Friday, June 02, 2006

The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze

This review of the Little Red Book appears in today's Liberal Democrat News.

The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze
Edited by Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes
Politico's Media, 2006, £7.99

Tony Blair came to power in 1997 pledged to be whiter than white. "You are not here to enjoy the trappings of power," he told his MPs, "but to do a job and to uphold the highest standards in public life."

How have they measured up? Not very well, this chunky little paperback suggests. Peter Mandleson's mortgage, Bernie Ecclestone's donation, the dodgy dossier... are all here.

The Little Red Book was written in a unique way. The editors had the idea on Blair's Black Wednesday - the day Charles Clarke admitted foreign criminals had been released without being considered for deportation, John Prescott admitted to an affair and the nurses booed Patricia Hewitt.

They compiled a list of 101 scandals and invited Britain's bloggers - people who write political weblogs on the Internet - to write them up. They did so over a weekend (my entry covers Downing Street's attempts to muscle in on the Queen Mother's funeral arrangements) and the book appeared a fortnight later.

Inevitably the results are uneven, but they are great fun too. This is a superior version of those little volumes bookshops keep by the till and readers keep by the loo. If there is too much sniggering over sex - Ron Davies' badger watching is the least of our worries - there is also plenty of serious stuff. And if it has a Tory feel, more Lib Dems should have got involved.

Are there lessons to be drawn? Any government in power this long would be frayed at the edges, and I have long argued that Labour's emphasis on sleaze before 1997 was a way of disguising how little they differed from the Tories.

But there is something new about the way this government uses the media to attack anyone who crosses it. When Iain Duncan Smith revealed a lady called Rose Addis had been neglected in hospital, rumours were spread that she was a racist who had refused to be treated by black nurses. The Women's Institute and Paddington rail crash survivors suffered similar experiences.

So there is good reason to buy The Little Red Book - wherever you decide to keep it.

Jonathan Calder

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