Magazine article The Spectator

Inside, One-Sided Story

Magazine article The Spectator

Inside, One-Sided Story

Article excerpt

To see the great flaw in this book one doesn't have to read it; one just has to glance at the index. Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan, respectively the Chancellor's chief economic and media advisers, have 30 references each, which gives each of them on his own more than the entire Cabinet combined (with the exception, obviously, of the book's subject), including, astonishingly, the Prime Minister (who gets only five mentions).

The authors may tell us that this accurately reflects Balls's and Whelan's relative importance to the story of Labour's first year of running the economy. If it does, then Gordon Brown is even more isolated from the rest of his party than his enemies like to suggest. But I think not. The explanation has more to do with the identity of the authors' sources.

There is no doubt that this book is an authorised version of events, as seen by Brown and his 'coterie' or 'coven' - as the authors style it. It draws on extensive interviews with both Balls and Whelan but also with Brown's other staff, the highly able Sue Nye and the influential, though lowkey, Ed Miliband. Old pals open their hearts, and even Brown's girlfriend Sarah Macaulay's friends make supportive contributions. The chapter on the Chancellor's Cape Cod holiday in the summer of 1997 is full of such (rather embarrassing) detail that one of the authors must surely have been present for at least a day or two (what a great `away from it all' break that must have been).

Such insights make the book fascinating reading. It alternates between personal revelation, policy analysis and tales of backbiting - the ousting of the Treasury's permanent secretary and chief press officer being especially juicy. The quintessential Brown, obsessive but endearing, is revealed in such anecdotes as:

On one occasion he was so immersed in a conversation about political tactics that he opened a car door into oncoming traffic and saw the door smashed and swept away in an instant.

The policy chapters, especially the one on `go-go economics, manage to explain Brown's thinking and its development more comprehensively and comprehensibly than anything else I have read. In short, no political junkie's beach bag should be without it this summer.

So, well done the authors, and great news for us readers, but it is not so clever, on reflection, for the Chancellor and his coterie. Though this has not caused as much public fuss as the Routledge book did last January, such instant histories, being highly subjective, are bound to stir up private resentment. …

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