Journalists seldom get to the top in politics. They find it hard to trot out the dreary virtue-signalling that political communication often requires. Chris Mullin, I suspect, finds it almost impossible. He was a Bennite, but the Bennites quickly discovered he was unreliable. The Blairites might have welcomed him had they not suspected, rightly, that he would get the line wrong sooner rather than later.
The only journalist to have made the top job in politics is Boris Johnson, and he crashed and burned. My friend Denis MacShane, who has ability and charm, also crashed and burned on his way up. Michael Gove, once near the top, has been over-shadowed by less able and much less charming people. Another journalist friend, Sally Keeble, had government jobs in the Blair years but never the big one her abilities merited, and in her retirement she has published a surprisingly good novel called She, You, I.
Mullin is still best known as the journalist whose work led to the release of the six men wrongly imprisoned for the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974. But he also became MP for Sunderland South in 1987, and held junior ministerial posts under Blair, as well as chairing the Home Affairs Select Committee. He retired from parliament in 2010, and that is when this latest collection of his diaries begins.
So this time there is less insider political gossip than before, but the political one-liners are still entertaining. In June 2016 we find him writing: ‘Much talk from leading Brexiters of taking back our country, but I notice that many of those deploying this line of argument already seem to own more than their fair share of it.’