Every British Prime Minister I can think of has written his or (in one case only) her memoirs. None have provoked quite the pre-publication antagonism generated in advance of Tony Blair’s autobiography, A Journey, which is out tomorrow.
Stand back from the venom for one moment, and ask yourself: would it not be rather odd if a former Prime Minister did NOT at some time write a memoir? Yet for this particular Prime Minister, we have people, among them artists and authors, who would describe themselves as liberals, and doubtless rush to the barricades whenever freedom of speech is under attack, attacking bookstores who have the temerity to want to stock and sell a book written by a man who won three general elections, one of them after the war in Iraq which is the single biggest contributor to the ‘anger’ which these people say justifies the hatred.
Yesterday I had a call from a friend in Ireland – a country north and south that has benefited hugely from TB’s Premiership – saying that the announcement that he was planning to do a couple of events there had sparked off similarly ott expressions of disgust that he should be writing a book and promoting it in their country. This is a form of madness, I would suggest.
Further alarming symptoms were shown by the response to his decision – on any reckoning a hugely generous one – to donate all the proceeds of his book to the Royal British Legion. Of course he knew that in some quarters of our media, the reaction would be negative, as it is to anything and everything he ever did, does or will do. But as Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times points out in a rare commonsensical piece – rare not for him that is, but rare for the subject of TB – the venom of some was way over the top.
Part of the problem is simply that a media that shouts and shouts and shouts feels it always has to shout louder for anyone to take any notice at all. So hatred becomes a stock in trade, and the expressions of it have to become more and more extreme. The right-wing media hate TB principally because he led Labour to three elections wins and kept the Tories out of power for a long time. Many on the left hate him because he was not in their view left-wing enough, and many in the broadcast media hate him primarily because of Iraq. And a lot of journalists seem to hate him because he won’t just go away.
Polly Toynbee today lumps him together with Peter Mandelson, whose book was of an altogether different nature and whose contribution to the Labour leadership debate yesterday was as unwise as it was unwelcome, and urges both to shut up and bow out. But is she seriously suggesting TB should not write a book? And as an author herself, surely she knows that publication dates are long-planned and never perfect. Does she seriously think TB planned it to coincide with ballot papers going out in the leadership election? Or that his publisher might not have been happier to have him in the UK for the launch rather than in Washington on Middle East envoy business?
What these hatreds mean is that any balance has gone from any assessment that is made. The decade of growth and prosperity, the investment in schools and hospitals and the rising standards in both, devolution, the minimum wage, Sure Start, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland – I can and do regularly make the case that his record can take its place alongside some of the great Prime Ministers. Ah, go the haters, but what about Iraq? – as though merely to ask the question is to deliver a wisdom so clear and powerful that all other points are swept away.
TB writes at length about Iraq in the book, and I don’t imagine for one second that the haters will be persuaded one inch from the position they hold. But every now and then they might reflect that nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, and at least try to understand how he came to make the decision he did.
He writes about a lot of other things too, and I think most who read it will find it fresher, more intimate, more personal and often a lot funnier than most political autobiographies.
It will generate many headlines and a lot of noise. Far more people will hear the noise than read the book, but those who do will get a very good idea of what it is like to be a top flight politician in the modern age.
His own book will take its place with all the others, and with the millions and millions of words that have been spoken and written about his Premiership, and in decades and even centuries to come, a more rounded historical judgement will form. It will in my view bear little relation to the judgement of today’s frenzy-addicted media. It will be closer to the view that concludes Gideon Rachman’s FT piece today … ‘My guess is that, in a few years’ time, the Blair years will be remembered for a lot more than Iraq. They will be seen as a period of prosperity and optimism in Britain – certainly compared with what was to come. In 20 years’ time many Britons may look back on the Blair era with considerable nostalgia.’
And is it too much to expect that today’s journalists will look back and wonder what sort of media we had at the time that suggested there was something wrong in the political figure who most defined the era writing his own account of it?
Blair, of course, should publish his memoirs. He also deserves credit for donating the proceeds and you, rightly, point out his huge contribution to the peace process in N Ireland. Unfortunately, it is all overshadowed by one massive error – Iraq and with further perspective of time I’m afraid it will only come to be seen as an even larger error.
BTW, hugely amusing to see you complaining of negative media coverage.
This is in my view a hate campaign of Tony Blair.
It does not celebrate his achievements in a vaguely fair way.
I completely understand the depth of sentiment over various issues, but I really don’t feel that the media are achieving anything with this protacted sentiment of venom.
The British media is (sic, possibly) very good at killing off at people who felt they were offering something, but have made mistakes, while elevating talentless people beyond the heights of a short-lived pedestal.
I am totally on Alastair’s side on this. Please note that I have not commented on Tony Blair’s leadership, which for me is not relevant as such now, apart from discussing the future of my party. While driving a car, it’s dangerous to stare at the exhaust pipe, if you get my drift.
Dr Shibley Rahman @RecoveryShibley
I think that people who find this unacceptable do not adopt the view that Blair was one of the most successful PMs but that, in reality, he may have committed war crimes against the people of both Iraq and Afghanistan, an impression which has gained some credibility during the course of the Iraq Commission in this country and that in the USA.
Really good peice here, sums up the scum thats in the press today.
Love him or hate him he has the right to record his memoirs and as I have said before, here and elsewhere, while I believe his Iraq decisions to be wholly wrong, it is a generous gesture indeed to devote the entire proceeds to the British Legion.
PS – Like the new site look and feel Alistair, but your photo profile makes you look extraordinarily like Alexandra Armstrong – has anyone else noticed that?
This blog is such a good piece of writing in itself.It sums up perfectly all the reasons why T.B. should have wriiten his memoirs as opposed to not. T.B. was one of the best P.M. s this country has had imo .He was the first in the “modern day era of politcs” with no real premise to follow and all done within in the ongoing scrutiny of all the many modern day media forms. He is cursed with the dogma of Iraq but no man possesses hindsight.The media areonly to happy to perpetrate the notion that men do and sadly some are only too happy to cling to the notion that this is so. He did many good things that have been overshadowed by I.W. and tbf it would have fallen to whoever was P.M at the time to make that call.It so happens that it fell to T.B. on his watch.As the other politcal parties were also in favour of going into Iraq I’m certain the outcome would have been the same if they were in government at the time.
All should be held “accountable” not just one imo
This book written by T.B. is an essential piece of writing imo as he deserves to have his say the way that all others who have written their political memoirs have had.The fact that T.B. is donating the proceeds of his memoirs to such a worthy cause is to be applauded.He might even be setting a precedent by doing this..
So the removal of a a tyrant who murdered hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen will be seen in future as a large error? – Dream on Lancashire your only showing your anti – Blair bias. It will be more likely be seen as the establishment of a new democracy in the Middle East.
I was against the war , I marched against it twice and ive never changed my mind on that decision. However I wasn’t the PM, I didn’t have the responsibility that TB had. Its all very well these people throwing muck and hate at TB but they didn’t have to deal with the very real threat of WMD in the hands of terrorists deployed on the streets of London. He acted with the very best of intentions for the people of this country and for the people of Iraq. I’m so sick of the way he gets treated because of Iraq, yes some people were very vocal in opposition to the war including myself but if people cant see why he took the decision he did by now I feel quite sorry for them. I wish TB was still PM, instead of the “Benidorm Blair” we now have in No.10
I don’t mind saying that I never liked TB, even before he became PM. And I will never like him. And I won’t be buying or reading his book. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t write the book. By all means write the book and see how it sells. The reasons why I don’t like TB are many and complex. Funnily enough, Iraq is NOT one. If anything, the way TB handled Leo Blair’s MMR was the kind of thing that made me dislike him.
I think for many people, the reason for hating TB is that they really want to hate themselves for electing him in the first place. The only thing that Labour said loudly and repeatedly in 1997 was this: WE ARE NOT TORIES. That’s what got them elected. What did/does the “THIRD WAY” mean really? Sure you can and do bleat on about the achievements during TB’s time as PM and the 13 years. But if Labour had not won in ’97, or subsequently, do you really think we would have had 31 years of the Tories? And if they had managed 31 years in power, would it not have meant that the country (electorate) agreed with them? And if the Tories had won, would Britain have ceased to exist?
So, instead of referring to this hatred, I would suggest that you remember these lines from Bill….Shakespeare:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
I think a deeper reason for resentment of Blair is something else that Polly Toynbee (wrongly or rightly) called “New Labour’s infatuation with supermoney.” Whether this was to do with wealthy donors, friends, low taxes for the rich or his own lifestyle, it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. And this perception has grown more negative over time, particularly since the MPs’ expenses debacle and, more seriously, the new austerity. As for the good times we enjoyed, many look back on the prosperous Blair years as a shopping trip we shouldn’t really have been on.
The gift to the British Legion makes little difference to our regard for him. A hugely wealthy man donating a portion of his income to charity is right to do so, but “generous” is not the adjective I would use. On the other hand, I believe Tony Blair to be an exceptional individual with great qualities and really rather decent. I’m not angry with him, just disappointed. Perhaps I expected too much and the person I’m really angry with is myself (and Peter Mandelson!).
Having said all that, I think Tony Blair
The infatuation with big money was a realisation that the support of one wealthy individual is worth 5000 poor people.
The bit that most people forget is that TB and PM said they did not have anything against the rich AS LONG AS THEY PAID THEIR TAXES. That is the bit everyone leaves out because it doesn’t suit their agendas.
Like America and Australia we should applaud self made wealth and endeavour not despise it. I do however believe we need to have equal access to the opportunities.
Of course it is not just the media here who have a problem with Blair. You seem to think that people cannot form their own views about him without media influence, which is not the case and possibly a little unsettling for a man who spent his career trying to control the message. In that sense your blog piece is rather odd to say the least.
What is rather typical of you is to lump anyone who criticises Blair, his record in office or self serving behaviour post office into the category of ‘hater’, to imply that anyone who is critical of his record is somehow being irrational and can thus be ignored. It is exactly the sort of convenient smear tactic you deployed when you assisted Blair in his grand conceit/decit over Iraq, an attempt to bury any alternative view which possibly undermines your own conceits. The same sort of ‘I’m right but I won’t actually try and answer your question because I can’t’ tactic you deployed when interviewed by Marr.
Good for Blair in publishing his memoirs and donating the advance to the British Legion; its the least he can do to be frank. His memoirs alone won’t bury history though or ensure that Blair’s role in Northern Ireland and domestic affairs is seen to be greater than it really was – (perhaps he should have clobbered that economic incompent Brown a bit earlier?). Equally, it won’t recast the balance in his favour with regard to Iraq or ensure that he is seen as the saviour of the middle east – its too weak an argument to look at some future possible stability in Iraq (whether that is in 10, 20 or 30 years time) and claim somehow that this will be your historical legacy (or could not have been arrived at by any other route) and somehow justifies the incompetence and deceit which went into the invasion. Over a 100,000 Iraqis dead in recent years, millions more displaced, an uncertain future at best….mmm…..
I suspect his memoir will reveal a little more behind Blair’s reasoning on Iraq, and will probably go someway to elaborating on Lord Owen’s interesting assessment on Blair, what Ken MacDonald QC (a man who shares chambers with Cherie), calls ‘narcissist’s defence”.
I think AC you’ve lead youself up an intellectual cul de sac on this one. I note Sir Brian Jones’s (ex DIS) recently published book on the build up to Iraq – makes quite interesting reading.
A Roberts – so if the justification for the hundreds of thousands killed by Blair and Bush was the removal of Saddam to stop him killimg why stop at one tyrant? Why didn’t they do the same with Mugabe, the Sudanese regime, DR Congo, ……? Iraq was wrong – simple as
So sorry, you’re saying it would be wrong to get rid of Mugabe, the sudanese regime and right to leave them be?
Get back to the Spectator where you belong with all the other idiots.
I suppose you know that the vote on Iraq was passed with the whole support of the Tories, more in fact voted for the war than Labour MP’s.
Chew on that a while but try not to choke.
” A Junket ” he meant to call it
Totally correct , I’ve given up on the media as a source of unbiased comment.
The line about ‘what about Iraq?’ is so true.
…and today Barack Obama is delivering a speech taking CREDIT for Iraq. what chutzpah! the credit (and history will record it as credit) goes to blair and bush, who had to make one of the most difficult decisions of our era, and for better or worse, made it. no doubt, iraq is a mixed bag. a lot went wrong. but too many journalists on both sides of the pond have simply gone berserk. they will in the end be the villains of the piece. but more likely, they will simply be forgotten as it becomes harder to believe that anyone would defend saddam hussein’s brutality.
More unthinking bilge – and contradictory to boot. Other members of the press will have their opinions tempered by time, you suggest, but Mr Gideon is so percipient he hits the nail on the head in 2010. Come off it.
And if – heaven forbid – people do look back to those years with a sense of nostalgia it will prove we have learnt nothing.
Sorry about unfinished line earlier. Technofailure! Was just going to add that the kicking he gets from our lamentable media is probably more about circulation than anything else. If only they’d turn their attention to the extremely right wing nature of this government and stop giving them such an easy ride.
As someone who joined the Labour party in 1995 because of TB (always left just didn’t think the Labour Party “had it” until him) I am always amazed at the vitriol poured on success. Read the first volume of ACs diaries on holiday and now onto Chris Mullin and looking forward to The Journey.
I come from Northern Ireland originally and I remember at the amount of time that Tony Blair gave to Northern Ireland. This was unprecedented for a British prime minister. Nothern Ireland is not a “vote winner” which is one of the reasons why prime ministers in the past had not given it the time that Tony Blair did.
What struck me about Tony Blair was that his work with Northern Ireland demonstrated that he really was wanting to do some good in that situation rather than simply viewing it as an unsolvable mess as had been the previous mind state.
So no defence for Gordon then? I don’t see Gordon rushing to do a tell all! Gordon is writing a book to help the world understand the financial crisis but then again we Fifers have a greater moral code than some! I used to think highly of you but obviously you think its okay for this dispicable human being to do this to Gordon. I’m glad he is back home with us being the brilliant, kind and caring human being and best MP Kirkcaldy has ever had.
In all the years I have supported Labour even before Thatcher this is the first time I am turning my back….you all disgust me!
The Guardian comments have exploded with every Blair hater on the planet lining up to post. None have read the book and all have a view…its pathetic.
Sadly I think Britain lost a jewel and found a trinket in Brown who was the classic promotion to one level above competency. A great chancellor who provided the stability and the growth that Labour built on for 10 years.
I am sad that both Blair and Brown were responsible for the each others tragic end.
I miss TB for his insight and wisdom a light touch but a firm steer.
The media are as you say obsessed, old hands just don’t know when to stop and the younger ones don;t know any better. The real history will wait a long time to be written and will have to come from the more sober historians of the next but one generation.
Iraq will I feel prove to be a success but we will have to wait for a media that wants to listen to the Iraqi people not the Iranian mullahs.
I do hope TB gets some kinder winds and eventually becomes like his mentor Roy Jenkins a much regarded and valued sage.
Good to have you back Alistair refreshed and on form.
I love forward to them in few hours.
Tony Blair still has my full admiration.
For people who are critical of the Iraq war, I recommend pages 88-90 of Andrew Rawnsley´s The End of the Party. They bring light to Mr Blair´s mind-set.
Tony Blair was animated by sheer terror of an atrocity on British soil. After 9/11 you no longer waited for things to happen – you went out and tried to stop it.
Mr Blair did not want on his conscience that he knew about of the threat, saw it coming and did nothing.
When Iraq becomes a success story, history will judge Mr Blair in a different way.
As for books, I enjoyed John Rentoul´s Tony Blair and Anthony Seldon´s Blair. Mr Rawnsley´s volume is also better than its reputation.
But it’s okay to ‘hate’ tories ? Personally I think it’s unattractive wherever it appears.
Quite right, it was passed with Tory support; of course we were all told it was about WMD, not Bush’s regime change. Funny thing that, don’t seem to remember finding WMDs despite what the Dodgy Dossier told us. Seems like Gilligan was right after all.
Agree with you! The Tories were shown intelligence, and they also got information from their friends in Washington. And then they made the same conclusions about Iraq as Tony Blair.
TB was the reason why I and many others voted Labour in 1997. He had a vision, an ideology and a way of looking at the world that chimed with many who had previously felt alienated from politics.
But as so often happens in any democracy he had to take on board, and at times act upon, the opinions and views of people who were, quite frankly, rubbish. Any time a prime minister has to give lip service to somebody like Ed Balls then you know that something is seriously amiss. I mean, come on, what a tit (Ed Balls not TB obviously).
I so wish we’d had a chance to see just what TB’s complete vision was for the country. Instead we were served a watered down, tepid version as a result of endless friction and wranglings with No.11.
TB was/is a bold thinker. Unfortunately the party he led were often not so.
There are still many in Labour who miss TB.
Sorry old chap but Gilligan was wrong and has proved to have been wrong many times you have a jaded view of history., but then you are a right wing tory with large Spectator shaped specs.
There was not one member of the inspectors or the worlds security services that did not believe Saddam had WMD somewhere. Even the members of the Baath party were not sure what he had. There were Iraqi defectors pumping so called eveidence into the pentagon and MI5 for years before the war. Some of the intellegence was coming from Iran who were actively encouraging his removal and later used it to wage their own internal war via the insurgency.
But you seem to have the jump on everyone else with your wisdom and insight.
Or is it bias I will let others judge.
So sick of the media in this country, we don’t seem to have a voice anymore. We need you Alastair 🙂
Hi Alastair! You’ll be interested to know that you have made it into the letters page of the Sydney Morning Herald. It was in reference to the clanking comment TB made about you in his book. There is nowhere you can hide!
I cannot understand why people hate TB so much he was never as bad as Thatcher
I like A M Batchelor joined the Labour Party because of Tony Blair’s vision and I don’t regret it after Thatcher he was a breath of fresh air.