Book review: Substance Not Spin

Written by Matt Foster on 22 August 2016 in Culture

Former Labour minister Nick Raynsford provides detailed and refreshingly frank reflections on his years in government.

Political memoirs are a bit of an acquired taste. For every genuinely insightful former minister spilling the beans on what really went on at the heart of government, there are countless others who use their freedom from office to machine-gun former rivals, rail against the bungling bureaucrats who held them back from true greatness — or treat readers to a chronological account of every ministerial visit they made to various box factories around the country.

Substance Not Spin, the new book by the former Labour minister Nick Raynsford, is an altogether different beast.

For a start, Raynsford — who stepped down as an MP last year after 22 years representing the people of Greenwich, Woolwich and Fulham — is much more interested in good government than good politics.

So while you won’t find any searing revelations about the psychodrama of the Blair-Brown years in 'Substance Not Spin', you will find detailed, refreshingly frank, reflections on what worked — and what didn’t — during the eight years in which Raynsford grappled with major public policy challenges. These included giving London an elected mayor, turning around what was one of Britain’s worst-performing councils, trying — and failing — to hand power from Whitehall to the north-east of England,  and reforming the fire service after a walkout by firefighters in the early 2000s.

While Raynsford is willing to challenge what he sees as some of the big shortcomings of modern government, Substance Not Spin is also peppered with praise for the civil servants he worked alongside.

And the former minister's memoirs shed light on the behind-the-scenes work on policies that didn't always make the headlines, but did make a difference. These range from policies on fire prevention to drastically cut the number of people who die in blazes every year, for example, or facing down the housebuilding industry to ensure that homes become more accessible for disabled people.

For Raynsford, being in government and getting the chance to put your plans into practice is clearly what politics is all about.



Matt Foster is deputy editor of Civil Service World. This article is extracted from his recent interview with Raynsford.


Photo by John Stillwell/PA Archive/Press Association Images

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