Outwardly, there are similarities between Fergus Quinn, a Labour defence minister who plays a central role in the byzantine plot of the book, A Delicate Truth, and Reid, a former Labour defence minister who joined the Young Communist League as a youth and remained one of Tony Blair’s most loyal lieutenants in government.
In the book, Quinn is the minister at the centre of a counter-terrorist operation involving a private defence contractor and a shady CIA operative with links to the US evangelical far-right. The plot is fiction. But the characterisation appears less so.
Le Carré describes the character thus: “Fergus Quinn MP, Fergie to the world, is a Scottish brawler, a self-styled bête intellectuale of the new Labour stable.” Elsewhere he describes him as “stocky and thick-necked”.
In another passage, one of the characters adds: “He beats the working-class drum, but he’s also ex-Catholic, ex-Communist and New Labour... Fergus hates ideology and thinks he’s invented pragmatism.”
Reid, born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, to working-class Catholic parents, was a Young Communist before moving towards Labour, and becoming an MP in 1987.
In the Blair government, he became known as Blair’s “Mr Fix-It”. George Galloway once noted that his former Labour colleague was, “not ideological. He weighs votes and decides who to eliminate.”
Le Carré spoke about his book and career at the Hay Literary Festival on Friday. And while he declined to be drawn on the inspiration behind Quinn, he singled Reid out for criticism over his role as Defence Secretary under Blair.
However, others have already spotted the connection. One said: “The junior minister is plainly meant to be some sort of John Reid character. But le Carré has no feel or understanding for the Labour Party and like much else in the book this character owes much more to conspiracy theorists than real life.”
The obvious likeness between Quinn and Reid will draw comparisons with The Ghost, the 2007 novel by Robert Harris which focused on a former Prime Minister called Adam Lang who is accused of war crimes – seen as a thinly disguised version of Blair.
Le Carré commented: “The book has been described as anti-American, as dismissive of the Islamist terror and subversive. For which I am very happy. I don’t feel anti-American but I am opposed to engaging in American wars where I don’t see the justification. I am terrified sometimes by the internationalisation of our own mysterious establishment.”