31 December 2017

My Life, Our Times

My Life, Our Times
Soon after Gordon Brown lost the 2010 UK general election, he wrote Beyond the Crash, his analysis of the causes of the global financial crisis. (A side note: in Thailand, the financial crash is called the 'hamburger crisis', as payback for the 1997 'tom yum goong crisis'.) My Life, Our Times, published last month, is Brown's personal memoir of his time as Chancellor and Prime Minister, though he also devotes plenty of space to the crisis and recovery: "In this book, I write of the greatest test that I faced as prime minister: the gravest financial crisis of our lifetime, and one which could have rapidly gone critical in the form of a sweeping global depression."

Tellingly, there was only a single reference to Tony Blair in Beyond the Crash. In My Life, Our Times, Brown is more forthcoming about their longstanding rivalry, accusing Blair of breaking a promise to resign during his second term as Prime Minister. In his own memoir, A Journey, Blair argued that Brown's Scottishness would be an obstacle to public acceptance, which was odd given that Blair was also a Scot. Brown highlights the double standard: "We could not, he said, have two leaders in a row from Scotland. I reminded him that he too was Scottish... The only difference seemed to me that people knew I was Scottish and assumed he was not."

Brown concedes that he and Blair had disagreements: "Inevitably there were heated words exchanged between us privately." But My Life, Our Times focuses more on policies (tax, the NHS, the euro, Iraq, Afghanistan) than personalities. The 'TB/GB' rows described by Andrew Rawnsley in Servants of the People and The End of the Party are omitted.

11 July 2011

Beyond The Crash

Beyond The Crash
After A Journey and The Third Man, the final memoir of the New Labour triumvirate has been published. Gordon Brown's Beyond The Crash: Overcoming The First Crisis Of Globalisation analyses the causes and effects of the recent global economic crisis, and proposes strategies to prevent another boom-and-bust cycle. Brown has often been attacked for his dry and unemotional presentational style, and this book will do little to counter such criticisms. The text reads as if it were a fiscal-policy speech, and is about as engaging as that sounds (i.e. not very).

The book begins with Brown's personal, chronological account of the crisis: a month-by-month summary of his dealings with the UK banks, the G20, and other world leaders. However, his prose is completely dispassionate: he refers matter-of-factly to "whispers of a 'coup' to remove me", though he offers no elaboration. Tellingly, though, his predecessor merits only a single mention in the entire text: "Tony Blair and I had spent twenty years building New Labour".

28 January 2011

The End Of The Party (paperback)

The End Of The Party
Andrew Rawnsley has added two new chapters to his book The End Of The Party, for the paperback edition. The book was originally published early last year (making its title either presumptuous or prophetic), before the various internal plots against Gordon Brown and the indecisive 2010 UK general election. These events are now included in the paperback edition.

Rawnsley's first history of New Labour, Servants Of The People, covered only Tony Blair's first term in government. The End Of The Party, much wider in scope, features Blair's second and third terms, and Brown's election defeat. Blair has subsequently published his own account of his premiership, A Journey; Peter Mandelson's memoir The Third Man includes an inside account of last year's post-election negotiations.

Servants Of The People's biggest scoop was an anonymous briefing that Brown had "psychological flaws". Rawnsley did not reveal the source of this quote, writing only that it came from "someone who has an extremely good claim to know the mind of the Prime Minister". Like Bob Woodward (Obama's Wars) and the authors of Game Change, Rawnsley relies on 'deep background' interviews with senior yet unidentified figures, and he has not yet fulfilled his pledge to reveal his sources after Blair left office. In The End Of The Party, Rawnsley hinted indirectly that Alastair Campbell was the source of the "psychological flaws" quote; while Campbell's book The Blair Years contained no reference to the incident, the unedited version published this year confirms that Campbell was indeed responsible.

01 September 2010

The Third Man

The Third Man
To promote his political memoir The Third Man: Life At The Heart Of New Labour last month, Peter Mandelson was filmed sitting in front of a roaring fire narrating a fairy-tale version of New Labour: "Once upon a time there was a kingdom, and for many years it was ruled by two powerful kings. But the kings wouldn't have been in power without a third man. People called him 'the prince of darkness'. I don't know why!" His ironic smirk after that last line is hilariously conspiratorial and theatrical, like Mandelson himself - in contrast to Gordon Brown's cringe-making fake smile on YouTube last year (photographed in Where Power Lies).

Unlike Alastair Campbell, whose diaries were published in 2007, Mandelson spent long periods outside the heart of government. He may have been more influential than Campbell in shaping New Labour, though his two resignations (in 1998 and 2001) and his period as EU Commissioner (2004-2008) meant that he was periodically marginalised from Downing Street. Therefore, The Third Man focuses more on the (admittedly fascinating) twists and turns of Mandelson's political career than on the major policy decisions of the Labour government.

Mandelson's relationships with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (the first and second men, with Mandelson as the Harry Lime figure) are a central preoccupation: his backing of Blair for the Labour leadership, his subsequent long-running feud with Brown, and finally his public comeback when Brown replaced Blair as Prime Minister. Most useful is his insider's account of this year's election and its aftermath, events which occurred too late for Andrew Rawnsley's otherwise comprehensive The End Of The Party.

23 February 2010

The End Of The Party

The End Of The Party
The End Of The Party: The Rise & Fall Of New Labour is Andrew Rawnsley's sequel to his excellent Servants Of The People. The earlier book is an authoritative account of Tony Blair's first term as British Prime Minister; with the same access to senior yet unattributed sources, The End Of The Party covers Blair's second term and Gordon Brown's succession. Whereas the previous book centred on Brown's rows with Blair (deliberately omitted from Alastair Campbell's The Blair Years), the new volume discusses Brown's bad-tempered relations with his staff.

Despite the international impact of his bank bail-out scheme, Brown's leadership has been heavily criticised after a series of U-turns and chronic presentational failures. There have been at least three internal attempts to remove him as Labour leader, the latest of which (organised by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, with cabinet ministers offering Brown delayed and qualified support) came too late for Rawnsley's book.