Another year, another volume of diaries, this one covering the time from Tony Blair’s third election win to his departure from office two years later. A majority of 66 – what would Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn give for one of those? – insufficient to stave off the forces that wanted him out.
Talking to Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid on Good Morning Britain this morning, they unsurprisingly drew parallels between Tony Blair/Gordon Brown, and the warfare that seems to be erupting between Theresa May and Boris Johnson on Brexit.
This volume certainly includes more of the ‘TBGBs’ readers of previous volumes are used to, in some ways even more brutal as the denouement to TB’s Premiership draws closer. But whatever criticisms people have of Tony and Gordon, and however difficult it was to manage the difficulties, I hope we managed to get more done, and were less dysfunctional, than the Brexit shit show currently being served up by the Cabinet.
Mrs May is the seventh Tory leader to find her Party barely manageable over the issue.
‘From Blair to Brown’ covers also the period of David Cameron’s rise to the Tory leadership, and looking back it is possible to see both the difficulties and differences we had in trying to work out the best way to deal with him; and also the difficulties he and George Osborne had in imposing the changes they wanted on their Party.
But of certain things we can be sure … nobody back then ever thought Theresa May would lead the Tories, or that Jeremy Corbyn would be Labour leader – neither even figure in the 600 plus pages – or that Trump would be US President, or that we would be leaving the EU.
So we are living in times of real change and churn. I hope the diaries, for all the angst they record, bring back memories of better times, but also add to the debate and understanding about how we got from where we were to where we are.
Meanwhile thanks to Matt Kelly, editor of The New European, for the brilliant job he did in cutting the hundreds of thousands of words into two slabs of 4,000 or so for the paper’s serialisation. Part One, which appeared last week, is below. And Part Two is in the paper tomorrow.
And if you want to subscribe to the paper, fighting the madness of hard Brexit, you can click here, and get a free signed copy as part of your subscription.
The social media sphere seemed to enjoy my encounter with Owen Jones which he posted yesterday.
I thought people were a bit harsh on Owen, who took a fair bit of twitter grief for seeming to be rude and petulant. I thought it was all good banter, as we sports stars say, and beneath it quite an interesting chat about Labour past, present, future. And I hope he takes the grammar lesson to heart. Less interrupting, fewer interruptions … that might be a way to remember the difference, Owen.
I had people contacting me yesterday saying they were being told by Amazon there was no stock. I hope that is a good sign, and that they will be replenished soon. But meanwhile you can go straight to the publisher and order for next day delivery here.
Here is The New European’s first instalment. Hope it whets your appetite for more. And having jousted with Owen Jones and Piers, (both very nice about the book btw) next up Stephen Nolan of the Beeb at 10, and Adam Boulton on Sky 1045.
Saturday August 6, 2005, France
Sky News called and said would I go on to talk about Robin Cook dying. I was totally taken aback. I made a couple of calls and it seems it was sudden and by and large unexpected. I told Fiona and then agreed I ought to do stuff. I was asked about the myth that had developed that I told him to choose between his job and his marriage. I listened to a fair bit of other people while waiting to be interviewed and it was amazing how people who 24 hours ago would have seen him as a figure of fun or relished slagging him off were now going into overdrive about what a great statesman he was.
There were a couple of secrets he had shared with me which I hadn’t even told Fiona or TB. One was about a woman he had been involved with way back, and he was sure she was going to talk about it, and we put together a contingency plan but thankfully it never happened. He was also someone who was interesting in a world full of so many bloody bores, though he could beat the best on the pomposity front.
Mo [Mowlam] was also still very ill and she died during the third week we were away. Losing both her and Robin was awful. We had never found a way really to harness Mo and her talent. She was not as great as the publicity she generated and she could at times be terribly silly and self-indulgent but she was a one-off and there had been moments when she had done things that were bold and brought results.
Thursday September 8, 2005
Half in jest, TB asked if I fancied being general secretary of the party. He said he would need me to get involved in the succession issue whenever that came – I sensed it wasn’t going to be any time soon. I said a transition project would be interesting but I’m not sure I could take too much of the TB–GBs. They hadn’t spoken at all through the whole holiday. He felt GB’s handling of RC and the latter-day closeness was sadly indicative. GB loathed Robin for much of the time he was in government, but the moment he felt he could be used in the battle against TB, he used him.
Tuesday September 20, 2005
TB and I went through to the sitting room and he started by asking, ‘How are you, then?’ with that quizzical ‘I think things are not quite right’ look. I said I was fine but very up and down. You’re like me, he said, if you have no driving purpose you are in bother or if you’re not in bother, you create some.
He thought though that I should – ‘must’ – be around for the transition. GB and he had met that morning. GB was still asking for clarity, which was code for a fuck-off date.
I asked if he thought GB could win two elections. No, he said straight away, ‘because the flaws will emerge. Though I say so myself, we are both very special politicians, but I have the character for this level of pressure that he does not’.
Sunday September 25, 2005
TB was pretty exasperated with GB again. ‘What more does he want? How do you deal with him? I say I’m not standing at the next election. I endorse him as successor. I say if he cooperates I would be happy to fuck off now. And he still wants more. No other PM has had to put up with something like this.’
He was at me again to go back to No. 10 and also get a seat for next time.
Wednesday October 5, 2005
Ed [Balls] felt there was no cooperation at all, that TB was just stringing him along. GB was really fearful he would successfully be painted as Old Labour and he knew that would damage him. Ed said GB tried to support TB but they had genuine differences over some issues and every genuine argument became a charge of ‘You’re not supporting me’.
He said he felt I was ambivalent re GB becoming leader – that meant GB did. I said I sometimes worried that GB did not fully understand how big the job was, because he had always seen himself as doing a job of similar stature, and it was so much harder, so much bigger.
TB felt maybe they should have a TB–GB meeting with me, PG [Philip Gould] and Ed there. He said I am willing to give this a go but the temperamental issues may be insurmountable.
Thursday October 6, 2005
I went in to do media on Howard’s speech at the Tory conference. It was a bit redundant as the real interest was in [David] Davis and [David] Cameron. Davis had done really badly yesterday, bad speech, bad delivery and there was a real roll to the Cameron bandwagon now.
Sunday October 9, 2005
I went out for a run and bumped into Andrew Adonis on the Heath, who said what about Alan Johnson [Secretary of State for Trade and Industry], or David Miliband as next leader? His worry was that GB would never change. He felt we were all sleepwalking towards something we knew was likely to be a disaster. I also bumped into George Osborne [Shadow Chancellor], who was out with his family. He said it had been a crazy week, that Davis just blew it. He made the oldest mistake in the book – believed his own propaganda, got complacent, got exposed as second-rate, and Cameron moved in where the gaps were.
He warned me not to underestimate Cameron, said there was a lot more to him than the posh boy thing. He was clearly very cocky. He said they had learned an awful lot from watching how we did things, and they both talked and strategised all the time, and unlike TB–GB they were genuine friends not rivals. I said so were they once. He said yes, but I didn’t think I should go for the leadership, because I know David will do it better.
Wednesday October 19, 2005
I went for a long walk with Fiona before going to see David Sturgeon [psychiatrist]. Fiona felt the main thing to get into was the addictive personality, and the fact I always seemed to find ways of sabotaging my own happiness. I felt the basic problem was that I had gone from a full-on meaningful existence to this rather bitty existence now, but she said it was just the same when I was full on, and it was the same when I was at the Mirror.
I always went in waves of manic energy and activity and obsessions, and then crashed at regular intervals in between. David had suggested I see him at his house rather than his clinic. I took to him. He had a nice, kindly manner, a bit of a stoop, a nice smile. He listened rather than take too many notes.
Thursday October 20, 2005
I had breakfast with Philip [Gould] at the Honest Sausage [café in Regent’s Park] and went over my session with DS. He was convinced this was the best approach for me. He was also, however, convinced I had to get more involved not less with TB. But I was sure that was one of the reasons I had been dipping even more recently. David had asked me if I dreamt much about TB–GB and the truth is I did.
David Davis called, ostensibly to lobby me about getting someone a knighthood – I did my usual rant about the honours system – but I sensed it was an excuse to call and pick my brains about the [Tory leadership] campaign. He was doing his best to sound reasonably up about it all, but I could tell he was a bit down. I felt his strategy was to hope Cameron fucked up, which wasn’t really a strategy at all.
Monday October 24, 2005
Ed Balls called to say GB was being rebuffed by TB on the idea of a dinner to thrash everything out so fuck knows what’s going on. The depressions were getting more frequent, worse, and lasting longer. It was good I was finally seeing someone I guess, and David seemed a really good guy, but I was finding the process quite hard.
It was stirring all kinds of stuff, which I suppose was partly the point, but I was waking more days than most feeling empty and listless, and when I couldn’t sleep I was feeling something closer to suicidal, and I was imagining my funeral over and over, and trying to persuade myself that Fiona and the kids, Mum and the rest, would be OK with it, and it would relieve them of a big stress.
Tuesday November 8, 2005
TB had called a couple of times and was clearly very anti-GB at the moment, felt he was in total obstruction mode. It did cross my mind that TB–GB ought to see someone like DS the way Fiona and I were. It was definitely like listening to two sides of a failing marriage. Fiona and I were blissfully happy compared with them!
I saw GB and Ed Balls at 4.30 at the Treasury. GB got pretty much straight into it. Things were terrible. There was no strategy and precious little discussion of one. TB was using the rise of Cameron to reposition, trying to send a message to the party that with Cameron trying to move the Tories to the centre, we had to make sure the party stayed bang in the middle. He said it was conceding that Cameron was centrist. ‘Why should we take him at face value?’ he asked. ‘Because if he wins the leadership, he will be able to make the change. Then we can test it. There is no point us saying what he is unless it fits with what he is and does.’ He shook his head, and said TB was on a solo kamikaze mission.
Wednesday November 9, 2005
TB losing his first-ever vote in the Commons – not bad to go eight years without, mind you – on the move to let the security forces hold terrorism suspects for 90 days without charge. Michael Howard was out saying TB should resign – God he is ridiculous – whereas Charles Kennedy was on the better line, that he was a lame duck PM.
I had another session with David Sturgeon. He said he was worried that even the occasional drink was not sensible. It was fine when things were OK, but it could flare again. I said might it be possible I am an addict, and the addiction then was alcohol but now it is other things, like work, sport? He said he thought I was playing with fire.
Friday November 11, 2005
On the way into Westminster, I noticed a story in the Standard, on the lines that GB would not challenge TB directly for a departure date, but that it was a matter for MPs. It was a pretty clear invitation to rebellion.
Then in at 7 for the dinner that TB was totally dreading. He was in ‘Do we have to do this?’ mode. But he went through what he intended to say. That we should see this as a parliament in two halves. Him pushing through his agenda then preparing for the handover. But it all had to be on the basis that GB worked with him. He said again that he was going to go along with all this but he didn’t have any doubts it was a risk for the country.
GB arrived, bustle, bustle, loads of papers, which he dumped on a desk, said hello to me, then PG, then TB, into a bit of small talk about his trip to Israel. TB laid it out. He said we have to get his reforms through and have the party in good shape for the next election with transition and time for GB to establish. New Labour being firmly entrenched had to be part of it. He was really calm and clear and ended by saying it could all happen but it needed them to work together. ‘If I am somehow levered out and people think you are involved that is bad in one way and if I run someone against you that is bad in another way.’
The ‘run someone against you’ point led to both GB and Ed giving each other a little look. TB spotted it. ‘The truth is Gordon, that we are in a situation of mutually-assured destruction and we have to stop it. We need to get back to the kind of working relationship we had during the election, or else we are fucked.’
TB said at one point, ‘What more do you want? I am the first PM to be clear at one election that I won’t be here for the next. I have virtually anointed you when plenty of people think I shouldn’t, and some think I am mad even to think about it given all that has gone on. What more do you want? Is it just a date?’ GB couldn’t bring himself to say, ‘Yes’. On things like nuclear power, some of the public service reforms, some of the personnel issues, ‘you didn’t even fucking consult’. He then said the problem with the two halves concept was it didn’t give enough time for him to set his own agenda.
TB said, ‘This is only a problem if you are planning to do something radically different, fundamentally at odds with what we are doing now’ (which of course is what TB suspected). GB said he was unlikely to believe promises about the future given the broken promises of the past. TB smiled, said, ‘We have very different memories of that, Gordon. There was no deal and no date’. GB said JP (John Prescott) would testify differently.
There was one genuinely funny moment of light relief when we were discussing the Tories and Cameron. TB said the thing about politics today is, ‘It’s a very quick game’. GB: ‘It’s a very slow game where I’m sitting.’ Real laughter all round. TB said one of the best things in the election was that there was some personal warmth again after all the angst. Why can’t we just operate like that all the time?
GB kept insisting the non-cooperation came from TB and TB denied it. TB also said GB had to show definitively he was New Labour. ‘I AM – and I resent the suggestion I’m not.’ TB said, ‘Look, I don’t want anyone to be my successor but you. I don’t want anyone to win but Labour. I don’t want to be seen as some kind of aberration of history. I want us to sustain this for the long term’.
Saturday November 12, 2005
I woke up feeling really low, seven out of ten depression low. Sick feeling inside. I had been starting to feel like this a few days ago, had pushed it off, but it was in me big time now. I think a combination of the David Sturgeon process, making me even more introspective than usual, and an erosion of TB’s position, added to the role I was being expected to play in the transition, was making for a depressing combination. I was very down all day.
Sunday November 13, 2005
I really wasn’t well. We were supposed to be going to Neil [Kinnock] and Glenys’s for a lunch for Michael Foot and I didn’t feel up to it but Fiona was badgering me. I could really feel the physical manifestation of the mental side of things going wrong. ‘Why do you want me to go when you know I am going to end up feeling worse?’
She said, ‘Why can’t you just do it for me?’ I said because I know I am going to end up feeling even worse, and it has nothing to do with anything else. It just is.
Wednesday November 16, 2005
Another session with Fiona at David Sturgeon’s. I explained that my head had been in a bad way, really depressed. I got very tearful at points. He said I had been wrestling for a long time with a lot of difficult things. I was also feeling trapped. Fiona admitted that she had become more withdrawn, but it was because she had to, because she couldn’t understand what was happening in my head sometimes, and it could be scary. She said she tried to be sympathetic about the depression, but it was hard, because she felt she was the one who bore the brunt of it.
Sturgeon said part of the process was to become more introspective and see depressive things in there. I went over some of the political stuff that I took as her expressing hostility to me personally, and also saying I felt she didn’t really try to understand what the depression was like, and also what it was like having pressure piled upon me by others. She said, ‘But that is a choice you make’. She said I had left but in truth I had never left, and ‘these people’ could pull me in any time they wanted, and they did.
He said he felt I was genuinely torn, between wanting to do the right thing for myself and the family, and a sense of service to a bigger project that meant a lot to me, and which I worried would fall apart if I wasn’t there nurturing it.
There was definitely something in that. I said I had not felt truly supported at the time of the David Kelly suicide, and all the pressure that brought on me, because I knew a big part of her felt I had brought it on myself. She said, ‘But you did’.
Monday December 5, 2005
David had asked me to make a note of any dreams I could remember and some days there were stacks of them, and TB and GB were often in there, with violence involved.
Tuesday December 6, 2005
Big day politics-wise. Cameron was elected Tory leader by more than two to one. Not bad for someone who has been an MP for just four years. I wasn’t sure yet whether he really had it. TB thought he was ‘good enough’, and he was certainly going to be a bigger challenge than David Davis would have been.
Wednesday December 7, 2005
I saw David S and went through the dream log. He said there was loads going on in there. ‘Is that not normal?’ ‘There is more going on than in most people.’ He felt there were hints of suicidal thoughts.
He also thought there were hints that I wanted more space and was trying to sort things out too quickly. He thought the dreams involving Fiona revealed a deep need and love, and fear of loss.
Tuesday December 13, 2005
Out to the ’94 TB leadership team dinner. Jonathan [Powell] was pretty obsessive re GB. He said I don’t see how you can continue to think he is the right person to take over. ‘He gets worse not better.’ As we were talking, the phone went and it was GB, weirdly asking if I was interested in being editor of The Scotsman. I said I was unplugging from journalism. He said, ‘In which case you have a duty to stand for Parliament. You can’t be both politics and media’.
I said there were times I wished I was neither. I moved into the corner of the restaurant, and we chatted a bit about yesterday. I said he had to try to see it from TB’s perspective. Most of TB’s team felt he – TB – was being ridiculously accommodating. It was a perfectly friendly chat; he was more reflective than yesterday.
Friday December 16, 2005
To Matthew Freud’s party. I bumped into James Murdoch [son of Rupert] on the way in. He said he thought Cameron could not beat TB, but he could beat GB because he was ‘an unreconstructed socialist’. I suggested he’d been listening to his dad too much. He felt TB was exceptional home and abroad but GB was not. Courage was a problem – he hid when things got tough, whereas real leaders showed themselves at that point. Maybe there he had a point, but ‘unreconstructed socialist’!
George Osborne arrived and sought me out. We went to the landing and had a long chat. He said their strategy was to talk up TB and present GB as being not just anti-reform but old-fashioned, of another age. He said he was sure that once TB went, Labour would be seen as the past and they could seize the future. He said their biggest fear was a switch to Hilary Benn or David Miliband.
I went upstairs and saw Cameron perched on the arm of a sofa. His wife gave him a little nudge as I went over and he stood up, keen to talk. A bit of small talk then he said, ‘Why do you keep attacking me?’ Nothing personal, I said. ‘I know, the problem is you do it rather well, can’t you get some of your numpties to do it?’ He said he had been shitting himself pre-PMQs, felt he had been OK first time but TB got the measure of him this week. ‘He really is quite formidable, isn’t he?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘That’s why we need Gordon in there as soon as possible.’
Then Osborne joined us. Cameron said [William] Hague had advised him to take tea with six sugars just before PMQs. He asked if TB had any rituals. Only that he wears the same shoes every time. As we left, Cameron and Osborne were talking to Piers Morgan and Celia Walden [Daily Telegraph journalist]. They said Morgan was the new AC and they were hiring him.
Friday January 6, 2006
Charlie Kennedy had finally confessed publicly to a drink problem. I really felt for him, and dropped him a line, but it was hard to see how he would hold out. If I think about how hard it was to stop drinking when I did, when I was under no pressure to go back to work, I can’t imagine doing it while in a job like his, and with that spotlight on him.
Saturday January 7, 2006
I went out for a run in the afternoon, to try to chase away the dark clouds that were crowding in again. I was coming back via Little Venice and stopped to get a bottle of water from the shop near the canal. As I was paying, it came on the radio that Charles had quit. Inevitable, I guess, but sad. It means Cameron will be the longest-serving leader come the next election.
Monday January 9, 2006
Another David S session with Fiona. He tried to get Fiona to talk about what it had been like for her when I was full-on in No. 10, and it wasn’t easy listening.
She relived the start, in 1994, when she knew I would do it, and how I left early from holiday. How I had been uncaring when her dad died because I was so fixated about getting back to work. He said we both needed to move from acceptance to forgiveness.
Wednesday January 18, 2006
Fiona and I went for a walk with the dog. I said I’ve tried and I’ve tried and what more can I do, and I felt a rage rising that was almost overwhelming, I knew I was lurching out of control, and I tried to walk away, but I knew she would take that badly, so I stayed and then I started punching myself in the face, four times, really hard, and I could see she went almost white, and I said this is driving me fucking crazy, and it has to stop, one way or the other. I said you’ve asked me to leave, and I had left. ‘And now you are virtually back, and this is what it is doing to you. It is making you ill,’ she said. ‘I am not ill,’ I said, but I knew I was.
This was fucking crazy stuff. I could feel my left eye swelling up. I leaned on a tree, I felt like crying but I held it back. I took a few deep breaths, I said listen, I have tried everything, I am seeing someone, I am on loads of medication, I am trying really hard. ‘OK,’ she said, ‘but TB only has to call and you’re off in there to help.’ That is because he needs help, and he is running out of people who can give it to him.
‘Why always you?’ she said. Because that is the way it is, because I can. ‘But you hate it?’ No, not always, what I hate are all the conflicting pressures. ‘It is making you ill again. You have to see that. And that is affecting all of us.’ My face was hurting now, I had a headache, I was worried people had seen and heard what had gone on. We just about managed to stay civil on the walk back home but fuck this was grim.