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Marr right that TB book like no other prime ministerial memoir

Posted on 1 September 2010 | 9:09am

Fair play to Andrew Marr for giving a more rounded view of Tony Blair’s book than will come over from the screaming headlines. What is coming through from the small number of people who have actually read the book is a sense of its richness, its capacity to surprise, its candour and breadth.

Though A Journey is bound to be a best-seller, far more people will read and hear about it than will read it. And though the screaming headlines may be justified by concentrating on one part of the book at one time, in a memoir as large and significant as that written by a former prime minister, it really is important to see that broader, fuller context.

So Marr, who has both read the book and interviewed TB on its contents for a BBC programme going out tonight, was right to point to that broader context, not least in saying that TB at times ‘bends over backwards’ to be fair to GB. It was a complex relationship and this is a complex story, which TB does not try to simplify.

So much has already been said about the TB-GB relationship, and in many ways TB’s version confirms a well known outline – their extraordinary closeness early on, the difficulties arising from TB becoming leader when John Smith died, the big achievements often made together, a lot of tension, not always creative, then the final, rather sad and destructive period which led to TB’s departure from office. But it is important to remember the good along the way as well as the unpleasantness.

Andrew Marr was right too to point up the self-revelatory intimacy of this book,  from his admission of fear at becoming PM in the opening pages, his terror of PMQs, his manipulative tendencies, his emotional ups and downs, his agonising over Iraq, his worries that he was occasionally drinking too much (that DID come as a surprise, though as John Reid pointed out this morning, where he comes from, budgies drink more than TB was).

Most of all A Journey gives a very good sense of what it was like to have been Prime Minister through an extraordinary period of history. There are some really important insights in there, about leadership, about the changes taking place in the world, about the characters and themes shaping them.

I see from the Guardian online coverage – they too had had prior access to the book – that one of their headlines concerned TB’s reference to my having ‘great clanking balls’ which produced some funny stuff on twitter last night.

As with GB, so with many others, me included, you can go to one part of the book and find praise and flattery (I think TB’s view of great clanking balls goes in that category) go to another and tougher assessments are made. Tony Livesey on Five Live asked me if I was hurt that he had described me as a ‘mad axeman’ (he had by then only read the Telegraph). If memory serves me right TB was referring to a period long after I had left, when the media were even worse than when I had been there, and suggested had I still been in Number 10 I’d have gone at them like a mad axeman. Figure of speechish rather than AC is a mad axeman… I think.

He has some very nice things to say along the way. But, as Andrew Marr also rightly pointed out, this is very much his story and, he always was the main man, whatever the different strands of advice and pressure going in his direction. The reaction his book is generating confirms him as Britain’s biggest political figure since Thatcher, and the responses he provokes are if anything more intense. One thing I am sure of – he has written a more interesting memoir than Maggie’s.

— one small point to make. Some are trying to say that TB deliberately timed this to coincide with the Labour leadership ballot papers going out. I know for a fact he didn’t, and would rather it could have been published on a different day. But the date was set before the leadership timetable was – and bear in mind it is being published in many countries and several languages simultaneously, which is not that easy to unplug.

— final point to broadcasters asking for interviews. Not doing any right now.

  • Brid Beast

    “The reaction his book is generating confirms him as Britain’s biggest political figure since Thatcher”

    Erm the only PM between Blair and Thatcher was Major – hardly a colossus. So he’s the biggest of two.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Sean O´Grady wrote in the Independent that A Journey might follow an old template – promise everything but reveal very little.
    Judging by what I have read from the Guardian this morning, this is not the case with Tony Blair´s book.
    I guess it will get a mixed reception, but so far no one has gone as far Robert Harris when he reviewed Maggie´s volume…

  • Grayscale100

    Bigger. Not biggest.

  • Vocal

    TB is responsible for more people dying than other leader since the Second World War and should face trial for war crimes.

  • Anonymous

    Actually Attlee, of blessed memory, was probably responsible for more deaths by agreeing to the hasty partition of India.

  • Em

    I’m just really tired of people (including Blair) ganging up on Brown. It’s beyond boring. The man is gone. Leave him alone.

    I’ll never understand TB’s position on Iraq. It’s untenable. I prefer Dick Cheney. We all know he went to Iraq to make money for Halliburton. With TB, I’m still utterly baffled. Was it just for the glory? Did he think he was going to ride on top of a tank with a long scarf flowing in the wind?

    No regrets re Iraq but he regrets the partial ban on fox hunting. Unbelievable.

    I’m interested in the book but I’m not sure I want to read something that’s going to make me angry. Life’s too short.

  • Mark Wright

    I think there are more less talented people in this country than there are talented ones. And when talent does come along all the other less talented ones try their best to knock them down for fear it would show up their own inadequacies.

    This is the story of TB’s life.

    You only have to look at those gathered around GB (Nick Brown, Ed Balls, Charlie Wheelan etc) to see what a bunch of no hopers they were. GB was NOT best served by his henchmen and in his own way was as hindered by his courtiers as TB was.

    In the end after relentless pressure TB gave up and left them to it. Sometimes one just has to let people make their mistakes and find out for themselves.

    The results speak for themselves.

  • Jacquie R

    The timing of the publication of Blair’s book and his implicit endorsement of David Miliband, I can live with. What I find impossible to stomach is his implicit support for the coalition’s economic policies. This is wrong on so many levels, I wouldn’t know where to start.

    • Fishbulb

      Fair point, but Blair is right to say that the deficit needs to be dealt with. If Labour had won the election, they would have been forced to make similarly tough choices; this is what Blair is driving at when he talks about the Coalition’s economic policies. The situation demands realism and the next Labour leader needs to come up with a credible approach to tackling the defiicit.

  • Testyfly

    Please breakdown the numbers for us how many died in the 10 days of the war and how many died at the hands of the insurgents?
    I think Armadinajan has more blood on his hands than Bush or Blair.

  • BWW

    Love him or loathe him no student of modern British politics can fail to be fascinated at Tony Blair’s account of his time in No.10.
    It will be interesting to see how today’s book launch plays out with the candidates for Labour leader and TB’s ascertion that GB moved the party away from New Labour.

  • I am not going to make a comment about the content of Tony Blair’s book until I have actually read it…the whole of it.
    I feel that it would be wrong and narrow-minded of me to judge any book by reading a few printed excerpts.I always prefer to read what hasn’t been “chosen” rather than what has tbh.I like to know the context.
    I also believe that it would be wrong of me to join in and fuel the perpetration of the chain of vitriolic and frenzied attack that Tony Blair is receiving at this time.He is an ex P.M. that has written things from his own personal view-point.As I don’t know him personally I can’t judge him.As I don’t personally know the other people that he refers to in his book I cannot judge those people or his relationships with them.I can only form some sort of an opinion based on what he writes..that doesn’t mean that my opinion will prove anything to be right or wrong.
    I am looking forward to reading the book in the hope that it will provide me with a little insight into Tony Blair and his life at No10 nothing more nothing less.

  • Mollusc B

    May the publication of this book serve as the last post for the most self important, self serving and destructive government this country has ever had.

  • Bethany

    All Tony Blair was concerned about was himself. Hence the emphasis on PR spin and propoganda. It would be nice if for once Alastair Campbell accepted that the conduct of the inner cabal at No. 10 during the New Labour years was despicable.

  • Miriam Rice

    I am a huge supporter of Tony Blair and back his actions over Iraq. I am an active member of the Labour Party and have always had a deep admiration for Alistair Campbell too.

    However, I must express my dismay over Tony’s comments about fox-hunting. I know I should not be too rash as the newspapers are quoting from a translation of his book, although the only bit I can agree with is that he admits he is ignorant on the subject.

    This minority pastime doesn’t actually control the number of foxes as few are killed and foxes are introduced into areas in order that people can enjoy the killing. It is also hugely expensive to kill a single fox.

    What Tony does not understand is that fox-hunting is actually devastating for many people living in the countryside. Packs of dogs run across peoples’ gardens and private property and tear beloved pets such as kittens apart in front of their owner’s eyes. Children are terrified as they innocently play in the garden. Property such as hedges and fences are destroyed forcing people to stay at home on the days of the hunt in order that they can put all the constant repairs in place straight away. Whilst some now believe that chickens are safe from foxes, the dogs leave other animals such as goats so terrorised that they become less productive. And what about the poor dogs that have been encouraged to run across roads getting hit by cars or even electrocuted by running across live electric lines? How could Tony otherwise support such disgraceful things, but be ignorant?

    The ban on fox-hunting was a great Labour achievement and needs to be tighter and more effective. What Tony also does not realise is that we had a moral upper hand over the Tories during the election because of the ban and the opposition to hunting from most Labour candidates. Many of us inside the party and other organisations worked very hard to win the support of humanitarians and animal lovers who had otherwise deserted Labour because we could prove we were better than the Tories. Now those voters may flock to the Green Party, leaving us less likely to win elections, especially as you are unlikely to win over the hunters in return.

    For the first time ever, I say that Tony, you should feel ashamed of yourself.

  • Brid Beast

    Yes indeed, sorry about that grammatical lapse.

  • Mark Wright

    I agree that Brown that was saddled with an overwhelmingly negative media narrative against him. However, when those who work with him express an opinion I don’t think that is ‘ganging up’ as such.

    What was Blair’s premature announcement to step down about if not the result of many in the GB camp ‘ganging up’ on him?

    This is politics where ego is often equal to idealism when it comes to decisions made.

  • Jacquie R

    Blair went further than saying we need to deal with the deficit. He criticisized Labour attacks on “Tory cutters and Lib Dem collaborators” (which AC targets frequently on this blog.) Cutting public spending is not the only way of reducing the deficit, but it is the Tory way.

  • Yourname

    I was against the Iraq War, as was a lot of people. But it wasn`t a “war-crime,” as a lot of nutters are saying. The Daily Mail which has always hated Blair, says he should be thrown in the Hague. And a soldier on television compared Blair to Charles Taylor. Charles Taylor! who had child soldiers, raped women and children chopped arms off and he compared him to him! And just why was invading Iraq a war-crime? We conquered a quarter of the planet and believe me, it wasn`t pretty. Were we war-criminals?

  • Mark Wright

    I’m not quite sure that’s what he said Jacquie. I believe TB summised that attacks on ‘Tory cutters and Lib Dem collaborators’ alone would not be enough to return Labour to power. He’s right. People need something to vote for, not just against. Labour needs to present a vision, an idea that connects with the electorate. It was true in 1997 and it remains true to this day.

    As he said, the Tories have many options currently at their disposal. Labour needs to define itself, and define itself quickly, under their new leader if it’s to stand a chance of winning the next election.

    This is do-able with the right leader, the right vision and a unified party behind them. Although I wonder whether the thirst for a return to power is quite there yet to ensure all three at present.

  • Reg M

    Not doing interviews? ITV, Newsnight, phrr?

  • stevo

    last night showed once again that TB is a political giant-and throws once again-into relief that Call me Dave and Clegg the Eton fag are pygmies-although to say such is an isult to pygmies! The fact that the Daily Hate and the Excess-indeed the Guardian-are so outraged is a victory for TB and all those with the ability to read beyong the self serving headlines..

  • s chapman

    Not doing any interviews , I heard you couldn’t get on quick enough Alastair.I note you are trying to spin the positives of the TB-GB relationship on here and on TV.The negatives far outweigh the positives simply because thats what people remember most and is more current.This is even more true as the leadership contest is drawn on those battle lines…old vs new.
    The telling thing for me in his TV interview was his comment on the options open to the Tories….I just have never known a political party having options as he describes and to me means that Labours task to get back to Govt is enormous…possibly a generational task.
    P.S How absolutely predictable , a thing I would have bet my life on that you think it’s a better book than Baroness Thatcher’s….you chimp.

  • Richard

    The lies, the manipulation, the back stabbing and the spin which sold New Labour to the public finally exposed….by your old boss. Like the bull terrier protecting the drug dealer, your role defined, constantly attacking anything which moved. This gave Bliar the room he needed to keep convincing tthe pygmies around him that “Power at all costs” was the strap line.

    ………and two jags is still on side. “The working class can kiss my arse……”

  • Jacquie R

    I don’t disagree, Mark, but one has to consider what kind of ammunition Blair is giving the Tories. Their chair, Sayeeda Warsi, has now said, “The coalition .. is winning the argument on cutting the deficit .. Now even Tony Blair has backed it.” And, yes, he supports the increase in VAT but not higher rates of income tax for top earners. I’m afraid Tony is a Tory.

  • Mike

    I must agree with Alastair. As far as modern politics goes, it was certainly the most candid, honest, and plain useful account that I have ever read.

    I think Blair is a truly great man, and am humbly thankful for what he (and his team) accomplished for our country. It was with some emotion that I read the justification for his decision regarding Iraq, which incidentally, now clearly explained, I completely buy into. Here’s a man struggling to explain to an increasingly unreasonable majority of the public why he took the decision he did. If you are a doubter who feels that his motivation was anything other than just and in the national interest, I urge you to read that section and at least reconsider. I strongly feel we owe him our support.