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15 March, 2010  
London Calling

Andrew Rawnsley’s book on the end of New Labour has everyone talking … Leverhulme extracts the choicest anecdotes

imageThe book which has been on everyone’s lips this month has not been Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law (Penguin 2010), but Andrew Rawnsley’s The End of the Party (Viking 2010) and more of that in a minute.

Lord Bingham’s book is short (174 pages), easy to read and highly stimulating.

His former colleague Lord Justice Sedley reviewed the book warmly in The Guardian, saying Tom had stooped “from from panoptic heights of generality to brief but meticulously detailed case studies”.

Lord Bingham writes with real authority on the law of human rights and the Iraq war.

There is some light-heartedness. On the subject of statutory interpretation, Lord Bingham says we cannot afford to go too far in the search for clarity.

He quotes from some regulations under the Banking Act of 1979:

“Any reference in these regulations to a regulation is a reference to a regulation contained in these regulations.”

imageDyson Heydon earns approval for his observation that in civil law judicial activism taken to extremes can spell the death of the rule of law.

Lord Bingham (snap) appears less keen on the plethora of laws enacted in the past 10 years.

He points out that of the 382 new Acts which appeared in the 10 years to 2007, 29 related to criminal justice and 3,000 new criminal offences were created.

* * *

Legislative frenzy is a feature of Andrew Rawnsley’s book which records the history of the Labour government from 2001 to 2010.

Andrew is a meticulous researcher. He said on television last week that he checked, double-checked and treble-checked his stories before they went into the book.

The book is 679 pages full of stories – a great many of them are extraordinary.

Rawnsley was told of juicier yarns which were probably true but did not pass his exacting test.

imageThe book was serialised and caused all sorts of a rumpus in the UK about its blessed leader, Dr Brown (pic), being a bully or a man of passion.

Whatever one’s view, the account of Brown’s dogged, and at times bizarre, pursuit of the top job is at the heart of the book.

* * *

I found myself feeling sorry for the thrice-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair and wondered how he managed to fight a few wars, sort out Northern Ireland and keep it all together.

There is a lovely moment when Frank Field, whose social security reforms and career as minister were crushed by Gordon, went to visit an extremely downcast and tense Tony Blair who was thinking of throwing in the towel.

Blair laughed uncontrollably when Field said:

“You can’t go yet. You can’t leave us without an alternative. You can’t let Mrs Rochester out of the attic.”

* * *

imageRawnsley (pic) writes compellingly about the negotiations which led to Blair standing for the leadership unopposed.

Even though Brown was the more senior of the pair, Blair was a surer electoral winner.

We read of Blair and Brown thrashing out a deal in a Scottish house owned by a friend called Nick Ryden on the evening of former leader, John Smith’s funeral.

The pair were arguing angrily (a constant theme of the book) and Ryden said, “Don’t kill each other. You’ve both got a lot to offer the country”.

He then scarpered to the pub.

At one stage Brown went to the loo, but didn’t return. Blair assumed he had stormed off in a rage.

Then he heard Ryden’s answering machine and Brown’s growling Scottish voice calling on his mobile. The handle had come off the toilet door with Brown still inside.

* * *

As you would expect, the Iraq war features prominently. So does the Hutton Inquiry.

It was, I recall, a widespread view in the media at the time that Hutton was a compliant judge and the government knew as much when it appointed him.

This canard is scotched by Rawnsley.

imageApparently, after the death of the scientist David Kelly, the Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer, rang the Senior Law Lord Tom Bingham, with an overriding concern to get someone with credibility.

“The name that emerged was Brian Hutton (pic), a septuagenarian Law Lord on the point of retirement with an impeccable reputation for being immune to political pressure.”

The death of Kelly had “hung like a shroud” over Blair for six months.

When the report was delivered Blair’s staff were instructed to mark their copies in highlighter: yellow for favourable and pink for hostile points.

They re-convened at 3pm and to their consternation, the Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell’s copy was “glowing with negative pink”.

Apparently, the characteristically impractical Powell had muddled his colours.

* * *

For a long time, barristers were not allowed to advertise.

Writing almost 20 years ago in his learned book, Advocates, (OUP 1992) Lord Pannick QC observed there was “no excuse, other than an inability to think logically and progressively, for the Bar Council to have maintained an obsession about the advertising of the services of a professional man”.

We should be thankful that things are a lot more relaxed these days.

imageIf you want to see an example of a relaxed barrister, go to the website of the lantern-jawed dramatist, John Cooper QC.

As a freshly-minted silk (this month), Mr Cooper displays all the self-effacement, reticence and modesty you would expect in a barrister.