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Mullin's musings

March 2009

'The best political diary since Alan Clarke's' is Simon Hoggart's verdict on Chris Mullin's, newly published one. But without the sex, of course.

I was delighted to receive a signed copy this week with a note '"To Paul - a fellow seeker after the truth.' There is a whole mountain of truths within the pages of� 'A view from the foothills'.

Throughout my time in Parliament, I have been an admirer of Chris. On a personal level he has been very generous to me. The great report that the Home Select Committee produced on drugs gave credit to the pioneering work that Peter Lilley and I had done on alternatives.

He has been a stout ally on Afghanistan. Bot of us have worked with the Senlis think tank that has a constant source of a sane analysis of the unfolding disaster in Helmand.�

Chris reveals that his periods as a junior ministers were barren. He was never asked to take a decision. All the documents were for information. He was deputy to Clare Short who did not need a deputy. The speeches that were prepared for him to deliver were often unusable jargon and New Labour speak.

A foul-up sent him back to the back-benches. He had told� Labour whip Hilary Armstrong that he wanted to be go up or get out. The version passed to Tony Blair omitted his request for the promotion alternative. His ministerial career ended because he trusted Hilary Armstrong to pass on his request.

This fat volume is to joy to those who enjoy the minutia of political decisions making and gossip. Chris has a healthy contempt for the vanities and posturing of the political circus. His revelations of the conversations between Tony Blair and backbenchers at the Parliamentary Committee are published for the first time.

His greatest venom is flung in the direction of those new Labour acolytes without the trails of fighting hopeless seats or going through the punishing oredeal of selection processes. He writes, 'Shaun Woodward has been selected in St Helens. Hearing him on the radio this morning prmising to be a champion of the poorand downtrodden made my flesh creep. This is one of New Labour's vilest stitch-ups.'

The build-up to the Iraq War Labour rebellion is exiting stuff. Chris is universally respected in the parliamentary party and the confidant to everybody. Some of his friends may be startled by his revelations of private conversations even though he is writing about the events of 2003.

It is a surprise to read that the Chair of Parliamentary Labour party Jean Corston was persuaded by heavy duty lobbying to vote against her better instincts and support the Government. Chris Mullin agonised until the last moment. He was called to private meetings with Tony Blair and the Chief Whip. He could not square a vote for war with his constituency activists, so he stuck with the rebels. Even though I was in the thick of the events before the rebellion by 139 Labour MPs, the details of the arm-twisting, bullying and blackmail that went on are new to me.

To the great chagrin of the Whips, Blair appointed Chris a minister at the Foreign Office shortly afterwards. There was a great deal of mutual admiration between the two men. It was noted that Chris was always scribbling notes at the confidential meetings of the PLP and Parliamentary committee. We, and history, are all in his debt. Official minutes of these historic events are brief and formal. Chris adds the drama and colour.�

This is most accurate intimate portrait yet of Tony Blair and New Labour in action.

Chris is a fine writer and he is disarmingly frank about his own roles. His triumphs and humiliations are faithfully recorded and are now revealed with any re-writing.

The question left hanging in the air is whether a person driven by firm principles can be successful in ministerial office. The answer is probably 'no' unless daily compromises are made. Robin Cook certainly had a degree of achievement in office. The survivors of three terms of New Labour have more malleable principles.