Since I arrived in the mountains on Thursday afternoon, my nose has been stuck in 3 of the 17 or so new books which were waiting for me. The first a political blockbuster about the last half of New Labour rule in the UK which has gripped me for reasons well captured in these quotations from 3 reviews -
The End of the Party is a civil-war epic, at the close of which the house is on fire, the crops are laid waste, and the cast of characters is either dead or dispersed. The fratricidal conflict described here is between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and their respective armies of followers and, for as long as these two are both centre stage and slugging it out (ie, for approximately 450 pages), Rawnsley’s narrative has a theme and a drive that give it a compulsive readability (Robert Harris)
But it is only through appreciating the sheer perversity of his decision needlessly to write what Rawnsley calls "an emotional blank cheque" to two very different men – Gordon Brown and George W Bush – that you begin to realise how dramatically skewed his period as prime minister became. In both cases, he made bargains that turned out entirely in the other man's favour. In trying to explain his disastrous inability to confront Bush, a man possessed, as Rawnsley says, with considerable "peasant cunning", it has always been the conventional wisdom to say that Blair was a sort of head prefect with a fatal weakness for sucking up to headmasterly power. For that reason, it is said, he ignored Bill Clinton's stark warning "He's using you". But in these pages it is not so much power as mere activity which drives Blair. What on earth are we to make of a man who, on the day he left No 10, had already inked in 500 appointments for his first 12 months out of office? What are we to make of a government which came up with 3,600 new criminal offences in 10 years?
Any psychiatrist who began to question the behaviour of a leader permanently surrounded by half-eaten bananas would already have noted that images of insanity haunt the whole volume. Blair's closest confidant, Alastair Campbell, was a manic depressive who bears out Booth Tarkington's observation that arrogant people are the most over-sensitive. At one point, Campbell admits to liking nobody in the world but his partner and his children. Brown's corresponding best friends were significantly known as Mad Dog McBride and Shriti the Shriek. Most interestingly, Blair kept quiet about his private beliefs because he worried that voters might think of him as a "nutter" who communed with "the man upstairs". His principal reason for leaving No 10, after his suicidal refusal to call for a ceasefire during the Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006, appears to have been his fear of being taken out through the door as unhinged as Margaret Thatcher. "I don't want to leave like her."
Chris Patten cuts through the infighting to pose the basic question about the achievements of the 13 years of New Labour rule -
So here we are. What has it all been about? A devolved administration in Edinburgh, half of one in Cardiff, a hard-won settlement in Belfast, no advance in Brussels, a splurge of public spending, a mountain of debt, Brown's very own "boom and bust", the stuttering beginnings of reform to our education system, the mother and father of all scandals in the mother of parliaments. But there has not been what Tony Judt recently called for, a redefinition of social democracy, an end to economism, the restoration of values to political debate. All that we got was the Third Way, described by Judt as "opportunism with a human face".
For more reviews of the book see the omnivore book review site -
The second book Three Cups of tea - one man's mission to propote peace one school at a time could not be a greater contrast. The story of how a young and peniless American climber repayed a debt to people in a remote Pakistan village.
A vivid account of what one determined person can achieve.
The third book is Jonathan Watt's When a billion Chinese jump - how China will save mankind - or destroy it.