Thin-spun secrets

All Too Human: A Political Education

George Stephanopoulos <em>Hutchinson, 456pp, £17.99</em>

George Stephanopoulos and I have one thing in common. After leaving our high-profile political jobs we were both relieved that we would never feel so exhausted again. There the similarities end. I have lost count of the number of books written by ex-Clinton aides or by White House insiders; and one can't help feeling that Stephanopoulos has been a bit slow off the mark with his. James Carville had his written even before Clinton was elected, and he had the added value of writing it with his wife, who worked for the enemy.

As in everything else, the Americans arrive there first. They invented spin-doctors and now we have them, too; the insider's political expose is nothing new in America, but now we have them as well. Since the general election political books have become as prolific as a Tony Blair exclusive. Our very own Paul Routledge has managed two books, leaving Donald MacIntyre, Mandelson's official biographer, in his wake. Philip Gould, so-called political strategist to Blair, has churned out the official new Labour version of history, which is about as believable as Jack Cunningham claiming he had to travel on Concorde because it was cheaper. We have had Margaret Cook, who decided to have her revenge on Robin, and at the same time make a few hundred thousand pounds. And there is the rub of it. Money.

For five years George Stephanopoulos worked at the heart of the Clinton machine, and very effective he was. He tells us how the ultimate spin machine managed to have a dope-smoking pacifist elected as president of the United States. Even George, on learning of Clinton's draft dodge, thought it was all over, but he reveals how they lied to and bullied the media even though the story was true. That couldn't happen here, could it?

The press release issued with All Too Human informs us that Stephanopoulos is 38 years old; and at that tender age he has decided to sell his soul. For five years he had the absolute trust of the people he worked for, and yet for a few hundred thousand dollars he has tossed that trust away. I don't blame him for that; in fact I sympathise with him.

Since leaving my job as Gordon Brown's press secretary I, too, have received numerous offers, some of which, I confess, have been tempting. I even had to employ an agent to help me. But, in the end, I decided not to write a book: it would not only have been self-indulgent, it would also have meant breaking that trust.

Still, there are people who decide to take the money, and in George's book we have the most fascinating insight into the Clinton administration yet. If you want to know more about Hillary Clinton, Dick Morris and Al Gore, the next president of the US, you need not look elsewhere. I enjoyed reading the book, but then I would. And what's more, George and I have one other important thing in common: we both hate shaving (he tells amusingly of how, when he was due to face the world's media at his first press conference, he had forgotten to shave).

I'm told that the Prime Minister's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, is working on his very own diary. Let's hope he produces something as good as young George.

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