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A riveting tour de force: Lord Hain reviews 'Didn’t You Use to Be Chris Mullin? Diaries 2010–2022'

3 min read

With this latest volume of his dairies studded with pithy, amusing and insightful gems, former MP Chris Mullin establishes himself as a British institution

Having known and worked with each other in the Labour Party over the decades from the Bennite era in the late 1970s, then as MPs and ministers, Chris Mullin always struck me as simultaneously a writer and politician rather than a politician trying to write.

His ministerial and political diary volumes were wonderful reads: witty, iconoclastic, self-deprecating, disarmingly frank – a sharp-eyed journalist viewing himself as a politician.

This latest one, set after he stepped down as an MP in 2010 is very much of that genre, another riveting tour de force.

“Despite the occasional moment in the sunshine, I have never been much more than a fleabite on the body politic,” he says, finding “retirement” much more interesting and busy than he ever thought.

Within a few months, “Good to feel relevant again, however fleetingly,” he says of his book review for The Times of Tony Blair’s memoirs.

Over the years there are persistent appearances at literary festivals, wonderful institutions which I came to discover too, frequently packed with paying people, many if not most of whom would never turn up for free in a local hall for a political meeting of any description.

A play, a film, his beloved Northumberland walled garden, all sorts of appearances and meetings with known names, Mullin laps up his retirement.

A typically delicious entry is of being invited to speak at Eton College whose parents in the late 1970s would have hounded militant Mullin to the stocks.

A typically delicious entry is of being invited to speak at Eton College

 “The local branch of Waterstones provided a bookstall. I was afraid that there would be few takers, but at the end of my talk one of the masters got up and said that the bursar had agreed that any purchases could be put on their parents’ account, whereupon just about everyone bought a copy.”

Not so much “life after politics” as politics through a different form of life.

Seen once as one of the most dangerous political activists in Britain, Mullin has not only mellowed, but in retirement become a British institution himself, with diary entries of pithy, usually amusing, often insightful gems.

“Aren’t we lucky to have a free press?” he asks ironically after a familiar coruscating set of right-wing newspaper distortions of Labour’s policies.

Chris MI especially enjoyed this entry on the 2015 election campaign because it echoed my own strong frustrations: “one is struck by how deeply the lie that Labour collapsed the economy [from 2008-10] has become ingrained… The notion that the bankers had something to do with the crisis of 2008, or that the crisis was Europe-wide and began in the American mortgage market, is simply not mentioned. Likewise the easily rebuttable assertion that the previous government recklessly overspent... Rarely does anyone bother to point out that the deficit was primarily caused by a collapse of tax revenues triggered by the reckless behaviour of the bankers and at the time even the Tories were signed up to match Labour spending on health and education ‘pound for pound’.”

Looking forward to his next volume – because I can’t imagine he will ever fully “retire”. 

Lord Hain is a Labour peer & author. His latest thriller is The Elephant Conspiracy published by Muswell Press

Didn’t You Use to Be Chris Mullin? Diaries 2010–2022
By: Chris Mullin
Publisher: Biteback

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