Daniel Johnson: Just supposing that this isn't the end of the party, and Labour contrives, somehow or another, to deprive the Tories of a working majority, will that vindicate Gordon Brown, or do you stand by the harsh judgment, Andrew, that you've passed in your book [The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour (Penguin, £25)]?
Andrew Rawnsley: I have to say there are positive judgments about Brown in the book as well. But no, I think it was always going to be very difficult in our system to win a fourth term. Only one party's done that in modern times — the Tories in 1992 — and that wasn't a great advertisement for what happens. I think one of the crucial moments in the New Labour project was when Blair was going and they had to decide how they were going to renew. Although there were all sorts of obvious reasons why Brown would be his successor — his heft, his experience, his organisation, the fact that most of his colleagues were completely terrified of him — I think at the very least they should have had a contest.
Looking back, not only do I think, but a lot of members of that Cabinet think, that if you were really going to renew New Labour, there's a really strong argument that you needed to move on from both Blair and Brown, and they could be in a different position now had they seized that renewal moment.
DJ: Nick, there's a very good line which Andrew quotes in the book by Frank Field where he talks about not letting Mrs Rochester out of the attic. This is at the point of the succession. Has Brown proved to be as bad as that? Is there something profoundly irrational about this?
Nick Cohen: I have to say I was quite shocked reading Andrew's book. You think you know a bit — well, you think you know a lot as a journalist — but I was quite shocked about how dysfunctional British government has become and I was wondering whether anything you found out when you were researching this genuinely shocked you, and if so, what was it? Has anything made you shrink back and say, Good Lord, is this how this country is supposed to work?
AR: Yes, some of the stories of total paranoia. I uncovered a story which was both deeply heartbreaking and profoundly shocking: after the death of Brown's baby daughter, Jennifer, Tony Blair goes to the funeral and he and Brown are quite warm together, and they, for a brief moment, recapture some of the old closeness they'd once had. Then the Browns come back to Downing Street after mourning their lost child and things get really much worse. One reason they get worse is because of the living arrangements in Downing Street, which meant little Leo's pram would be visible to the Browns, parked outside the Prime Minister's flat door on Downing Street. Gordon Brown became convinced, and I have this from enough sources to be sure that it is true, that the Blairs were doing this to him deliberately, to remind him that they had what he'd lost — which is extraordinary. It might very well have been insensitive of them, but I've found no evidence that they'd done this with malicious intent.
That level of paranoia is absolutely extraordinary, and I was told by someone I absolutely trust — a member of the Cabinet — that he was still going on about this, "the Blairs being so cruel to me", as he put it, five years afterwards. So yes, that did shock me. Some people have said I do too much personality in this book, but I do a lot of policy analysis — at least I think I do — as well. Especially with this New Labour project, where the personalities have been so key, especially their relationships with each other — this extraordinary triangle between Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson and with other extraordinary and dysfunctional personalities like Alistair Campbell being added to the mix. Personality has mattered hugely. It has mattered more so because time and time again the cabinet has been a cipher, whether it's been on the Iraq war, or decisions on the euro, and so that means the flaws, and the strengths, of the personalities at the very top matter even more because there is no restraint of Cabinet government.
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