Books: Tops for Spinning Some Political Yarns; Innocent in the House. by Andy McSmith (Verso, Pounds 13)

Article excerpt

Byline: Reviewed by Stephen Harrison

New Labour was scenting victory in 1997's general election when Tony Blair and his press guru, Alastair Campbell, made a campaign visit to Birmingham.

At a factory ``photo opportunity'' (as the things are wretchedly called these days) The Birmingham Post reporter introduced himself to an ebullient Campbell and immediately suffered a tirade of protest about that morning's issue of the paper.

The Post had ``thrown away'', Campbell forcefully argued, an article by Blair by using it in the centre feature pages rather than on the front.

The hapless hack (your reviewer), knowing nothing abut the decision on siting of Blair's piece, sought to divert the attention of the future PM's spokesman by remarking how good it was to see that his reputation for abrasiveness was so well deserved.

``Abrasive?'' Campbell snorted back. ``If you think this is abrasive, wait till I really get going.''

How very true to life, then, to see a decidedly tetchy chief press secretary to the prime minister (the lobby correspondents suspect him of planning a ``hatchet job'' on somebody) in Innocent in the House, a novel of New Labour in Parliament after 1997's landslide win.

Author Andy McSmith is a seasoned observer of the political scene. He was a Labour Party press officer before workingfor the Daily Mirror and The Observer and, latterly, becoming chief political corre-spondent on The Daily Telegraph. His fictional reworking of the world he knows so well is a triumph always readable if no stylistic masterpiece, neatly plotted, fast-moving and, above all, funny.

McSmith recounts the blundering first steps to parliamentary success of Joseph Pilgrim, whose election to a (previously unwinnablefor Labour) seat in South London surprised everyone but his shrewd wife. …