Monday 1 February 2010

Sources close to ...

We can expect Andrew Rawnsley's new book 'The End of the Party' to contain plenty of revelations to grip the Westminster classes. Only after Servants of the People was published in 2000 did the Blair-Brown rivalry became such a dominant central narrative of British political reporting over the last decade. It seems likely that the 700 pages of the new book will be informed by just as many people singing like canaries about the moments of high drama inside New Labour over the last decade.

Premature excitement led to a bizarre new piece of journalese being coined yesterday in the Mail on Sunday's front page splash yesterday, reporting "claims linked to a new book" by Andrew Rawnsley.

In other words, as the story went on to report, "It is not known if the allegations referred to above have been included in the book", though rumours of "what may or may not be in Mr Rawnsley's book have been circulating for several weeks".

It must be quite a boon to hard-pressed newsrooms that the MoS can put a 'journalist asks No 10 about controversial rumour' scoop on the front-page itself. Surely anything at all can now be splashed if you are prepared to pick up the phone and get it denied. (Though there were several follow-ups claiming the book does "contain" the reports, in The Spectator, The First Post and several blogs. It may do or it may not, but none of us know).

The Mail's splash may have been a clumsy attempt to spoil the forthcoming Observer serialisation of the Rawnsley book, which will be one of the first major hits of the new-look Observer, due to hit the newstands in three weeks time.

The Guardian today reports that.

The Mail on Sunday has not seen the book, not due out for some weeks. It may make uncomfortable reading for Brown, but not for reasons given by the Mail.

So there are good reasons to think that may be an authoritative steer.


When it is published, the new Rawnsley book will also provide plenty of chances to play 'guess the source', though as Robert Harris pointed out in his Guardian review of 'Servants of the People', not all of the secret sources did an enormous amount to cover their tracks last time around.

And one day all may be revealed, since Rawnsley wrote in the preface of the first book that:

“In the modest expectation that someone may find it of a future use, I will make my source material available when the current Prime Minister is no longer in power.”

Though he has not taken that opportunity yet during the last two and a half years.

However, the longest-running Westminster sourcing debate was not about something in Servants of the People but an earlier 1998 column, reporting Blairite frustration at the Paul Routledge biography of Gordon Brown.

This was the highly contentious passage:

Mr Blair has always thought, in the words of one Cabinet Minister, 'that he owes a large debt to Gordon'. This sense of debt comes not from a feeling on Blair's part that he stole the leadership from Brown. It comes from an appreciation of the crucial and difficult contribution Mr Brown made to the modernisation of Labour, and an understanding of how hard it was for him to lay aside his ambition to lead the party. As a result, Mr Blair is prepared to put up with a lot from Mr Brown.

But not, I get the strong impression, much more. The Chancellor is exhausting the patience of the Prime Minister. According to someone who has an extremely good claim to know the mind of the Prime Minister, he still regards Mr Brown as 'a great talent' and 'a great force'. But he is wearying of the Chancellor's misjudgments, of which this was 'a classic'. It is time, in the words of the same person, for Mr Brown to get a grip on his 'psychological flaws '. The Government cannot afford any further 'lapses into this sort of nonsense'. If this is what Mr Blair thinks - and I have very good reason to believe that it is - then the Prime Minister is right.

Alastair Campbell was frequently accused, and vehemently denied, being the source who had "an extremely good claim to know the mind of the Prime Minister".

Yet the storm created by that Sunday newspaper column may have been because there was at least one person with a rather more direct claim "to know the mind of the prime minister" than that.

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