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Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour

1 rating: 3.0
A 2000 book by Andrew Rawnsley.

"* 'The most readable contemporary history to be written since New Labour was elected' Roy Hattersley, Observer * 'Riveting... the Government's dirty washing has been well and truly hung out in public' Rachel Sylvester, Daily … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Andrew Rawnsley
Publisher: ePenguin
1 review about Servants of the People: The Inside Story...

By spinning facts, Britain's New Labour "created the truth."

  • Aug 31, 2011
Are you the sort of person who cannot live one day from sunrise to bedtime without feeling driven to learn something new and gossipy about recent British politics -- no matter how bloody or at times boring an entrance that new knowledge makes? Then Andrew Rawnsley's SERVANTS OF THE PEOPLE: THE INSIDE STORY OF NEW LABOUR is unquestionably for you. Otherwise, you may skip this monstrously long (568 pages) paperback's "instant, undigested history" for something closer to your interests.

NEW LABOUR is not repeat NOT for the general reader. Still, what reasonably attentive American reader has not heard of successive British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? Between them they led Britain's moribund, red flagged, labor union-subservient Labour party to three straight national electoral victories 1997, 2001 and 2005. 2001 was the first back-to-back victory for Labour in 101 years! In 2010 Labour under Gordon Brown finally ceded power to a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. New Labour's defeat after 13 continuous years in office is chronicled at even more exhaustive length (895 pages) in Rawnsley's recent (2010) THE END OF THE PARTY: THE RISE AND FALL OF NEW LABOUR. I fear that stubbornness and moderate curiosity will one day cause me to read and review that monster as well.

SERVANTS OF THE PEOPLE begins three years before Labour's 1997 victory. (Remember that Margaret Thatcher's Conservative/Tory party ruled Britain through four consecutive terms beginning in 1979 and still held power in 1994). In that year Thatcher's successor John Major was Prime Minister. The event that precipitated the creation and rise to power of New Labour was the sudden May 12,1994 death of Scottish lawyer John Smith, leader of the opposition Labour Party. Had Smith survived his heart attack and remained party leader, he would probably have led Labour to power in 1997, but not with the huge majority attributed to "the Blair effect."

Tony Blair had entered Parliament, aged 30, in 1983, along with his more senior mentor and fellow Scot Gordon Brown. On July 21, 1994 Blair was elected Labour Party leader replacing the deceased John Smith.

This begins the period covered by Rawnsley's SERVANTS OF THE PEOPLE. Rawnsley adds two more men to his focus on New Labour's innermost circle: Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell.

-- Dog-loving Mandelson, who replaced the party's red flag with the red rose, was Labour's earliest and best "spin doctor," all powerful "Prince of Darkness," an MP since 1992. He was immediately part of the Gordon-Tony-Triumvirate within the party. On the 1994 death of John Smith, Peter Mandelson suddenly shifted his primary allegiance from Gordon Brown to Tony Blair, a betrayal that Brown never forgave.

-- Journalist Alistair Campbell became Prime Minister Blair's Press Secretary in 1997 and later virtual and relentlessly centralizing czar within a Blair administration soon infamous for spinning the British media. Campbell saw to it that the "number of Whitehall press officers ... expanded to 1,100" (Ch. 19, p. 177).

Meanwhile author Rawnsley was systematically interviewing generally unnamed sources while watching Blair, Mandelson and Campbell create New Labour, as the dour, more Old-Labor-at-heart Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown fiercely defended his ministerial independence and presented budgets focused on the needs of Britain's poor and disabled. Rawnsley biblically portrays "elder brother" Gordon Brown as "hairy Esau" tricked out of his inheritance by younger "smooth Isaac." And there they were -- New Labour's dual and dueling titans: Brown the down-to-earth, steady, reliable adminstrator and Blair the soaring, dreaming, flexi-pragmatist, vast admirer of America's Bill Clinton and, paradoxically, unpopular Brown's only friend in the Cabinet.

Before Blair's New Labour, Old Labour's core was absolute opposition to all privilege, little if any love for Monarchy, much less for the House of Lords and not much for the middle class. Labour would rather lose an election than compromise on principle. Blair put it this way: "... we have been out of power more often than in power, and won more arguments than elections" (Ch. 18, p. 363).

But winning was everything for Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson. And that meant abandoning the red flag for the red rose, adapting the best free market ideas of Conservative Margaret Thatcher, and being more open to Europe. The working class longed to move up to the middle class and Blair was determined to help them rise. And also New Labour would stay in power by fingering the public's pulse through undending polling. Tony Blair lamented: "I have taken from my party everything they thought they believed in. I have stripped them of their core beliefs" (Ch. 11, p. 195). And Mandelson and Campbell showed him how to do it. "Peter Mandelson ... unwisely revealed ... that the purpose of spin-doctoring was 'to create the truth'" (Ch. 6, p. 103).

And what time those first four years -- 1997 - 2001 -- were for Blair, Brown, Mandelson and Campbell! Here there soon rolled in the death of Princess Diana, putting down violence in Northern Ireland, stiffening Bill Clinton's spine over Kosovo and Milosovic, mulling over a proper airplane for the Prime Minister ("Blair Force One?"), finding more money for education for the national health scheme, devolving power to Wales and Scotland, modernizing the House of Lords, manuevering in and out of European integration, marginalizing Labour back-benchers in Parliament, largely ignoring the Monarchy, coping tardily with a severe outbreak of foot and mouth disease and spinning, spinnning, ever spinning.

It would have been a worthless exercise for me lazily to skim and skip about within Andrew Rawnsley's SERVANTS OFTHE PEOPLE: THE INSIDE STORY OF NEW LABOUR. Doing this unwieldy book justice meant my slogging slowly and steadily along, filling 32 3" X 5" card front and back with notes and then writing five different book reviews. Oh, if ony Rawnsley or his editor had written an executive summary! For whatever else Andrew Rawnsley is, he is no "big picture" man. -OOO-
By spinning facts, Britain's New Labour By spinning facts, Britain's New Labour By spinning facts, Britain's New Labour

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