Radio 4 spurns Mandelson and Blair

The coveted Book of the Week slot will go to the former Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin instead.

Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, authors of the two big political memoirs of the year, have been spurned by Radio 4 in favour of the long-serving Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin. Mullin served in various junior positions in the Blair government before being sacked as Africa minister by the man himself after the 2005 election.

The second volume of Mullin's diary, which will chart the period from his departure from the front benches to his standing down as an MP at this year's general election, is to be released at the end of August. Decline and Fall: Diaries (2005-2010), it has now been revealed by the Guardian, will be serialised by Radio 4 in its Book of the Week slot in late August, despite rumours that Mandelson's The Third Man or Blair's memoir, The Journey (due out in early September), were more likely choices.

A spokesman for Radio 4 said:

We do not have any current plans to broadcast publications by either Peter Mandelson or Tony Blair as books of the week on Radio 4. We can confirm that we plan to broadcast Chris Mullin's Decline and Fall: Diaries (2005-2010) towards the end of August.

The Book of the Week slot, in addition to the prestige associated with it, often has a powerful effect on sales, with less well-known books such as Charlie Connelly's Attention All Shipping achieving unlikely bestseller status because of the publicity radio serialisation provides. But, given the success of his first memoir, A View from the Foothills, Mullin's book is hardly likely to struggle.

Perhaps the clue to why Mullin has been preferred over Blair and Mandelson is to be found in their different subjects. Mandelson's book (as has been well documented in recent weeks) focuses on the frequently tense machinations at the heart of New Labour, while Blair's effort has been rumoured to eschew domestic matters in favour of more detail of his work on the international stage (with an eye to sales in the United States).

And what can we expect from Mullin? He was on the periphery of the period dominated by Blair and Mandelson, to be sure. A former journalist whose investigation into the Birmingham Six for Granada's World in Action and subsequent book on the subject contributed to the case being reconsidered, Mullin has always had strong beliefs. But, reviewing the first memoir, Michael White commented that "Mullin's tone is mild, ironical, even world-weary" and that the book provided "a very attractive worm's-eye view".

Perhaps this is the difference. The account in Mandelson's memoir was widely felt to come through the "distorting prism of ego", to borrow a phrase from the BBC's James Lansdale. And I think we all confidently expect that the man who charged £200,000 for a single speech will place himself at the centre of his forthcoming book.

Perhaps the BBC is not so much seeking to snub Mandelson and Blair as select a memoir that presents a broader and less individualistic account of our recent political history. After all, as White put it:

Mullin realises his own weakness: he's incapable of hating anyone for more than half an hour.

I think I know which I'd rather hear on the radio every day for a week.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.