There is a special place in hell for Tony Blair, and it has nothing to do with the Iraq War. His greatest sin is his autobiography, A Journey. It’s not just the clumsy writing. It’s not even his ability to gloss over the toughest of facts that concerns me. It’s the sex. No one needed to know about his “animal instinct”. No one asked if he was “exhilarated, afraid and determined in equal quantities.” But he told us anyway. And that’s where it all went wrong.
Beyond a Fringe: Tales from a Reformed Establishment Lackey is mercifully short on shagging. But what it lacks in love making it more than makes up for with wit. Mitchell writes with energy and humour, and even a healthy dose of self-awareness. He is candid about his poor judgement on Boris Johnson, but admittedly less forthcoming when it comes to what many see as his blinkered views on Rwanda.
There is plenty to be said about Cambridge, where the future Member of Parliament first experienced what it’s like to be perpetually surrounded by entitled dimwits. And while Mitchell’s communist love interest may make it seem like Cambridge hasn’t changed one jot (after all, every other student in the Seeley Library sports a beret and a Lenin badge), the university Mitchell describes is starkly different to Cambridge today. Those graduating had little fear of unemployment, and the Conservatives were the dominant student political party. But some things never change. “Magdalene College to go coed – grammar schoolboys to be admitted”, the grandee quips.
Mitchell is at his best when he discusses foreign aid. He avoids the self-importance of the Alan Duncan diaries, all the while making clear that his support for foreign aid mattered. David Cameron may have been the one to hug a husky, but it was Mitchell who championed the aid brief in both opposition and government.
Beyond a Fringe may not be bursting with salacious scoops – Sasha Swire is the place for that – but it is an exceptionally enjoyable and insightful read, something of a rarity among political memoirs. From tales of “Top Hats and Dildos” to “Whipping and Stripping”, Mitchell’s autobiography is fast establishing itself as a classic of the genre.
A highly deserved 5/5.