Chris Mullin- Westminster, Whitehall and Writing.
Palatinate got the chance to catch up with Chris Mullins as he embarks upon a series of three lectures on The Rise and Fall of New Labour starting on the 10th February in Durham.
An MP for 23 years, a Parliament-Under-Secretary for the Department of International development and the Foreign Office and now a distinguished writer, journalist and political commentator, Chris Mullin knows the corridors of government inside out, from the bitter politicking quarrels of No.10 to the bargaining barrages of the backbenches.
While speaking with Palatinate, Mr. Mullin provided insightful and intriguing comments about the current political landscape and the inner emotional frissances of the feud between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair that represented the ‘fault lines’ of the Blair administration.
An avid chronicler of his diary, which he kept for the entirety of the New Labour era from the death of John Bishop to Gordon Brown’s exit out of No.10, Mr. Mullin admitted to Palatinate that he did not think that the principle of New Labour was utterly finished now that Ed Miliband is at the party’s helm. ‘I don’t think that New Labour is dead, because the one defining lesson of the Blair era was that to form a government you have to seize the middle ground. You can’t just retreat to the comfort zone of your core vote. It is a lesson that David Cameron and the Tories have learned as well, although it took them 14 years to do so. In that sense, New Labour is alive and well.’
The new appointment of Ed Balls has led to clamors and comparisons amongst political commentators about a re-run of the Blair-Brown personality clash that split the Labour party in two. However, Mr. Mullin told Palatinate that he could not see this reoccurring. ‘I don’t see that repeating itself again. There may be some tensions between Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, there always are in the upper echelons of government, but we won’t see anything like the arguments that erupted between Tony and Gordon.’
With the current spending cuts causing political fissures within Westminster wider than David Cameron’s vacuous definition of the Big Society, Chris Mullin put forward some complementary comments to Ed Miliband’s current party line that the Coalition is attempting to cut the deficit too fast and by too much. First off, he repudiated and refuted the Tory conception of ‘Gordon Brown’s debt and the economic mess that Labour left us’ by articulating that ‘the financial crisis started in America, there wasn’t a great spending splurge by the Labour government, there was a collapse of the tax base. It was the bankers.’ Although the ex-MP for Sunderland South admitted that it would be churlish for Labour to all cuts to public spending were unnecessary, he also took a strong stance against the current Chancellor George Osborne by expressing the opinion, hotly denied by some, warmly embraced by others that rolling back the state ‘is what Mr. Osborne came into politics for’.
He also expressed fear at the ‘devastating affect’ that the cuts might have on the North East, maintaining that ‘if we are to continue maintaining our economy, we cannot kill of growth. The Tories have this theory that the private sector will suddenly rise up from nowhere and replace what the state was doing. I can assure you that this will not happen.’
Indeed, it seemed as if, according to Mr. Mullin, that George can, and never has done much right throughout his short career. ‘They don’t have a Plan B. Let us not forget that Mr. Osborne has taken the wrong turn at virtually every opportunity during the crisis. He was against the nationalization of Northern Rock when it collapsed in 2008. He expressed disapproval at the state taking stakes in the three main banks when the banking system collapsed, a banking system run by his friends not Labour’s and he was opposed to the quantitative easing which undoubtedly turned the economy around last year.’
As Mr. Mullin embarks upon his series of three lectures on the two Blair governments and the creation of New Labour itself, he expressed heartfelt admiration for his ex-boss. He attempted to quash at least some of the rumors that Blair’s commitment to bilateral ‘sofa government’ made him an unapproachable leader. ‘Tony was very approachable, I found him very easy to get on with on a personal basis. I think it may have been because he had small children, but for a man of his stature, he was remarkably normal’. On Iraq however, Mr. Mullin could not defend Blair admitting that ‘if it had been taken to the Cabinet properly, then maybe things might have turned out a bit differently.’ He blamed Blair for his inextricable and at times inexplicable link with George W Bush, as he explained that ‘Tony believed that you had to keep in line with America at all costs. This is fine with someone like President Obama, but it doesn’t work in the case of a Republican who is a far to the right as you can get within the realms of sanity. My main difference with Blair was that he linked us umbilically to the worst American President of my life time.’
With 23 years as a Parliamentarian, Mr. Mullin has plenty of experience of the worn out corridors of Westminster. However, since stepping down from Parliament, Mr. Mullin admitted that he has ‘quite enjoyed retirement’. He is soon to release a new set of political diaries, following on from the widely acclaimed A View from the Foothills. Despite admitting that he would have liked to have got a little higher in government during his career, and that he would have applied for the Speakership of the commons had he not retired before Michael Martin resigned, Mr. Mullin undoubtedly enjoyed a career in which he was aptly placed to observe one of the most controversial government in post-war history.
Chris Mullin will be giving the second of his series of three lectures at the Calman Learning Centre on Thursday 17th February and then finishing a week later on 24th February.