Gerald Sinstadt's Reviews > A View from the Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin

A View from the Foothills by Chris Mullin
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Sep 06, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction-general
Read from August 17 to September 04, 2011

A Member of Parliament has many allegiances: to his constituents, his constituency party, his national party, his parliamentary party - and to himself. The vote on the Iraq War presented Chris Mullin with a fundamental dilemma. He was opposed to the war, so were many of his constituents. But the whips were leaning on him. Defeat was a possibility for his party. Where then should his loyalty lie? To his credit, he cast the solitary Labour vote against. To his relief, it did not result in defeat.

Diaries, the contemporary record, can be more revealing than memoirs which may be refracted through hindsight. Mullin's read as a reliable account of history, in matters large and small, as it was made. At the beginning he is a junior minister in the Department of Environment, frustrated because he believes has liiile effect on anything worth while. He retreats to the back benches but is lured into office again under Jack Straw with responsibility for Africa. Surprisingly, given his frequently stated dislike of pomp and privilege, he seems to relish the challenge the position holds, though once more he complains of helplessness - now in the face of famine, corruption and intransigence.

But it is not the big picture that fascinates here; it is the behind-the-scenes view of daily life and dilatory MPs. Mullin is ambivalent about Blair (a leader who invariably was brilliant in a crisis but still not entirely to be trusted); he is vitriolic in confirming all the bad opinions of Gordon Brown; forgiving of John Prescott's volatility; ultimately, one feels, admiring of the chameleon Straw, politician supreme.

The book holds much to amuse as well as moments of sadness - the death of his father, the decline of his mother. One would like to think there are many more at Westminster in the Mullin mould - hard-working, conscientious, ambitious but not driven. He has a safe seat in Sunderland and, the reader will surely feel, deserves it.
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