Monday's book
Derek Draper is smart. He said so himself. "The reason that we all get on, to be arrogant about it, is that we're all very clever," he said of the group of thirtysomethings who now govern the country. Clever enough, anyway, to make a name out of his closeness to the centre of power and especially to his former employer, Peter Mandelson - without cutting himself off from the network. He used to be Mandelson's assistant and is still close to him, which makes him the Prime Minister's confidant's confidant.

So this is a clever book, thin on real inside news in the sense of the stuff that people in power do not want to see in print, but still a rich source for anyone interested in the workings of New Labour.

There is an account, for example, of a dinner hosted by Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street for Paddy Ashdown and Roy Jenkins. This is day 42: 12 June. Draper knows about it because the fourth person present that night was Mandelson. The business of the dinner was conducted briskly. Ashdown and Jenkins (now leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords) agreed the terms of the offer of places on a Cabinet committee on condition that Blair stuck to Labour's promise of proportional representation for the next European elections in 1999. But Draper makes it clear that the real subject of discussion was the possibility of eventual merger between Labour and the Lib Dems. "The task of bringing together two parties with hugely different traditions and often antagonistic attitudes is immense," he comments, ambiguously, because this is not a view attributed to any of the diners.

On day 16 (17 May), Draper offers a fascinating group portrait of the Prime Minister's new young Policy Unit through an account of their "getting to know each other" awayday at Sunningdale. It is spiky enough to suggest there will be plenty of material for historians to compile their accounts of intrigue at the Court of the Imperial Premiership. But Blair himself remains a clouded, distant figure.

Nor does the conceit of the book, a breathless day-by-day diary in the present tense, allow for much analysis. The attempts at assessment are are dragged in via potted flashbacks, which makes for a bumpy read. It is made bumpier by the contortions required for some of the jokes, such as the characterisation of Bill Clinton as a "lame fuck" president.

Anyone seeking a more considered view of New Labour would be ill advised, however, to turn to Safety First (Granta, pounds 9.99), a massive instant history produced by two ex-New Statesman journalists, Paul Anderson and Nyta Mann. Right at the end of a rambling book based almost entirely on secondary sources, we stumble on an interesting thesis: that New Labour was essentially constructed by Neil Kinnock and John Smith, with Blair simply adding a presentational flourish. But it is stated, not argued, so we will have to wait for David Butler's account of the election, which is imminent. He says that one of the questions which produced the most interesting answers from senior Labour politicians was: "Would Labour have won under John Smith?"

Published by Faber & Faber, pounds 7.99

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