I had been meaning to read Chris Mullin's diaries for some time after he gave a sparkling after dinner speech at the PSA conference at Manchester. The publication of the second volume encouraged me to buy the first and a great read it was, full of insights and informative anecdotes.
Mullin paints a bleak picture of the life of a junior minister, giving speeches badly written by civil servants. He reckons that he had more influence as a select committee chair or a campaigning backbencher.
For many politicians being a 'Pussy' or at most a minister of state is as far as their career goes. Mullin discusses the case of Anna Eagle who had done a perfectly competent job as a junior minister but was then dismissed. It appears that this was simply because space had to be created for new faces and no one was willing to speak up for her. Tony Blair told her, 'You've had a good run.'
Mullin faced many challenges with embedded social deprivation in Sunderland. Voter turnout was notoriously low. He recalls visiting an estate where considerable investment had been made on refurbishing the houses and providing other amenities, only to be told by a voter 'You do nothing for us.'
For those who are cynical about politicians, Mullin comes across as a person of decency and integrity, motivated by a desire to make a positive difference. He was also a thorn in the side of the powerful.
But I was surprised that Sunderland Football Club was not mentioned until late in the volume.