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Seize the moment, from the inside and out

NUJ member LAURA DAVISON reviews a memoir from journalist and former Labour executive member Mark Seddon.

What really makes this book is Mark Seddon’s ebullience, charm and good humour as he delves around in the seamy backside of national and international politics and journalism. It’s part travelogue, part journal, part sketchbook, the brilliant Martin Rowson cartoons adding extra pizzazz.

The book is disarming in its honest account of cock-ups and failures, not all Mark’s fault, which litter his recent history. His travels and travails take us through his Al Jazeera days in New York and on insightful visits to Libya, Poland and China among others. From the international incident in the lavatory of the North Korean general, to confronting Blair’s toilet backstage in his Conference dressing room, you get a sense of the enormous fun to be had alongside the serious business of political dissent.

Beyond the anecdotes there is analysis of New Labour control freakery and its ultimate hollowness, from someone who has seen it through – joining the Party aged just 15. Mark describes himself as an outsider but many people in the book seem to take the view that it’s better to have him inside the tent where he can be supervised than out. He certainly gives the inside track on the workings of the NEC and the time he spotted Rupert Murdoch being schmoozed in Downing Street. His view of David Cameron is summed up in the anger he feels when the Tory leader with typical low nastiness calls Dennis Skinner a dinosaur.

The book’s star character is really the legendary Gay Hussar restaurant. It hosts theatrical dinners and plotting meetings with style and even provides pull out-beds for the tired and emotional who take shelter there. There are certainly a lot of spirits, of all kinds, on show. The book also gets its own back on people who left Mark with the bill.

The book concludes at the pivotal moment in August 2011 when the coalition government was forced into a judicial in- quiry following the shock news of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. The evidence that has emerged from the Leveson inquiry will fill many books, but it would be interesting to hear Mark’s take on it and how he sees the way forward for British journalism. When Leveson reports there will be an opportunity to change fundamentally the political and journalistic consensus so terrifyingly captured in the final pages of the book: in Martin Rowson’s cartoon of a puking Rupert disgorging Thatcher, a slavering Blair and finally a tiny infantile Cameron. We need people like Mark around to make sure this moment is seized, both from the inside and out.

Standing for Something: Life in the Awkward Squad. By Mark Seddon. Biteback, 2011.

This article originally appeared in Campaign Briefing, CLPD’s annual newsletter, available in full here.

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