In the foothills with Chris Mullin


By Dom Gilchrist and Sakina Haider

The rise of New Labour was noticed by all but recorded by few. Fortunately, through the little red notebooks he used to capture his time as an MP, Mullin has preserved one of the most important periods in the Labour Party’s history establishing himself as the turn of the century’s most important diarist in the process. His three volumes were even recently adapted for the stage and are currently in the Soho theatre. 

He took advantage of his position on the backbenches, holding the view that the ‘best diaries tend to be written by those who are in the foothills of power’. Those at the top ‘are not far enough removed from events to write about the irreverently or objectively’.

Even in the foothills Chris didn’t go unnoticed by the press receiving his fair share of tabloid attention. Taking it in good humour, he now has his favourite Sun headlines framed at home. Highlights include “Loony MP backs bong gang” and “Twenty things you didn’t know about Crackpot Chris” (the majority of which were news to him). 

Chris Mullin published the first volume of his diaries whilst still in parliament. Surprisingly, aside from the odd comment of ‘you better not be putting this in your diaries’, this did not make colleagues less open around him. Mullin was surprised to find with many decisions ‘rather than running a mile [fellow MPs] sought [him] out to make sure [he] had written down their view’.

Considering the way the public consider the new Labour leaders, Mullin has a lot of praise for both Blair and Brown. He is ‘struck by how much Tony Blair got right in those early days’. He dragged Labour ‘kicking and screaming’ to the centre ground, negotiated with the Liberal Democrats in the case of a hung parliament and recognised the importance of neutralising Murdoch. 

Mullin even has praise for the regularly criticised Brown-Darling years. He believes that the measures they took in the autumn of 2008 ‘prevented not only a meltdown of the British economy but arguable the global economy’. The irony of the situation was not lost on Mullin who, after Darling’s announced nationalising the main banks, congratulated him on ‘implementing the 1983 Labour Party manifesto…with Tory support’.

Some might be surprised by the amount of credit Mullin gives to Alistair Darling. ‘He was absolutely suited for a crisis of that nature: you couldn’t fi nd a better, safer pair of hands’. Mullin says he may even have made a very good leader. Mullin does not shower quite as much praise on the direction that the current government is taking. The next election, he argues, will turn on the state of the economy and thinks that ’it would appear that the Conservative gamble is not paying off ’.

He puts this lack of success down to the ideology of the current chancellor rather than to a tactical failure. ‘George Osborne [is] a seriously bad man who went into politics to collapse as much of the public sector as possible and is using the economic crisis as an excuse for doing that’.

When it comes to press-relations, Mullin was ahead of the game, pushing for reform of the ‘oligarchic press’ twenty years ago. He even moved a media diversity bill in January 1995, ‘designed to break up the media monopoly problem’. He acknowledges that it was not possible at the time, but thinks that with the current investigation into press relations it may be now.

When considering retirement, Mullin wanted to make sure that he went at a time when people were asking ‘why rather than when?’. Through his collection of little red notebooks, he has ensured that his influence on British politics will endure.

‘A Walk On Part’, the third and final volume of Chris Mullin’s diaries, is available in paperback

PHOTO/Maggie Hannan

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