Blair’s A Journey: Memoirs of a Loser

September 14, 2010

Tony Blair’s A Journey: Memoirs of a Loser

by William Underhill (

George W. Bush honours his Brit Poodle

Thanks, Mongkut Bean for the video

Pity poor Tony Blair. This week sees the publication of his much heralded memoirs. By rights, this should be his big moment. Three years after leaving Downing Street, it’s the chance to restore his standing and answer the critics who haven’t forgiven his backing for the Iraq War. This is the opportunity to dwell on his achievements over a decade in office and furnish the ultimate insider’s view of how a master communicator managed to recreate his party as “New Labour” and win three successive elections. In a grand gesture, Blair’s promised to hand over his $7 million advance for A Journey, as well as royalties, to a charity for wounded servicemen. The historical assessment can begin.

Trouble is, it’s all a tad too late. His sidekicks have beaten him to the bookstores. This summer’s first must-read was the bestselling memoir of Peter Mandelson, a key adviser and sometime friend of both Blair and his successor Gordon Brown. And the unflattering picture that emerges from The Third Man and other accounts will be hard to dispel. Forget the idea of Tony Blair as the all-conquering charmer with the disarming trademark grin. This was a beleaguered prime minister, engaged in constant feuding with an internal opposition that he was too weak to confront.

The plain truth is that Blair’s Downing Street was never Camelot. It’s long been known that the relationship between Brown and Blair soon turned rocky. As chancellor, Brown yearned for the top job that he’d conceded to his friend Blair in a private pact. Even before Blair won his first election in 1997, the tensions were obvious to those in the inner circle. Consider the comment from Blair’s former spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, who this summer published Prelude to Power, the first in a set of diaries. Discussing Brown’s tendency to paranoia in 1996, Blair complains that it “was like dealing with a girlfriend who every time you looked at another woman thought you were having an affair with them.”

OK, much of this had already reached the press. Stories of the rift provided red meat for Westminster correspondents throughout the Blair years. So too did accounts of Brown’s uncertain temper; the hissy fits, the sulks, and the cell-phone throwing. But any such tales were routinely dismissed as journalistic tittle-tattle, notably by Campbell and Mandelson. Voters could choose between the word of the party spin-doctors or a scandal-loving press. Now the worst is confirmed—and by those who knew best. Says Sunder Katwala of the Labour think tank The Fabian Society: “Things that were implausibly denied at the time are just not deniable any more.”

In fact, the malevolent intensity of the feud seems worse even than reported, deepening as a frustrated Brown waited for Blair to make good his promise to pass on the leadership. With control over the purse strings, the chancellor was well placed to block a clutch of reforms, particularly to the public services, that Blair wanted to implement. (Arguably, it was Brown’s opposition to cutting back the role of the state that contributed to Britain’s later financial woes and his own eventual ouster at the polls this year.) According to Mandelson, the prime minister at various times described his chancellor as “mad, bad and dangerous,” “hair-raisingly difficult to work with” and “beyond redemption.”

Does the new detail matter? Certainly, historians may be intrigued by Blair’s apparent weakness in the face of his rival, ducking the challenge to sack his chancellor and risk splitting the party. At one point, according to Mandelson, he considered plans to curtail Brown’s power—code-named Operation Teddy Bear—by stripping the Treasury of much of its power, but the plan was dropped. The picture that emerges is of a leader of unquestionable charm and ability flawed by indecision, fear of confrontation, and a distaste for the drearier day-to-day aspects of governance. “Blair was a politician who shied away from conflict,” says history professor Kevin Theakston of Leeds University. “He liked to smooch and charm.” Just as dangerously, he could be dismissive of colleagues’ advice once his opinion was fixed: in Mandelson’s words, he developed “tunnel vision” in his commitment to the 2003 Iraq War, the issue that cost him his popularity with the British public.

The timing too is unfortunate as Labour prepares to elect a new leader next month. Four of the five candidates are former ministers, all tagged with either the Blairite or Brownite label. Juicy memoirs will freshen the public’s memories of the old internecine squabbles. In the words of Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley: “At this most dangerous time for Labour’s future, yet more headline-grabbing rehashed descriptions of the ghastliness seem to me to be self-serving and undisciplined.” Besides, that ghastliness is hard to square with the high moral tone that New Labour liked to affect. Brown liked to refer to his “moral compass.” Blair talked of a government that would be “whiter than white.” Whatever his memoirs add to the record, history may choose to remember the period in shades of gray.

11 thoughts on “Blair’s A Journey: Memoirs of a Loser

  1. There is more in Blair’s 700 page memoirs than his rivalry with his successor, Gordon Brown who Blair regarded as a brilliant Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    His justification for going to war in Iraq is difficult to accept and he failed to convince his people and others around the world. On Iraq he had this to stay: ” All I know is that I did what I thought was right. I stood by America when it needed standing . Together we got rid of a tyrant (Saddam). Together we fought uphold the Iraqis’ right to a democratic government”. George W wanted democracy wherever in the world and Blair went along with that.

    That said, his domestic agenda was impressive, but unfortunately, he will be remembered for endorsing Bush’s concept of regime change in Iraq. –Din Merican

  2. “.. regime change in Iraq.”

    What’s wrong with that? We want regime change here and now! And we are not even Kurds, marsh Arabs or Shia who were in the process of being exterminated by our own government. Which is worse – being invaded or being violated?

    Lies and deception may the tools of scoundrels and thieves; but let history judge the consequences of the Iraqi war, as the coffin lids are yet unclosed (some wise saying). Macrohistory has little use for emotional justice. The question should be whether Blair and Bush are still relevant. I think not.

  3. “What’s wrong with regime change?” Menyalak-er

    Nothing wrong if you think somebody coming into your house and managing your affairs for you is nothing wrong.

  4. The first caption should read loser meets a loser.
    The second caption should be From one butcher to another. You first.
    Blair was pelted with eggs during his book signing in London.
    Dont know whether i should buy the book now or wait when it’s only RM10 during BIG Wolf Book Sale.

    Mr Merican
    I bought Barry Wain’s The Maverick during the recent book sale at KLCC convention centre. It was only RM79.90 as compared to RM98.90 normal price.
    I wasnt lucky as you and Dr Kam to be photographed with him.
    Only got a foto of me in the long queue getting my coy signed by him.

    I dont know if I will still like Tun M after reading the book.
    But a cursory glance shows it’s nothing new that we do now know already. Guess my feeling remains.

  5. A sovereign state that allows murder, rape and destruction of her own citizens? In that case, i seriously think the US and NATO should have stayed out of the Balkans and left the Serbians to massacre the Bosnians.. Good thing they left Somalia and are no where near Darfur.

    Who actually does all that killing in Iraq? Iraqis themselves(Sunni vs Shia vs Kurds vs god knows what else.. )! It happens everyday until now. The invasion just unstoppered all these murderous instincts and hate due to segregation and entrenched preferential policies. What about the horrendous casualties in the Iran-Iraq war or Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait? Those are questions of sovereignity too.

    I am not doing apologetics for Bush-Blair, but the way that all these old animosities of the tribes who inhabit this corner of the world leaves much to be desired in terms of “Civilization”.

  6. Sayang Bangsa, always look at facts and use reason. I remember quoting Melanie Phillips, author of “The World Turned Upside Down” in one of my recent postings. For your benefit I quote her again:

    “Self-evident common sense appears to have been turned on its head. Reality seems to have been recast, with fantasies recalibrated as facts while demonstrable truths are dismissed as a matter of opinion at best…This isn’t just a question of disagreement over issues or policies. Those who dissent are vilified as beyond the pale, and many fear speaking up. The phenomenon has affected not just the political sphere, where ideology often crowds out facts, for even parts of the scientific domain have given in to irrationality.”

    That why I want Malaysians to look at the facts and weigh the evidence, think and then form their conclusions. Jangan tertaksub sangat kepada sesiapa pun because you end up being disappointed. It took me a long time to realise that Mahathir is only interested in himself and we the Malays are cannon fodder for his political ends and lust for power. Barry Wain did a lot of research, interviewed many people, and weighed all evidence before he wrote Malaysian Maverick.–Din Merican

  7. Watch “Batman Begins and The Dark Knight”. This they say represent what is Bush Jnr and what he fought. “There are thsoe who just wants to watch the world burn”

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