How does Miliband handle the memoirists?

How does Miliband handle the memoirists?

How difficult will their revelations make it for him?

History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as autobiography. Or something like that. It seems almost obligatory now for retired cabinet ministers to set down their version of the time in office, their influence on events and their view of – amongst other things – their colleagues.

The number of these memoirs being written always starts to increase when any party’s been in power for a while and people start retiring but it takes the sudden impact of a change of government to turn that trickle into a flood. Those ministers are all ejected at once, they have more time on their hands, the value of the memoirs declines with each passing year and delaying means the historical record of their time in government could be established by others before they publish.

The problem for whichever Miliband wins Labour’s election is that each new publication is going to drag up the past again and reopen old controversies.

Margaret Thatcher certainly didn’t do John Major any favours when she wrote her two volumes and there’s no guarantee Labour’s will be any more helpful. That they tend to be published at or just before party conference season adds an additional hurdle if the new leadership is seeking to ‘move on’ from the Blair-Brown years.

Of the central players in Labour’s term in office, Alistair Campbell, John Prescott and Peter Mandelson have already had theirs published theirs but those of Blair, Brown, Straw and Darling have yet to go on sale (Blair’s will be the first, next week), and have a lot of contentious ground to cover – especially Iraq and the handling of the recession. I’m assuming that they will all write one but I’d be surprised if they don’t.

Also on sale from next week is the second volume of Chris Mullin’s diaries and while Mullin wasn’t central to the Labour government, his earlier book was both very readable and at times biting in its observations. Often the best diarists are not those who attain very high office but who serve close to them. With this volume covering the 2005-10 parliament, he will have had much to observe and a lot to be biting about. I predict a good deal of gallows humour.

In the big scheme of things, the distractions of yesterday’s men and women and yesterday’s events shouldn’t make or break a leadership. They won’t, however, make it any easier, both because the events described in the books will rake over events the leadership may want to leave behind and because with Blair and Brown especially, comparisons will be made between leaders now and then.

That won’t be fair because Miliband won’t have had the opportunity to prove himself in office (it’s very difficult comparing against, say, Blair in 1995 on a like-for-like basis as Blair’s subsequent career intrudes), but then whoever said that politics was fair?

David Herdson

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