Celebrated diarist Chris Mullin returns with his fourth volume, Didn’t You Use to Be Chris Mullin? Diaries 2010–2022, which paints a vivid portrait of our recent political history. Here, Chris writes a short preface to his new book.
When I retired from Parliament in April 2010, I ceased keeping a diary on the assumption that life would no longer be of sufficient interest to justify doing so. It soon became apparent that I was wrong and so before long I resumed.
As readers of the previous volume, Decline & Fall, may recall, my decision to retire was accompanied by a great deal of angst. I always knew there was a life outside politics, but I wasn’t confident that there would be any demand for my services. As I wrote at the time, leaving earlier than I need have done was either the best or the worst decision of my life. I wasn’t sure which. It has turned out better than I had any right to expect.
Having spent forty years living in some of the toughest parts of the inner city, I figured I had served my time. By a huge stroke of luck I had within months of retirement fulfilled one of my life’s ambitions, having acquired a small walled garden in a beautiful part of Northumberland. It might not have been affordable but for the fact that, also within months of retirement, I sold for the second time the television rights on my 1982 novel, A Very British Coup. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader gave the novel a new lease of life. The remarkable rise and – in my view – inevitable fall of Corbyn is a theme that runs through the middle part of this volume.
The success of my earlier diaries – two were BBC Books of the Week and both made brief appearances in the Sunday Times bestseller list – generated a small industry that I spent several years servicing. The Live Theatre in Newcastle produced an excellent play based on the diaries, which eventually found its way to London’s West End. The great discovery of my retirement, however, has been that the political meeting is not dead. It has simply transferred to the literary festival. I have not kept count, but at a guess I must have taken part in maybe 200 literary festivals and other book-related events in places ranging from Lerwick in the Shetlands to Fowey in Cornwall and many in between, attracting paying audiences of anywhere up to 750. Six times I have filled the big tent at Edinburgh. It was never like this when I was in Parliament. All in all, this past decade has been what my old friend Tony Benn would have called a blaze of autumn sunshine.
I am under no illusion, however. Despite the occasional moment in the sunshine, I have never been much more than a fleabite on the body politic. On a visit to Parliament a couple of years after retiring, I came across a former colleague. He peered at me over the top of his glasses and said, ‘Didn’t you use to be Chris Mullin?’
‘Thank you,’ I replied. ‘That will be the title of Volume Four.’
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