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Andrew Rawnsley: Servants of the People - The Inside Story of New Labour
Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, September 2000, 434 p. - December 26, 2002: now available from Penguin Books:Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or Amazon.de.
 
Andrew Rawnsley is associate editor and chief political columnist for the Obeserver. He has made a series television programs and presents Radio 4's Westminster Hour. In his book Servants of the People - that is how New Labour praised itself before the 1997 election - , Rawnsley offers a critical look behind the scenery of New Labour. This insider report is based on "private information" provided by political actors and largely relies on confidential information. Rawnsley announced that he will reveal his sources at a later stage. Therefore, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of Rawnsley's sources. The author makes the point that it is important to write the book today, because in their memoirs, politicians have the tendency to rewrite history. Rawnsley takes the doubtful liberty of describing emotions and thoughts of politicians, based only on the testimony of his sources.

According to Rawnsley, Tony Blair wanted to reinvent Great Britain. At the same time, he did not trust his people and, therefore, constantly monitored British public opinion. After New Labour's electoral victory in 1997, the desire for hegemony and the "control-freakism" even increased. Besides such general comments, Rawnsley also digs deeper. He describes the relation between the four key figures, who, "in essence [are] New Labour": Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.


 
Mandelson is a former Young Communist, trade union researcher and TV producer who worked as Neil Kinnock's director of communication. Once, he was much closer to Brown than to Blair, but he favored the career of both politicians. Then, the protégé-patron relationship between Mandelson was reversed and the admiration for Brown turned into hatred. Brown, in return, could not forgive Mandelson to have chosen the camp of Blair in the Labour-internal fight for power. This triangular relationship became even more complicated with the rise in influence of Campbell who was already connected to the modernisers within the party before he left his career as a tabloid Labour propagandist to become Blair's press secretary.
 
Rawnsley describes the politician of power Tony Blair who, before the 1997 election let Paddy Ashdown believe that, after winning the election, he would form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats and Ashdown would become his Foreign secretary - regarding this information, as in many other cases, it is of course easy to understand who Rawnsley's source was.
 
The author describes Blair as an ideology-free pragmatist who knows how to fight hard, even with unfair means if necessary. For instance, Blair hindered a man from the left wing of the party from being elected despite the fact that the local party in Wales was behind him. This was a step back to the undemocratic Labour politics of the time before he rose to power. In the same category, one can count Blair's unsuccessful attempt to hinder Ken Livingstone from becoming the mayor of London at any cost. As a last example of Blair's dark side, one can mention his "Faustian bargain with the Sun".
 
In the unwritten British constitution, the Prime minister is a primus inter pares, but with the help of a loyal parliamentary majority and a devoted cabinet, the Prime minister is one of the most powerful men of the Western world. Blair did not accept anyone else in his cabinet as being an equal to him. According to Rawnsley, this was no expression of vanity because he is immune to flattering remarks, but an expression of his political strategy which consisted in preventing earlier errors by undisciplined Labour governments as well as a lesson taught by the failure of John Major.
 
Among Blair's political mistakes was his support for the Millenium Dome. Initially, the project had only enemies in the cabinet, except for "the lonely but influential proselytiser for the Dome", Mandelson. It was in fact one of the very rare - abortive - cabinet revolts. But as Prescott joined Mandelson after initial doubts, Blair and Mandelson wanted the Dome to become a symbol of "the rebirth of a creative and dynamic Britain under New Labour." Instead, it become a costly failure.

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Even more damaging was New Labour's acceptance of a party donation of one million pounds by Bernie Ecclestone. Before, the party had supported the EU ban on tobacco advertising in Formula 1 races, but reversed after the donation. Rawnsley points out the fact that, in November 1997, Brown lied in the affair as he pretended not to have known about it. He tried to cover it up and Blair was afraid that he could fall due to this scandal. New Labour "resolved" the affair by returning the million to the donator. Last September's publication of Rawnsley's book created some media attention in this regard, but it remained without consequences for the government.
 
New Labour's social reform was held up by animosities between cabinet members. On the public relations level, there were several embarrassing disasters. The National Health Service became a bottomless abyss, as Gordon Brown told Blair. John Prescott's highflying projects of the Summer of 1998 in order to reduce the chaos on the streets as well as the pollution resulting from it ended with no results. According to Rawnsley, this was because of New Labour's shortsighted strategy which often does not go beyond the next headline. Ralf Dahrendorf "identified the Third Way as politics that speak of the need for hard choices but avoids them by trying to please everyone."


 
Rawnsley counts the idea of giving independence to the Bank of England among the successes of Blair's governments. The idea came from Gordon Brown who convinced Blair. The two put their project through, without any cabinet decision. Blair only asked Brown to inform John Prescott and Robin Cook - inform them, not consult them! The New Labour government also managed to give Scotland and Wales their own parliaments. In May 1998, Blair was able to have the Northern Ireland Agreement accepted by the local population. Regarding Serbia, Blair was, according to Rawnsley, the first politician to recognize that it was an error not to send ground troops. But in 1999, he was alone against the decisions by Clinton and Schröder not to send them. Still, the author sees in Blair's position an important element that forced Milosevic to give up Kosovo. Regarding UK's entrance into the monetary union, Rawnsley stresses that, in 1997, the Liberal Democrat Ashdown's as well Blair's aide Mandelson pushed for a referendum on the Euro quickly after the elections, whereas Blair himself and Brown were sceptical about its chances of success and, after a longer period of doubt about the governments intentions, there was no referendum.
 
"Servants of the People" contains a lot of useful information, a substantial dose of political gossip and here and there harsh but justified comments on New Labour. The cover of the book speaks for itself. It shows a 1997 caricature by Chris Riddell published in the Observer which shows Tony Blair who towers behind a pulpit on which one can read: "Trust Me." Despite all this criticism, Rawnsley comes to the conclusion that Tony Blair and his government are above average. Compared with New Labour's rhetoric, the government's successes seem less impressive. The author writes that "in many respects, this was not a bad government. What was yet unproven was whether Tony Blair had the courage, capacity and self-confidence to become one of the exceptional Prime Ministers who lead great governments."
 
Rawnsley's book is worthwhile reading although his language is sometimes tiring. It is not, as New Labour's "spin doctors" tried to imply after the book's publication in September 2000, an imbalanced account. One would just have wished more information on the economic record of the government.



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Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages
Google
 
 Index  Advertise  Links  Feedback
 © Copyright  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber All rights reserved.