Observer Review: Momentum By Mo Mowlam Essay, Research Paper
Better the Mo we knowMomentumMo MowlamHodder & Stoughton ?20, pp320The fundamental – and fundamentally vicious – rules of autobiography apply. Ex-politicians who write their memoirs have no future favours left to dispense or secrets to impart: so they can be slagged off with impunity. Ex-Labour ministers who sell their extracts to the Daily Mail are still worse placed: nobody – a green-eyed £350,000 later – loves them.Lord Hattersley, of course, complains about a lack of socialist ideology. Feminists complain about an unseemly truckling (to males) in pursuit of base ambition. Blair loyalists gripe at the monstrous ingratitude of it all. The Torygraph, seeing a saint fallen on hard times, puts on its sharkskin bovver boots. Suddenly, nobody loves Mo Mowlam. She gets the worst drubbing of her career.Is that fair? Well – ahem – not exactly lacking in fairness. Some ex-luminaries, like Michael Heseltine, are brilliant at speaking but pretty leaden at stringing sentences together on paper. Some, like Salman Rushdie, can produce wonderful prose, but only unwonderful drone in front of an audience. Mowlam – stuck with a word processor and no-one to hug – is even more direly placed. The Mo we know, the folk heroine of the Good Friday agreement, the doughty battler against brain tumours, is great at touching and feeling and empathy: but, on this evidence at least, she’d be hard pushed to pen a decent travel brochure.’The opportunity to live in a castle (Hillsborough) that is the Queen’s official residence was a great experience and one I will never forget.’ When Prince Charles and Kiri Te Kanawa come to stay, we have ‘an enjoyable and relaxed dinner… and we all three chat about everything under the sun’. Chitter-chatter. So summer turns to autumn. Leaves fall. Christmas comes with cards for Charles and Camilla. Then spring brings renewal and the great wheel of banality spins again as Mo keeps ‘moving forward’. Mo-mentum, geddit? She pursues it with panting enthusiasm. Somebody seems to have put her off moving back.Nor is the politics on offer much more inspiring. The Mail, of course, was switched on by her tales of cold-hearted double dealing at the heart of New Labour; but this turns out to be thin, egocentric stuff. Her relationship with Alastair Campbell has ‘ups and downs’ – though not enough of them to help her to spell his name properly.She wants to stay longer in Northern Ireland (so she can go on moving forward) but Tony, keen on movement himself, wants to use her as a star reshuffle asset. Health? Education? Mayor of London? Such succulent offers are quaintly brushed aside because Mo fancies herself as the new Geoff Hoon, or even Jack Straw. She settles instead for a chair in the Cabinet Office co-ordinating things like drugs policy and going on fact-finding trips to Jamaica. Is this a ‘non-job’? Has Tony, envious of her popularity, shafted her? Have the ‘young, arrogant set in Downing Street’ been guilty of sexism as well as duplicity?It is all, alas, rather pathetic as well as self-serving. What, pray, is sexist about offering a hugely popular minister (in Belfast, where coming elections aren’t won) the helm of the vital NHS – or Education, Education, Education? Why, if Tony is such a beast, is he constantly tossing bargain offers Mo’s way? Why doesn’t she see that Hillsborough – for any London government – is a middle-range posting which wins few votes and only develops real momentum when the PM himself is on site, sweating for peace?There are some nice moments in Mowlam’s notebook. I like Ian Paisley complaining to her husband that the Secretary of State is drinking too much of the ‘devil’s buttermilk’ (otherwise whiskey). I particularly like the story of the night hubby stayed alone in their London safe house, to be woken at dawn, stark naked, by seven coppers waving shields and automatic rifles. And who are you, sir? ‘I live here.’ Can you prove that, sir? Here’s a passport. Oh…! It must be a false alarm, sir. Exit sheepish security posse (probably to see if they could spot Osama bin Laden somewhere up the Edgware Road).So the pages turn, sometimes with enjoyment. No amount of study, however, quite answers the crucial question. We leave Dr Mowlam in semi-retirement, knitting, doing jigsaws, planning to help disabled children in ‘Mo-Mo homes’. Was she really the next PM but one? Was she truly such a political force? And the answer, lest we forget, is mostly ‘yes’. Mo, through the early 1990s, was dynamite; good at detail, long on charm. She did battle her tumour with rare fortitude. She did win hearts and golden opinions. It’s just that Mo on Mo, in her own words, sells this finer, feistier Mo terribly short.That’s another fundamental about autobiography. Some people shouldn’t even think of writing them.