As Mandelson publishes his take on Labour’s election loss, what effect are these snap memoirs having on the political system?by Anne McElvoy / July 21, 2010 / Leave a comment
Is it that time already? The Labour government has been out of office for less than three months and Peter Mandelson has already published a memoir about his time as the third man alongside Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.
Through Mandy we hear from the Berlin bunker of new Labour after the defeat. Somehow it ended up with the dear old prince of darkness doing what he did to Gordon back in 1994: ensuring he stood aside, while formally acting on his behalf: “I was increasingly concerned about the price Gordon might pay if he were seen to be hanging on too long.”
Undoubtedly, one of the fastest changes in the government is the enthusiasm or sheer desperation of those who served at or close to the top to get their memories published as quickly as possible. One of Mandelson’s old foes from the era of Blair-Brown civil war, the former Brownite spin doctor Charlie Whelan, observed to me: “They should be forced to wear T-shirts saying, ‘I’m writing a memoir—avoid me.’” The question I was most asked by departing ministers was whether I knew a good literary agent.
The working assumption now has to be that anyone in possession of a home computer and day job in government must be penning a doorstop for the rest of us to read on holiday.
A senior member of the coalition, describing its speed-dating style instant conception of a new government, jokes that you could “practically hear the Dictaphones whirring in the background of the talks between the parties.” Nick Clegg’s account, The Second Man, is a dead cert to appear one day—though I would predict stiff competition from Michael Gove’s The Insider. And what varifocal memories the coalition will provide. Vince Cable’s account already looks like being titled I Told Them So.
Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer who assisted Brown’s attempts to forge his Lib-Labbery, is spending the summer chronicling those five days that changed the British political landscape—the period of the formation of the Lib-Con pact, from the perspective of someone who wanted a Lib-Lab one.
How much does this churn of recent information matter? Quite a lot when the controversies are still alive and the arguments unconcluded. The books chronicling the US’s failure to plan for the aftermath of the Iraq war, Thomas E Ricks’s Fiasco among them, were written while troops were still engaged in conflict and…