach the final years of Blair’s premiership.


On the 10th May 2007, Mullin records in his diary that “the Man flew to Sedgefield to announce the date of his re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. It is to be 27 June.” And so on the allotted date, Mullins records Blair’s final appearance as Prime Minister in the Commons. It was, we’re told, mainly a subdued affair.

And so we come to the brief Brown years, highlighted by the collapse of the banks and the big bail-out. In 2010 the “New Labour” years came to an abrupt end – and Chris Mullin left Parliament for good.


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