Edinburgh Fringe 2013
An hour of entertainment and wisdom from Chris Mullin, an all too rare example of a selfless politician.
Chris Mullin is a certifiable lunatic. Or so said Neil Kinnock (apparently) prior to Mullin’s selection for what was felt to be the relatively safe Labour seat of Sunderland South in 1985. Presumably Kinnock thought Mullin could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the next election, but the voters thought otherwise and elected him as their MP, a post he retained until he elected to retire in 2010.
Opening his lecture in such a disarming manner tells you a lot about the author of perhaps the funniest and most readable political diaries produced in the last fifty years; self-effacing, self-deprecating and with a wonderfully laconic and dry sense of humour, a man ever prepared to prick the bubble of pomposity that seems to surround so many politicians. Mullin walked us through his years as an MP and Minister with a series of droll anecdotes each amusing in its own right but each with a clear and, at times, quite serious undercurrent. Here is a politician who knows the value of silence – when you can achieve more by not commenting than by wading into the mire.
What he said about Tony Blair and his competence as a political tactician in making the Labour Party electable was the more powerful for what he didn’t say about him as a statesman and leader. Mullin’s honesty and integrity, so evident in his long (and ultimately successful) campaigning to have a series of miscarriages of justice against wrongly accused terrorists overturned, marked him out as a man who would stand no nonsense from the closed ranks of the establishment, law enforcement or political. He refused to be gagged by Blair’s offer of ministerial posts, resigning when he felt he was no longer effective and returning to the back benches where he was able to hold successive Governments to account through his chairmanship of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
A successful novelist and investigative journalist prior to his entry into politics, his diary trilogy was published in a seemingly random order, starting with the acclaimed “A View From The Foothills”, covering the middle term of Labour’s three periods of Government under Blair and Brown, moving on to “Decline and Fall” to chart the demise of New Labour between 2005 and 2010 before concluding with “A Walk On Part” covering his early years in politics. His canter through his parliamentary career saw a number of the great and the good gently and humorously brought to task and his proximity to leading members of the Royal Family led to some amusing tales of his encounters with HMQ and her unique way of dealing with her occasionally loose-mouthed consort.
A raconteur par excellence, his tales of what he described as “life in the stratosphere”, where doors are opened for you, traffic lights permanently green and where the plane goes when you get to the airport, brought chuckles of mirth from an audience that ranged from the grey-bearded sandal brigade through to the young and politically aspirational.
Never short of an opinion, he handled a lengthy question and answer session with aplomb, particularly when asked (as was bound to be the case) what advice he had for Ed Milliband. Unfortunately his answer contained far too many suggestions that were both pragmatic and egalitarian, which perhaps explains why he never rose through the ranks to a senior cabinet role.
Westminster’s loss is Newcastle University’s gain, where he now lectures undergraduates in politics. They are lucky to have him – an all too rare example of a selfless politician in the game to do good for others. Clearly a certifiable lunatic. But definitely worth listening to.
This talk was a one-off at the Fringe, but Chris Mullin is a regular speaker and will be repeating this in Sunderland next month and at other locations. Details can be found on his website which goes by the rather droll moniker of www.chrismullinexmp.com .