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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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.