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Honest and compelling: Lord Coaker reviews Geoff Hoon's memoir, 'See How They Run'

Then-secretary of state for defence Geoff Hoon with US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, London, May 2003 | Alamy

3 min read

Geoff Hoon has produced a moving and insightful account of his time as a key figure during the Blair-Brown era and his role in the decision to go to war

What an insightful, honest, and interesting read this is, as one of the most high-profile figures of the Blair-Brown era speaks openly about his political career; the highs and lows of political life and the influences that led him to hold one of the most senior and demanding jobs in government for six years as secretary of state for defence overseeing involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone.

Born into a railway family, the pride he has in that railway heritage runs through this book, as does the early influence of that family – and particularly his father. You can feel as he progresses through the University of Leeds, and soon after, his desire to do more to tackle the social injustices he sees around him. He is soon involved in politics, fantastically supported as always by his wife Elaine, and becomes a Member of the European Parliament. Hoon believes the loss of the 2016 referendum is predominantly a failure to make the positive case for Europe in a way which seemed relevant to people, such as those in Ashfield – the Nottinghamshire constituency he was proud to represent from 1992 to 2010 (notwithstanding his love of Derby Football Club).

The decision to go to war in Iraq clearly troubles him

He was a key supporter of Tony Blair and a major political figure in the decision to go to war in Iraq. The decision understandably clearly troubles him, not least the sorrow and pain he feels for the loss of life. He writes of his experiences meeting the families and the reference to remembering his father saying how difficult as a person this would be is very moving. He knows there is nothing he can say or do but the passages dealing with his belief that it is his duty to meet the bereaved families – and their varied response to him – are among the most compelling in the book.

As the Blair era comes to an end, he feels disappointed by the man he has supported for many years, and becomes a key minister in Gordon Brown’s government, but this too ends in frustration and disappointment for him. 

The end of his parliamentary career concludes in a very honest account of his part in the efforts that were made to replace Brown with what he, and indeed some others, saw as the need for a more popular leader with the electorate in the months before the 2010 election. This effort failed and Hoon announced he would not seek re-election in 2010 in his Ashfield constituency. 

Geoff Hoon’s decency shines through this book, as do his qualities of competence and hard work: qualities which can often be underestimated. I hope others will feel as I do after reading the book that he made a greater contribution to political change and progress than even he himself realises in those 13 years of a Labour government, despite the inevitable ups and downs. 

One sentence stands out: on becoming leader of the House, he says that he thought he would enjoy it because he liked being around Parliament. But he adds that he “could never really get over the astonishing idea that I was actually there and part of the place”. However astonished he was, he definitely was a part of this place and the book is testament to that and all he achieved.

Lord Coaker is a Labour peer

See How They Run
Written by: Geoff Hoon
Publisher: Unicorn

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