Sunday, 19 July 1998


Paul Anderson, review of Gordon Brown: The First Year in Power by Hugh Pym and Nick Kochan (Bloomsbury, £16.99), Tribune, 19 July 1998

Try as I might, I cannot for the life of me work out why Hugh Pym and Nick Kochan have written this book. Gordon Brown is certainly an important political figure — or at least he seems to be right now. There is perhaps room in the market for a book-length study of his political career and economic policies that is more serious and more critical than the hagiography by Paul Routledge published earlier this year. But Pym and Kochan have not even attempted to produce such a book. This is an account, pure and simple, of the Iron Chancellor’s first year in power, only slightly more distant from its subject than Routledge’s tome.

It gives a reasonably competent narrative of events, and there is a lot of detail on Brown’s seriousness of character, his obsession with work and his staff — in particular his chief adviser, Ed Balls, and his spin-doctor, Charlie Whelan. If you missed the kite-flying, wavering and intra-Cabinet strife last autumn over whether or not Britain would join the single European currency in the first wave, you can read all about them here. The same goes for the row between Brown and Tony Blair sparked off by Routledge’s biography.

If you have been reading the newspapers for the past year, however, you won’t get much of substance from Pym and Kochan that you don’t know already — though you might find yourself getting extraordinarily irritated with their unyieldingly breathless prose and their addiction to hyperbole. Here, for example, is their account of the drafting of the Chancellor’s Commons statement on the single currency that finally brought to an end the weeks of uncertainty and farce last autumn:

Brown’s familiar speech-writing team was ordered to report for duty. Dr Colin Currie cleared his desk at his Edinburgh hospital and caught the first shuttle down to London. As usual he was put up by Geoffrey Robinson at his flat above the Grosvenor House Hotel, but there was no time to enjoy the Paymaster-General’s five-star hospitality. Currie rolled up his sleeves and joined Balls, Miliband and Whelan in the Chancellor’s private office. In all their years crafting prose from Brown’s machine-gun bursts of ideas this speech was the most difficult. Brown as always paced the room, churning over the momentous challenge before him, striving to channel his thoughts. As Currie remembered it, ‘Gordon is at his best when he is in trouble — his back was really against the wall at that time.’ The speech writers were chivvied and chided as they struggled to capture the ideas flying around them...

This stuff would be just about forgivable if Pym and Kochan stopped occasionally to explain where Brown’s policy ideas have come from or if they rounded off their narrative with a critical prognosis of New Labour economics. They do neither. As with Derek Draper’s asinine Blair’s 100 Days last year, it’s not worth buying this book if you’ve already read the extracts in the Sunday Times.

Friday, 3 July 1998


New Times, 3 July 1998

The current fighting in Kosovo is the worst Europe has seen since the end of the war in Bosnia in 1995. A substantial part of the long-suffering Albanian population of the province has risen in reaction to a brutal campaign to suppress separatism by Yugoslav – which means Serbian – police and army units.

The Albanians constitute nine-tenths of the population in Kosovo and are overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Serbia, which has treated them abominably ever since Slobodan Milosevic's rise to the Serbian presidency more than a decade ago. Milosevic effectively turned Kosovo into a Serbian colony, destroying the autonomy given it by the Yugoslav constitution. Albanians were fired en masse from public sector jobs, denied education in their own language and routinely subjected to police harassment.

For years the Albanian resistance to Milosevic's regime was resolutely non-violent. But in the past couple of years, support for the Kosovo Liberation Army has grown dramatically – not least because of Milosevic's decision earlier this year to send in Serbian forces to burn and shell villages in areas where the KLA had a presence. According to newspaper reports, the KLA now controls a quarter of the province's territory.

It is clear that there is no way of avoiding a bloodbath unless Milosevic withdraws his forces and the Kosovans are granted the national self-determination they so desire. The international community should be threatening Milosevic with dire consequences if he refuses to let the Kosovans free.

Yet such a course of action has not even been considered by the six major powers in the Contact Group that are attempting to resolve the crisis. In the short term, they argue, there must be a cease-fire and the Serbian forces must be withdrawn. In the longer term, they go on, Milosevic and the moderate Kosovo Albanian leaders, particularly Ibrahim Rugova, the head of the Democratic League of Kosovo, should negotiate a form of autonomy for Kosovo within the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Independence is out of the question.

Of course, a cease-fire and withdrawal of the Serbian forces would both be welcome – and Nato should be prepared to intervene militarily if the Serbian attacks continue. But the idea that autonomy for Kosovo inside Yugoslavia could provide a stable solution to the crisis is almost laughable. The Kosovo Albanians know from bitter experience that the Serbs could end such an arrangement by force, just as they did before. Not even the most moderate Kosovo Albanian leader will consider anything less than independence.

So why the major powers' commitment to autonomy? One honourable reason is concern for the position of the minority Serbian population in Kosovo. But that is not the whole story. The members of the Contact Group are also stubbornly attached to the idea that Milosevic is a man with whom they can do business; and Russia in particular is opposed to any redrawing of maps that might give succour to its own separatists. As in the first phase of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the major powers have failed to recognise that the status quo or a variant on it is no longer a viable option. Let's hope that in the case of Kosovo this doesn't have effects as disastrous as the delayed recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992.