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Political Memoirs — Alastair Campbell

Published only two weeks after Blair stepped down as prime minister, Campbell’s “The Blair Years” —

Campbell's diaries are relegated to the fourth spot because of his self-editing. When they were originally published, he omitted details that could help the Conservatives, and information relating to or directly about Gordon Brown. His account of the lead-up to the Iraq war was also considered gappy and incomplete, and the writing itself mediocre.

And yet, despite all these criticisms, it still deserves a place in the top spot, as it does deliver insights into Blair's time as prime minister and, crucially, gives us a better understanding of the inner workings of the Labour Party and the New Labour movement.

David Hare wrote:

Most of what Campbell writes serves only to confirm what you already know. His opinions are largely as a parodist would imagine them to be. No student of cliché will be surprised to learn that George Bush is "much wittier than people would imagine", "far more impressive close up" and "has far more charm and nous than the caricature".

In spite of a couple of properly written later passages where he does finally dig deep -- the most vivid recounting a Christmas lunch and shopping trip on which he and Peter Mandelson face the eerie likelihood that they will spend their whole lives inextricably bound together -- the ex-journalist has almost no psychological curiosity. He has few anecdotes that cast unexpected light on well-known leaders. Tony Blair reading the Mail stark naked is about as counter-intuitive as things get.

And yet for some reason -- perhaps because the narrative itself is so strong, perhaps because the circumstances of New Labour's descent into foreign policy catastrophe are so shocking -- you still find yourself completely gripped by the relentless, rhythmic retelling of this terrible story.