Had a brush with celebrity last week; bought myself a rare theatre ticket to a West End adaptation of ex Labour MP Chris Mullin’s political diaries “A Walk On Part” and guess who was taking questions on stage beforehand? The lovely Chris Mullin, of course; accompanied by the definitely-more starry and rather-less-lovely ex-New-Labour spinner Alistair Campbell.
Who wasted no time in letting drop that he’d been public-speaking with The Man himself only hours before. The Man, as anyone who has seen the play or read the diaries will know, is Blair; “one of two great prime ministers of recent history,” said Campbell. You know who the other one was; yes, she was female.
Now, that aside I don’t disagree with a lot of what Campbell says. He is on record for one remark, indeed, which almost won me over entirely; his refusal to countenance the logic of allegedly egalitarian Guardian-reading types who nonetheless send their children to private schools. If I recall the incident correctly, he was, in his own account, flirting pleasantly enough with an aspirational mother until she mentioned her kids were at Marlborough. He is the partner of (long-suffering) campaigner for comprehensive education, Fiona Millar; and she has views I share from the heart.
And while I’m on the subject of this brand of hypocrisy – why is it that we all bemoan the private-school stranglehold on the upper echelons of just about any professional career structure you care to name, starting with the media – and then accept as a given that such careers assume private school holidays? Is it only me who notices that BBC Radio 4 regulars (anything involving Andrew Marr, now, where do his kids go to school?) to name just one example, effectively go on holiday from early July to mid-September? As a horse-mad, state-educated country girl I was sensitised to this in my childhood, the local pony club events schedule being invariably tailored to private school holidays. Some would say it scarred me for life.
Campbell and Mullin, obviously good friends, managed between them to remind us of the things the Blair government achieved, despite its failings; the main ones, indeed, centring on underprivileged families and state education. It is quite true that state schools, in danger again now, are in much better shape now than they were in 1997. Iraq, of course, got mentioned; it’s central in the play; Mullin’s inability to back the campaign costing him, most likely, his ministerial career, on which the personal narrative hinges. Absent, though, from both play and discussion was any mention of the current crisis beyond allusion to the present government’s ineptitude. Actually, the Blair government also bears responsibility. There were plenty of warnings about the bankers and banking culture, but they, too, were too dazzled to see it coming.
I hadn’t really meant to go shopping but afterwards the publishers were offering two diaries for the price of one so I nipped out to the cashbox and duly queued up at the signing tables. Campbell didn’t look me in the eye before or after scribbling my name. Mullin, on the other hand, smiled and joked, adding, on the book flap, “with very best wishes.” It’s a small thing, of course, but it reminded me that Campbell never had to stand for election. He may be great on stage and screen, he may have been much closer, as he didn’t fail to remind us, to the heart of government than elected MP Mullin ever was, but he’s not particularly charismatic with the common person.
On this minute strip of evidence, at least. And it’s only fair to mention that I share a Christian name with Mullin’s adored elder daughter. He must write affectionate notes to her all the time, possibly inside copies of his own books. He probably had to remind himself not to add a row of kisses, not that I would have minded from him, of course.
Last blog for a while, probably until September; you all know why. I’ve neglected it a bit anyway lately for one reason & another. But I love it still, when I get around to it. Happy summer hols.