BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  UK Politics
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 22 April, 2002, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
The only surprise is the surprise
Prime Minister Tony Blair and former minister Mo Mowlam
Blair was upstaged by Mowlam during speech
test hello test
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Probably the only surprising thing about Mo Mowlam's revelations about ministerial life under Tony Blair is that anyone still finds them surprising.

Her account of the campaign to undermine and finally remove her is hugely familiar - partly because she and others have already spoken or written about it at length.

But similar stories have also been heard a thousand times from other sources about their own positions or, more generally, about the way the New Labour government operates.

Former ministers Mo Mowlam and Peter Mandelson
Mandelson wanted her job
These tales of brutal, Machiavellian manoeuvrings have often been denied from the centre. But even the most loyal Blairites now accept they are probably accurate.

So few will be surprised to hear that Peter Mandelson was campaigning furiously behind Ms Mowlam's back for her job as Northern Ireland secretary.

Nor will they recoil in shock at the claim that her standing ovation in the middle of the prime minister's 1998 conference speech signed her death warrant.

Personal animosities

Neither is it a revelation that a trio of "insiders" - chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's chief of staff Jonathan Powell and Mr Mandelson - acted as a sort of roving hit squad, with the prime minister's obvious backing and encouragement.

Because of the persistent nature of the stories about life under Tony, most will accept her account as broadly accurate

It probably will not even horrify people that her health battle was used against her or that her mental state was called into question.

Remember, someone "close to Downing Street" once described Gordon Brown as "psychologically flawed."

What will appal many however, particularly those who read between the lines, is the picture Ms Mowlam's book paints of New Labour.

The prime minister's communications chief Alastair Campbell
Campbell: Part of hit squad?
Her autobiography describes an administration dominated by a small clique driven by paranoia, personal animosities and an unshakeable belief they are right.

A separate clique, inspired if not overtly led by the chancellor, ploughs its own furrow with little regard to the other.

Not bitter

The cabinet, meanwhile, is largely ignored and marginalised and anyone who displays any individuality or dares question the centre is targeted by the hit squad as a troublemaker - "not one of us" as Maggie would have said.

Ms Mowlam's book will undoubtedly be dismissed by her detractors with the famous phrase: " Mo would say they wouldn't she?"

And there is some truth in that. While she insists she is "no longer bitter, just sad", it is clear she is still deeply hurt by her treatment.

But because of the persistent nature of the stories about life under Tony, most will accept her account as broadly accurate.

And that may only add to the growing public disillusion with politics and politicians.

See also:

22 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Mowlam accuses party 'back-stabbers'
17 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Mowlam savages 'presidential' Blair
10 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Mowlam 'sidelined by Blair'
04 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Mowlam the 'risk taker' bows out
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories