The End of the Party, By Andrew Rawnsley

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The Independent Culture

The End of the Party is 895 pages of pretty dense text, including notes and index; and it isn't a single page too long. Andrew Rawnsley's meticulously sourced account of the 13 years New Labour spent in power is a gloriously readable epic, written with wit and clarity. It has the arc of a Shakespearean tragedy, in which Blair's and Brown's formidable personal qualities were finally, fatally undermined by their tragic flaws. It is also a forensic analysis of what went wrong with the New Labour project, resulting in an exhausted party with no clear principles, except to stay in power. Rawnsley perceptively compares New Labour's journey to that of Northern Rock: "Both bank and party had grown out of the self-help and co-operative ethic of... 'the respectable' working class... Both... had been transformed by global capitalism into unrecognisably different creatures."

Rawnsley is even-handed, presenting the Iraq War as the grotesque miscalculation it was, while giving Tony Blair credit for sealing the Northern Ireland peace process. The bitter power struggle between Blair and Brown is given in pitiless detail. There are scores of fascinating anecdotes. In the declining days of New Labour's reign, Ed Miliband, worn out by Brown phoning him at every hour of the day and night, got hold of Brown's mobile and deleted his own number from it.

Brown's paranoia is illustrated by the time he went to the Chinese embassy to sign the condolence book for the Sichuan earthquake, to discover that David Cameron had turned up at the same time. Convinced that this was a deliberate ploy to upstage him, Brown railed that there was a conspiracy. "If there is a conspiracy, who's in it?" his private secretary asked. "The Chinese. The Tories. The Foreign Office," Brown shot back.

This is a marvellous history – and it reads as well as a realist novel.