Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Culture: Mullin and the Man; What Are Our Political Masters and Mistresses Really like? Chris Mullin Tells David Whetstone Why He Is Spilling the Beans

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Culture: Mullin and the Man; What Are Our Political Masters and Mistresses Really like? Chris Mullin Tells David Whetstone Why He Is Spilling the Beans

Article excerpt

Byline: David Whetstone

IT would hardly be true to say I've followed the career of Chris Mullin MP closely. Arts rather than politics have been my beat for the past... well, quite a lot of years.

But there is a connection. In 1986 I went to interview the prospective Labour candidate for Sunderland South because he had a book out.

It was called Error of Judgement: The Truth About The Birmingham Bombings and it took up the case of six men imprisoned in 1974 for an IRA atrocity in which 21 people died.

Chris said he'd interviewed one of the real culprits but "wouldn't dream" of naming him.

Nobody in the mid-1980s courted popularity by taking up the case of IRA bombers - even if they weren't. Here, clearly, was no oily vote-seeker.

I was impressed. Chris Mullin seemed the kind of journalist many of us wish we'd become - astute, fearless, a righter of wrongs.

Adventurous, too. Sick of the Sunday tabloid where he'd got his first journalistic job, he bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and started sending in stories from places like Vietnam and Cambodia.

Not only that, but he'd written a couple of good novels. The first, A Very British Coup, imagined the reaction of the British Establishment to the election of a far-Left Labour Party led by a fiery ex-steelworker. Published in 1982, it was adapted for television by Alan Plater. In the decade of Thatcher, Scargill and Militant Tendency, it didn't seem far-fetched.

I went back to the office and wrote my piece. What happened next?

Well, last week I picked up the story, going back to Sunderland to interview Chris Mullin.

Naturally, he has a book out. A View from the Foothills is the first volume of the diary he has kept since the day John Smith died in 1994, leaving the way clear for a young man called Tony Blair to lead Labour to a General Election victory in 1997. No fiery ex-steelworker he.

"I can't really remember what prompted me except, I guess, a feeling that I was about to be a witness to an interesting period in history," says the diarist in his city office.

"As a result, I have diaries that capture the entire New Labour era.

There are potentially three volumes and this is the middle one. It begins with a telephone call from the Prime Minister saying hello and it ends with the Prime Minister saying goodbye.

"It covers my period in Government from 1999 to 2005 with a gap in the middle when I chaired the Home Affairs select committee."

In fact, it begins with an unhappy diarist.

Tony Blair, whom he calls "The Man", is reshuffling and wants to send Mullin "to Environment". He is depressed, having enjoyed the influence and access which came with his first spell chairing the Home Affairs select committee.

At "Environment" he will be on the ministerial bottom rung - and John Prescott (JP) will be in charge. …

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