The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley

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The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A comprehensive history of the second and third New Labour administrations. Not an easy read, but a very satisfying one.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 912 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0141046143

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After decades of watching politics more or less assiduously I was surprised by the New Labour administration. Never before had so much been put – or so it seemed – in the public domain, but never before had I had quite such a feeling of really not understanding what was going on, of being party to only half a story. The age of spin told us little that we really wanted to know, but left unsaid all the important things. Early in 2010 I was disappointed that I'd missed Andrew Rawnsley's 'The End of the Party' but now I'm rather glad that I did as it's been republished in paperback with two additional chapters which include the extraordinary events surrounding the 2010 General Election.

This book covers the period from 2001 – the beginning of the second Labour administration – through to the departure of Gordon Brown from Downing Street in May 2010. It's broadly chronological but each chapter deals with the whole or part of a particular subject and might dig back to reveal the roots of what was happening or forward to hint at how future events would be affected. It serves as an excellent history of the second and third Labour administrations, although some parts are of necessity light on the minutiae in the interests of producing a book which it is possible to lift.

The research which backs the book is impressive but it's worn lightly, with the author obviously feeling no need to insert every known fact. You have a sense of a story being told but with a lot more information being available to back up the conclusions if necessary. There are copious references to back the conclusions drawn and whilst these are occasionally less than illuminating (phone call to author) they generally give good support to the text. The book is the view of one man, but there's no whiney sound of axes being ground (the main participants all seem to come out of the story equally badly) and it's certainly a more balanced view than some of the diaries of the main players.

Many people know Andrew Rawnsley as Chief Political Commentator of the Observer where I have on occasions found him to be rather wordy. I worried that this book might have the same problem – it weighs in at about nine hundred pages packed with what must surely be the smallest possible font, but I was pleasantly surprised when the book proved to be a real page-turner. It's not a fast read and not just because of the size. I frequently found myself stopping to think through the implications of treating with the IRA whilst trying to bomb hell out of al-Qaeda and other similar situations. Rawnsley does an exceptional job of painting a picture of the difficulties faced by a Prime Minister over and above even those faced by the Ministers heading departments.

It's also an excellent portrait of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. I felt rather more kindly towards Tony Blair at the end of the book. He's essentially a weak man who was incapable of standing up to those who bullied him – such as George W Bush and Gordon Brown – but even that might not have counted for so much if he hadn't had to spend so much of his time fighting his own Chancellor. Gordon Brown is a bully, completely lacking in emotional intelligence and completely self-centred, but with a strong belief in the causes which he believed were right.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

As an overall history of the second and third regimes I doubt that it will be possible to better this book, but if you are looking for more information or insight into specific events you might need to look elsewhere. For further general insight – from inside the regime, at least initially we can recommend A View from the Foothills and Decline and Fall both by Chris Mullin and which cover the second and third administrations respectively. John Prescott told his own story (although in a version which is looking increasingly sanitised as time goes on) in Prezza: My Story: Pulling No Punches by John Prescott.

If you're interested in the problems with the financial market you might enjoy Reckless: The Rise and Fall of the City by Philip Augar and The Fall of the House of Credit by Alistair Milne. For more on the expenses scandal you might like to try A Very British Revolution: The Expenses Scandal and How to Save Our Democracy by Martin Bell and No Expenses Spared by Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner – although the second is less self-indulgent than the first.

The rivalry between Blair and Brown is not without precedent and for more on this subject you should read Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown by John Campbell.

Booklists.jpg The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.
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Buy The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley at Amazon.com.


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