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Public Sector Informant : PSI - September
12 THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT [SEPTEMBER 2010] [BOOKS:SIMON HEFFER] A strange book by a most talented leader Tony Blair's memoirs The former British PM devotes much space to settling scores, but fails to tell a complete story It appears to be a book written in tune with all the most unpleasant and cynical marketing techniques of modern publishing . . . The gossip will amuse those who like such things but is hardly becoming of an elder statesman. Public partners, private rivals: Prime minister Tony Blair with his then chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, in 2005. In the summer of 2006, a year before Tony Blair resigned as prime minister, I was at a big sporting event in the company of various establishment figures en- joying some corporate hospitality. One of them, who I knew to be close to Blair, took me aside and asked what I was intending to do to help prevent the then chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, succeed- ing him. I was a little taken aback. I pointed out that I had no influence in the Labour Party, and that my news- paper, The Daily Telegraph, was a Conservative-aligned publication. I thought that if Brown had to be stopped, there were others closer to the scene of the proposed crime who could do it more effectively than I, or my newspaper, could. I first met Blair in the mid-1980s and got to know him quite well. I liked him and, if I ever had the chance to see him these days between his non-stop foreign travels, would un- questionably like him now. I never voted for him or his party, but I understood this: he was a politician of unusual talent, based on a serious intelligence and a powerful charisma. He was a man people on the right, like me, warmed to precisely because he was so much like us. When, in his rather peculiar me- moirs, he rails against Brown for having betrayed New Labour, he is saying Brown stopped governing Britain in a way that natural con- servatives did not find too offensive. Indeed, the Tory-voting middle clas- ses had a soft ride during Blair's 10 years in office, which is why it took the Conservative Party so long to recover. Blair's reputation is tainted by the Iraq war. Much is made of his failure to give, even now, an unequivocal apology for his policy of involving Britain in America's schemes in the Middle East. His memoirs do not admit to a policy of craven subservi- ence to the United States; nor do they own up to the deception of his own party and Parliament in the early spring of 2003, when the threat of attack from weapons of mass destruc- tion helped him get approval for our part in the war. Without the ''dodgy dossier'', the support in his own party to take this course would not have existed. Brit- ish lives would have been spared. The special relationship might have been fractured, but would have been repaired by now, with the US run by a man who was opposed to the war. It was, at the least, a grave miscalcu- lation by Blair; and we are still not sure whether it was a spectacular act of dishonesty. It is that, more than popular jealousy about his money- making activities, that tarnishes his place in history. I do not know that he has polished it by these memoirs. It is amusing that Blair admits in his book that he is a manipulator, not least because he is also adept at being manipulated. US president Bill Clinton did it, as did George W. Bush. The adulation Blair re- ceived (and still does receive) from American public opinion did it. Closer to home, Brown did it -- whether Blair likes to own up to that or not. His chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, a forceful personality and quite accurately described by the autobiographer as an ''alter ego'', did it monumentally. His wife Cherie did it. Blair was this mixture of massive self-confidence, massive ability and massive pliability. That, at least, is reflected accurately in his book. There have never been prime ministerial memoirs like this. They are not the let-me-tell-you-what- happened type of David Lloyd George or Winston Churchill, describing their role as politicians conducting wars. They are not the proper and rather boring type of Herbert Asquith, or James Callaghan, or Harold Wilson. In their occasional defensiveness they have the smell of Anthony Eden, but without Eden's intellectual hinterland. They fall short of the self-regard of Harold Macmil- lan's six volumes, but where they do project the ego of the writer do so without Macmillan's wit and elegance. They have none of the autism of Edward Heath's memoirs and none of the serious ideological fervour of Margaret Thatcher's. They are the memoirs of a man who tries to marry two conflicting impulses: wanting to be liked (that was always another of Blair's traits, and one that, for a time, he managed very success- fully) and wanting to settle scores. He has certainly settled the most majestic score of all, with the man he failed to stop succeeding him. The battle between them is still on, being fought now to decide their places in history. Brown's was already looking shaky, despite whatever he may come up with in the book about how-I- saved-the-world-in-the-banking- crisis that he is writing. Blair has followed the sage advice that there is no better time to kick a man than when he is down: and, my word, has he kicked him. Thatcher did not go for Heath in this way, nor vice-versa; nor Macmillan for Butler, nor Chur- chill for Chamberlain or Baldwin, nor Asquith for Lloyd George. The rules have been rewritten, perhaps because of the link between the projection of ego and earning potential. Blair is now ''out there'' more than ever. His book will continue to attract criti- cism, even derision (for its style as much as some of its content) and anger: but it will maintain his position as a leading celebrity and a big name. I applaud him for giving the proceeds to the Royal British Legion, and regret the reactions of those who belittle an act of char- ity. But the prominence of the assault on Brown will ensure the other cash regis- ters in Blair's life keep ringing for some time yet. It appears to be a book written in tune with all the most unpleasant and cynical market- ing techniques of modern publishing. Its tenor is often pure Sylvie Krin. The gossip in it will amuse those who like such things -- whether about Blair's liking a drink, his lusts for the late Princess of Wales, Diana, or the Queen's being ''haughty'' (a some- what off-colour observation for her former first minister to make, we should reflect) -- but is hardly becoming of an elder statesman. How much this is the result of an instruc- tion from his publishers to provide something that will make money, and how much it is the product of Blair's own personality, one cannot be sure. There is a titanic self-belief in him that has blossomed further since he left office. It may be fashionable to revile him here at home, but on much of the planet he is held in awe and respect. He sees how quickly the wheels came off Britain after he left office and reflects, with some justifi- cation, that things would not have reached such a pass had he stayed in charge. This absence of self-doubt allows him to forget his own culpa- bility in being manipulated by Brown; which, given the results of Brown's economic stewardship, is both considerable and damning. This feels like a book written after sessions with a psychotherapist, or a priest, or perhaps both. In my own personal experience of Blair, he is an honest man: or at least I give him the benefit of the doubt, still, that he is. When he was an opposition frontbencher, when he was leader of the opposition, and in the first few years of his time in Downing Street, we would meet several times a year, without anyone else present, and have candid conver- sations. I valued this courtesy, which is invaluable to anyone who tries to write about politics. On the morning after the 1992 election, which Labour had expected to win, I saw Blair being interviewed on television, looking utterly miser- able. I rang him straight afterwards and suggested lunch. Over a sand- wich and a bottle of white wine in his office he spoke frankly about the disappointment -- he had expected to be in Neil Kinnock's cabinet -- and said that if it happened again he would leave politics. Even though he had no intention of running in the leadership race that John Smith won, he outlined a clear vision for his party, to take it to the right, to connect it with the middle classes of the south of England, and to put Labour into power next time. His chance to do so came two years later and he grabbed it. It is, therefore, a shame that this gifted but compli- cated man has produced a book of such tone and, in places, such randomness, when the story he really has to tell is so significant: it has not been properly told yet. Simon Heffer is a columnist with The Daily Telegraph in Britain. A Journey, by Tony Blair, Random House, 2010. RRP: $59.95.
PSI - October