Monday, 31 January 2011

Book review: Brown at 10

After the distinct averageness of Mandelson's book, and the painfully unreadable nature of Blair's I couldnt bring myself to get Brown's particular rewriting of history. Instead I decided to try something a bit different, so I picked out Anthony Seldon's Brown at 10. This is really the first serious attempt at a history of Brown's premiership.

I actually wasn't dissapointed.

Love him or loathe him, Brown was Prime Minister of this country and I think its hard to imagine that he wasnt doing the best job he was capable of. Seldon and Lodge do fine service to a man whose place in history is liable to be uncomfortable at best.

He is everything you expect him to be, angry, difficult and profoundly unable to grasp the nettle that is policy making. He failed to build a team around him, failed to inspire those who would stick with him, and generally wasn't what we (the people) wanted or felt we deserved.

However there is an unexpected and interesting side of him which didnt make it into the UK press, Brown the statesman, a man who could broker deals on the international stage without flinching and who almost never backed down. The narrative was so set against him that there was no interest in telling this story, so its good to see someone writing this fuller version of events.

In many ways this tale is a tragedy, someone who could have been a profoundly gifted statesman who was never quite able to get ahold of what he wanted to achieve. Without knowing this he was unable to create the country he had envisaged for so long. Surrounding himself with toxic people blocked him off from the positive influences which might have made the difference.

The most important thing about this book is that Seldon and Lodge don't just tell a series of events, they tell a story, and they tell it well. Exploring Brown's life couldnt have been an easy proposition, so many people have made their minds up. It is the mark of a good writer to look beyond the existing narrative and build your own, and that is exactly what has been done here.

I would highly recommend this book to any student of contemporary history, I'd also suggest it to anyone who has made their mind up about Gordon Brown. I certainly had, but this made me reconsider some of the things which I had taken for granted, or at least put them in a new light. I dont think Brown is any better a man, but I can certainly reconsider some aspects of his personality and try to put him into his proper context.
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