Man of the moment Andrew Rawnsley appeared at the literary festival to promote The End of the Party, his book chronicling New Labour’s rollercoaster ride in government over the last nine years. The same book which, incidentally, hit the headlines a few weeks ago because of the claims made about Gordon Brown’s behaviour towards staff. As Cherwell reported at the time, Oxford tutor Stewart Wood was rewarded with the questionable honour of having his face on the front page of the Mail on Sunday after the book revealed that Brown had barged past him on the way to a meeting in No 10.
The book is built out of interviews with a range of figures from the New Labour era from both in and outside of government, and embeds the intense relationships at the party’s heights in the national and party-political context of the last two terms. Rawnsley’s extensive experience in the murky waters of political journalism not only gained him access to the right people in writing this, but more importantly equipped him with the skills to get those people to offer their accounts of the last nine years, gory details included. From these Rawnsley structured a narrative unbiased by personal ties, as we find with the memoirs and diaries from the time, holding the architects of the ‘third way’ aggressively to account for their behaviour, but also dishing out credit where it is due. As Rawnsley says, “I have quite a lot of positive things to say about Gordon Brown and Tony Blair…but character matters in politics.”
Rawnsley was interviewed by Martin Ivens, Deputy Editor of the Sunday Times, whose thorough reading of the book meant that the questions were perfectly pitched to draw out the most interesting details and encourage the author to reveal his personal analysis of the events he reports. The book emphasises the incredible cracks behind the shiny packaging of New Labour’s spin machine, and the full extent of the Brown-Blair feud – Rawnsley described some of the behind the scenes action as a “soap opera-cum-psychodrama”. Audience members who had not read the book were treated to descriptions of some of the more incredible behind the scenes incidents, including Mandelson’s furious telephone call to Brown: “I love you but I’ll break you! If you do that, I can destroy you!” and John Prescott’s increasingly desperate interventions into the decaying Brown/Blair struggle.
Those who had already ploughed through the 803-page tome were rewarded with Rawnsley’s own views on the key players in New Labour – he believes Blair’s “hatred of personal confrontation” and failure to stand up to Bush and Brown shaped his premiership, and jokingly commented that while Gordon Brown has probably intended to become Prime Minister “since the age of seven”, he “didn’t really have a plan” for when he arrived at number 10.
Rawnsley also admitted that he had more material than could be included in this edition of the book, and explained that certain omissions were justified by the high standard of proof he sets himself. This was clearly a sensible decision; while the backlash from the party following the publication was aggressive – as Rawnsley commented, “No 10 was not very pleased when this book came out” – events in the book have subsequently been backed up by his sources and other witnesses. The book is an excellent read, and as Rawnsley pointed out, some of the incidents are just too funny to make up.