Saturday, 18 September 2010

Blair Vs Mandelson (books, not deathmatch)

Although a deathmatch would be more satisfying.

I usually like to do a bit of a head to head here and pick an actual winner, but in this case I've got to say, there are only really varying degrees of failure.

Firstly, both books are inexcusably badly written. Uncomfortable prose, poorly selected phrases which trip up the brain, and a cloying need to use words which are more complicated than necessary for no reason. Neither is easy to read.

So, Mandelson first (the picture is clearly not the front cover, but its substantially better than the book jacket, so I'm sticking with it.

Mandelson as a figure, I have a huge amount of respect for. I don't like his politics, but he is a uniquely skilled figure and has an exceptional understanding of the way the world (of politics) works. So I was looking forward to this book and hoped it would contain at least some real insight into the party he helped create and the campaigning that went into it.

I was sorely dissapointed. There is entirely too much focus on his relationship with Gordon Brown. I realise this has been a topic of interest for a long time, but there is more to life than the fact they didnt like each other very much.

It feels like he glosses over some fascinating chapters of his life in order to get back to this topic time and time again. I'd very much like to have seen more about his time in Europe and the role he played in developing the New Labour brand. Instead of talking endlessly about Gordon Brown he would have looked in more depth at some of the other major players and opponents involved, perhaps Whelan or others.

The section on Northern Ireland stood out. He was excellent. Clearly a period of his life he was incredibly passionate about and felt he'd achieved something incredible (which he did). If the whole book could have been up to that standard then it would have been a really interesting read.

To be honest, there isnt a great deal else to say about this book. Its interesting, there are some fun anechdotes and insights into a few characters which arent avaliable anywhere else. But the substance was really lacking.

And then we have Blair. I've been looking forward to this book as I thought it'd be a really intensive look at politics through the eyes of someone who has shaped most of my adult life.

It really isnt. Putting aside the fact that its badly written, its an awkward, poorly structured lecture on why Tony Blair is great and the world would have spun off its orbit without him.

Fair enough for him to be somewhat arrogant. He beat the Conservative Party into submission for a decade, reinvented his own Party, and achieved some great things (if you're a socialist). But the level of self aggrandisement is painful.

A case in point is the section of the book on the Northern Ireland peace process. Virtually no other people are discussed in detail in the entire chapter, a few name checks here and there, but to be honest, its as if no one else was even involved, including the Irish politicians themselves. How you can write about the NI peace process without mentioning key Irish stakeholders I'm not sure, but by god he manages it.

Im still reading it, but to be honest, after 8 chapters, its not getting any better and I'm already moving on to other things.

Before the end of the year we'll see Brown's book, and possible Charlie Wheelan's too. Unless something changes dramatically, its going to be a rough year for political biographies...

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