Tuesday, 26 October 2010
BOOK REVIEWS: CHRIS MULLIN -DECLINE & FALL: DIARIES 2005-2010
From the introduction:
"... by the end of the Thatcher decade, male unemployment in Sunderland stood at well over 20%; today it is less than half that... In 1997 you could wait up to two years for a hip operation at City Hospital Sunderland; at the time of writing the waiting time is 18 weeks and falling. At Sandhill View, a secondary school in my constituency, in the early nineties fewer than 10 per cent of pupils were achieving the standard 5 GCSEs at grades A to C; today that figure is nearly 80 per cent. There are many other examples I could cite. No-one can tell me that Labour governments don't make a difference."
Chris Mullin was my Member of Parliament for the last 23 years, standing down at this year's General Election, and these are the diaries of his last five years in Parliament. As with the previous volume, they are well written, honest, perceptive, compassionate, possessing a sly wit, and, for political diaries, extremely interesting and very readable.
When I first learned that Chris was to be our MP, which was as soon as he was selected -a Labour victory in Sunderland being a foregone conclusion- I was both impressed and a little wary. Impressed, because he came here with an established reputation for integrity as his victorious uphill battle to free those wrongly convicted of the Birmingham bombings (when he was excoriated and vilified by the right-wing press, among others) demonstrated. There was never a question in my mind that he would do his best for Sunderland. I'd also read and enjoyed his novel The Last Man Out Of Saigon. A writer (and journalist) as our MP!
My reservations concerned his reputation as a member of the loony left -a phrase I now despise and maybe I'd been reading the Daily Mail too much (which I did at the time). Back then I'd have considered myself to be maybe a tiny bit left of centre while Chris, I regarded, as being of the far left. Having read his diaries and learned more about him, this is probably something of simplification and a disservice to him. He is a socialist (with a small 's' as he describes it), always was and always will be, but he also an open-minded person seeing truth when it is shown to him from different ends of the political spectrum and he has good friends from both (including a man I find absolutely loathesome -the Tory grandee Nicholas Soames). I suppose I'd really call him a principled pragmatic idealist. He's probably moved over to the slightly right of centre left (whatever that is) while I've gone the other way and am probably on the borders of left of centre left and the radical left (whatever they are).
For 23 years as an MP Chris has fought for the City of Sunderland and for the people of Sunderland, including (though it didn't win him many friends among his constituents) for immigrants who wanted to stay in Sunderland, something I approve of. I remember being on the City library enquiry desk and trying to help an immigrant who wanted to be relocated from Sunderland because of the racism. I could only apologise and tell him we weren't all like that. He's fought to do the right thing in Parliament and to get Parliament to do the right thing to regain the respect of the public for its representatives, and he has been knocked back so many times. He's seen the Labour Party nearly tear itself apart because people who should know better keep doing the wrong thing.
All this is detailed in his diaries. What is also mentioned, all too briefly, is his love for his family, indeed absolute adoration of his daughters (the pride he has in his eldest who is studying at Oxford), and his love for the North East countryside. I have heard it cynically said that now he's no longer an MP he'll be buggering off back to Birmingham as if his tenure here is over. The Mullins may well move but it won't be because his sentence has come to an end.
Chris Mullin was my MP for 23 years and I couldn't have wished for a better one. Thank you, Chris, for all you have done. Now enjoy your retirement, mate. You've earned it.
Photo of Chris and his daughters, ironically, from the Daily Mail, as is the one below.
He's even mates with-
God, I'm so jealous.