Sunday, 24 January 2016

three political diaries

I've been reading Alastair Campbell's diaries - The Blair Years - for some time now, gradually, which I'm enjoying very much. It runs from July 1994, when he was offered the job as Tony Blair's press secretary, to August 2003, when he resigned.

A couple of years ago I picked up Chris Mullin's highly-regarded diaries, A View From The Foothills, which runs from July 1999, when he first becomes a junior minister under Blair, to May 2005, when he stops being one.

As I approached 1999 in Alastair's diaries, I thought it would be interesting to read them concurrently when I reached the appropriate point.

I've also got Tony Benn's 2001-2007 diaries, More Time For Politics, which start from after he has retired from being an MP, and I intend to pick them up when we reach them. I've read three volumes of Tony's diaries, from 1963 to 1976; I have 77-79 and 80-90, but not 91-01. In fact, if I spot a single-volume edit edition, which does exist, I might be inclined to pick that up rather than wade through more volumes than the three I've already done - they're very detailed, and I feel like I don't get as much out of them as merits the volume (though 01-07 doesn't look too bad, actually).

I anticipate that the account of a relatively ordinary and hard-working member of parliament, doing the business of a constituency MP and the grind of parliamentary and government process, will complement nicely with Alastair's account of the nitty-gritty and messy business of top-level national and international politics.

I anticipate that Tony's diary, even more so than when he was actually in parliament, will be infuriatingly idealistic and ideological, self-important, full of talk, achievements measured in conversations, protests and resolutions, critical of what is being done without the inconvenience of having to engage with sorting out issues and problems in the real world in practice. (I always remember Simon Hoggart saying how he thought Tony Benn's high reputation among the public was completely undeserved, which I thought was interesting.)

I reached August 1999 in Alastair's diaries today, fresh out of detailed wrestling with Kosovo and Northern Ireland, the latter in particular frustrating. He mentions little else in July, and speeds through August and September with little comment, until the party conference at the end of September. The reshuffle in which Chris comes into ministerial office goes unmentioned; indeed, Chris Mullin is not in the index of the diary at all. (Chris is in Tony's index, varying from favourable to unfavourable mentions depending on whether he's supporting Tony Blair at that point. Tony is in Chris's index a number of times - about the same as Alastair is - but, interestingly, only in Alastair's index twice, which I guess reflects how peripheral to power he was.) From reshuffle to party conference takes twenty-seven pages in Chris's diary.

It all adds to my already long current reading list, and I'm not sure how I'll get on reading them in parallel (at least I'll only be reading all three from mid-2001 to mid-2003), but we'll see how we go.