Chris Mullin (politician)

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Chris Mullin
File:Chris Mullin MP.jpg
Member of Parliament
for Sunderland South
In office
12 June 1987 – 12 April 2010
Preceded by Gordon Bagier
Succeeded by Bridget Phillipson
(Houghton and Sunderland South)
Julie Elliott
(Sunderland Central)
Personal details
Born (1947-12-12) 12 December 1947 (age 72)
Chelmsford, Essex, England
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Alma mater University of Hull

Christopher John Mullin (born 12 December 1947) is a British Labour politician and diarist who was Member of Parliament (MP) for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010. In the 1980s, Chris Mullin led a campaign that resulted in the release of the Birmingham Six, victims of a miscarriage of justice. He was also the author of the novel A Very British Coup (1982) which was later adapted for television.


Journalist and activist

Mullin was educated at St Joseph's College, a Roman Catholic boarding independent school for boys (now co-educational) in the town of Ipswich in Suffolk, followed by the University of Hull,[1] where he studied Law. He joined the Labour Party after his politics shifted leftward in response to the Vietnam War.[2] Mullin stood unsuccessfully In the 1970 general election against Liberal Leader Jeremy Thorpe in North Devon.[3] By 1980 he was an executive member of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee.[4] As such he was an active supporter of Tony Benn when, in 1981, disregarding an appeal from party leader Michael Foot to abstain from inflaming the party's divisions, Benn stood against the incumbent Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Denis Healey. In addition Mullin edited two collections of Benn's speeches and writings Arguments for Socialism (1979) and Arguments for Democracy (1981). He was widely regarded as a leading 'Bennite', a highly influential movement within the Labour Party in the early 1980s.

Before being elected as an MP, Mullin was a journalist, training with the Daily Mirror on its programme in the South West, working for the Granada current affairs programme World in Action and was pivotal[5] in securing the release of the Birmingham Six, a long-standing miscarriage of justice. Mullin was portrayed in the TV Movie Who Bombed Birmingham ? also known as The Investigation : Inside a Terrorist Bombing by John Hurt ( 1940 – ), which also starred Martin Shaw. He was also editor of the Tribune newspaper (1982–84), where he provided effective support for Tony Benn. In addition, he sought to turn Tribune into a workers' cooperative, something that irked the shareholders. His novel A Very British Coup was published in 1982. It portrays the destabilisation of a left wing British government by the forces of the Establishment. The novel was adapted for television by Alan Plater, with substantial alterations to the plot, and screened in 1988. It is credited as having inspired the Channel 4 drama Secret State screened in 2012.[6]

Parliamentary career

After unsuccessfully fighting North Devon in 1970 and Kingston-upon-Thames in February 1974, Mullin was first elected MP for Sunderland South in 1987, and was returned at every subsequent election until 2005. He did not seek re-election in 2010.

Mullin was on the left of the party and his selection met with the disapproval of Neil Kinnock, at the time the Leader of the Labour Party. In the late 1980s, Mullin was frequently targeted by the right-wing, tabloid press for his left-wing views. Headlines included, '20 things you didn't know about crackpot Chris', 'Loony Lefty MP', and 'Is this the most odious man in Britain?' Mullin recounted this in a speech to Parliament in 1997:

'When I was first elected in 1987, The Sun published photographs across a full page of what it called "Kinnock's Top Ten Loony Tunes": I was No. 8. If my memory serves me right, at least one of those who was higher than I in that top 10 has been appointed to the Government—I shall mention no names.I now keep my Sun headlines framed on the wall of my study at home. There is "Mr. Odious". Yes, I once briefly displaced my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) as the most odious man in Britain—the highest honour that The Sun can confer. There is "Loony MP backs bomb gang",which was given a full front page, and "Twenty things you didn't know about crackpot Chris". I did not know most of them either. "Poor Sunderland", wrote Lord Chapple in the Daily Mail on hearing the news of my selection in 1985: "First its football team is relegated and now comes even worse news. "Well, I am sorry to say that our football team has just been relegated again, but we do not need any sympathy from Lord Chapple. Sunderland has been through hard times in the past, and has survived; as before, we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and come out fighting. Sunderland looks to the future, not the past, and we shall soon be back in the premier league'.

His constituency was the first to declare in every general election between 1992 and his standing down in 2010 (1992, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010).[7] Mullin joked about being the UK's sole MP for a few minutes and muses about forming a government.[8]

Chris Mullin first visited Cambodia in 1973, and again in 1980; in 1989 and 1990, he was outspoken on the British Government's record in Cambodia, being a leading voice in some of the first protracted debates on Britain's provision of military support to the Khmer Rouge, and attributing increasing public interest in the issue to the documentary films of John Pilger.[9]

He was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Republic Group,[10] Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Vietnam and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cambodia, Member of the Home Affairs Select Committee (1992–97), Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee (1997–99).

In government

Despite his criticism of the government, he replaced Alan Meale as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DETR in July 1999 before taking over from George Foulkes as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development in 2001.[11]

He returned to government in June 2003, as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, but after the 2005 election again returned to the backbenches. Before the Labour victory of 1997, Mullin had attained a reputation for campaigning on behalf of victims of injustice and opposition to the curtailing of civil rights.[citation needed] His campaigning stance had to change while a minister because of the collective responsibility of government. His vote against the government's proposal for 90-days detention without trial for terrorist suspects, as one of 49 Labour rebels,[12] seemed to indicate a re-emergence of his civil libertarian instincts. He criticised the Labour government's commitment to its expressed policy on Africa.

Expenses claims

During the UK Parliamentary expenses scandal Mullin, one of the lowest claimers,[13] provided some comic relief when it was revealed that the television at his second home is a very old black-and-white model with a £45 TV licence.[14]

Leaving parliament

On 10 May 2008, the Sunderland Echo site reported that Mullin had decided to stand down at the 2010 general election.[15]

Personal life

Mullin was born to a Scottish Protestant father and an Irish Catholic mother, both of whom worked for Marconi. Before university he attended St Joseph's College, Ipswich, a private Catholic boarding school.[2]

Mullin's wife, Ngoc,[11] is Vietnamese and they have two daughters, Sarah (born 1989) and Emma (born 1995).[16]

On 28 January 2011, his alma mater Hull University, awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Law, in recognition of his achievements.[1] In December 2011, Newcastle University awarded Chris Mullin an honorary degree. Mullin now teaches a module at Newcastle University called 'The Rise and Fall of New Labour'. He was also awarded an honorary degree by the University of Essex in 2011.[17]


Mullin published three volumes of widely praised diaries[18] that described the progress of "New Labour" from the death of the party leader John Smith in 1994 to the 2010 general election: A View From the Foothills (2009) (recounting Mullin's ministerial career from 1999–2005), Decline & Fall: Diaries 2005–2010 (2010) and A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994–1999 (2011). Among others things, Mullin recorded his gradual disillusion with the Labour Party's left-wing and his rather reluctant support, after Smith's death, for fellow North-Eastern MP Tony Blair (whom he dubbed "The Man") as the person most likely to lead the party back to power. He admired Blair as a leader and for his capacity to create a broad-based Labour Party. In spite of Iraq, Mullin remains an admirer of Blair, viewing him as a leader of exceptional ability.[19] Peter Riddell of the Times suggested that A View From the Foothills deserved to become "the central text for understanding the Blair years",[20] while Decline & Fall, in which Mullin (by then a backbencher again) expressed wry consternation at the way the government operated under Blair's successor Gordon Brown, were commended for their independence of outlook, revealing, as Jenni Russell put it in the Sunday Times, Mullin's "readiness to like people who don't echo his politics".[21]

The three volumes were adapted for the stage by Michael Chaplin as A Walk on Part. It premiered at the Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne in May 2011, and moving to the Soho Theatre in London.[22][23] Mullin regularly gives talks on his diaries, politics and the rise and fall of New Labour.



  • A Very British Coup (1982)
  • The Last Man Out of Saigon (1986)
  • The Year of the Fire Monkey (1991)


As editor

  • Tony Benn Arguments for Socialism (1979)
  • Tony Benn Arguments for Democracy (1981)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "University confers honorary degrees on five inspirational people". University of Hull. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Roth, Andrew (16 March 2001). "Chris Mullin". Retrieved 14 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The Times, 17 June 1970; p. 10 col C
  4. "Group letter says it wants wider franchise", The Times 21 October 1980
  5. "Chris will prove tough to follow". Sunderland Echo. 12 May 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Channel 4 – Secret State". Channel 4. 15 November 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Sunderland Leads the Way", Daily Record, 6 May 2005
  8. Chris Mullin (2009). A View From The Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin. ISBN 1-84668-223-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Debates of the House of Commons (HC Deb) 26 October 1990 vol 178 cc640-94 640 et. seq., cf Digital Hansard
  11. 11.0 11.1 Chris Mullin A view from the Foothills extract from The Mail on Sunday, 22 February 2009
  12. "People > MPs > Labour > Chris Mullin > How they voted". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Big-spending Bill – All the local MPs' expenses". Sunderland Echo. 19 June 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Martin Beckford (20 May 2009). "MPs' expenses: Chris Mullin watches a 30-year-old black and white television". The Daily Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 23 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Sunderland MP to quit". Sunderland Echo. 10 May 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Mullin (2011) A Walk-On Part, Cast
  17. "Honorary Graduates – Profile: Chris Mullin". University of Essex. Retrieved 14 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. See, for example, The Oldie Review of Books, October 2011
  19. Mullin (2011) A Walk-On Part
  20. Quoted on jacket of paperback edition of A View From the Foothills (2010)
  21. Quoted on jacket of A Walk-On Part (2011)
  22. Barr, Gordon (12 May 2011). "Preview: A Walk-On Part, Live Theatre". Evening Chronicle.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Fraine, Laura (13 May 2011). "A Walk On Part". The Stage.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Gordon Bagier
Member of Parliament for Sunderland South
Succeeded by
seat abolished
Media offices
Preceded by
Richard Clements
Editor of Tribune
Succeeded by
Nigel Williamson