Oh dear. The thesis of Liz Davies's memoir of her two years on Labour's National Executive Committee is that the party has changed for the worse since she first entered Labour politics in the 1980s. Counter-intuitive pieces are often the most stimulating of all. But it is surely not counter-intuitive so much as plain warped to look back at 1979-87 as glory days in Labour's history.
It is difficult to see who could gain anything from reading this puerile book, written in the sneering tone familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to have had to do battle with Davies's political bedfellows in the days when they made the party unelectable. In sum, it is an account, based on her contemporaneous notes, of what happened at NEC meetings. But since the thrust of her complaint is correct - that the NEC is no longer of any real importance - who cares what one nonentity of a member said to another? Sad political obsessives, myself included, perhaps. But even I found myself drifting off at yet another whinge or mind-numbing account of who was, and who was not, put on to a subcommittee.
This book did, however, have one use: it reminded me that we should all be grateful that the days are over when attendance at a Labour Party meeting meant a series of verbal, and sometimes physical, assaults by droning Marxists and assembled Trots.
Through the Looking Glass has been sold (to the Guardian, no less) as an expose, a damning indictment of new Labour's control-freakery. If only it were so. There is a powerful case to be made by someone, but Davies's snarling contempt for any Labour politician who is not a member of her own coterie blinds her to reality and destroys her case. She sets the tone straight away, describing how sitting at the top table at her first NEC meeting were Tony Blair, John Prescott, the then party chairman, Richard Rosser, and the then general secretary, Tom Sawyer. They were "positioned against the west window, and the four men sat with their backs to the setting sun. Facing them, the rest of us could see little but shadowy faces, surrounded by bright aureoles. It seemed that Millbank's obsession with stage management extended even into private meetings of the party's elected ruling body." In the looking-glass world of Liz Davies, a top table at one end of a room, and the sun shining through the window, temporarily blinding others in the room, is evidence of political control-freakery. To the rest of us, it is simply the sun shining through the window.
One can only assume that Davies's bias is responsible for the inaccuracies that riddle her book, which render her useless even as a guide to events. After her own experience in being barred from standing as a Labour candidate, in Leeds North East, she rants against Millbank's baleful influence in drawing up the shortlist for some parliamentary selections, citing the contest to succeed Tony Benn in Chesterfield as a prime example.
Helen Seaford, with six nominations, was not put on the shortlist by the NEC panel, "which had preferred several other candidates who had received fewer nominations . . . One of these was Liz Kendall, Harriet Harman's researcher." Kendall might as well have been an urban planner for Pol Pot, so damning is the association with Harman in the poisonous world of the hard left.
The only problem with Davies's Millbank conspiracy theory is that she is plain wrong. Kendall - not a "researcher" but a special adviser, and long since having stopped working for Harman when she sought the selection - received seven nominations, one more than Seaford. Keynes once remarked: "When the facts change, I change my mind." Like most of her colleagues, when the facts do not support Davies, she apparently makes up her own.
Even where she has a case, Davies fluffs it. There is an indictment to be written of Labour's naive attitude to big business and some of its unsavoury benefactors. But by damning any contact with business, and by attacking everyone involved with the party's fundraising, she destroys the credibility of her argument.
The party, she writes in horror, made £1.5m from its party conference. Presumably, she would prefer Labour to lose money. She attacks Professor Keith Ewing, appointed to chair a review into fundraising, as a Millbank stooge. Anyone who has ever had contact with Ewing knows that you would have to go a long way to find anyone less of a stooge. She ends by describing how, from February this year, all donations of more than £5,000 must be identified, as if this was a ruling imposed on the party by some deus ex machina (Labour "has lost . . . the opportunity to seize the moral high ground from the Tories"), rather than the result of legislation brought in by Labour and opposed by the Conservatives.
This is a horrible little book, which adds nothing to an important debate about Labour's direction. We can see the true extent of Davies's loyalty and commitment to the Labour Party from how, having realised her form of politics has lost the argument, she has simply run away and resigned.
Stephen Pollard is a political journalist and broadcaster