Read our first post on Tony Blair’s book.
JP = Jim Pickard KS = Kiran Stacey GP = George Parker
That’s all for today – thanks for joining us. At least for this live blog.
12.38 JP – Blair describes his calm mood after 9/11, despite realising the historic importance of the terrorist attacks. “I saw my role as that of galvanising the maximum level of support,” he said. He deliberately set out the UK’s position in a broadcast from Downing Street. The key phrase “shoulder to shoulder” had been chosen very carefully, he admits. “I was aware this was a big commitment that would come to be measured not in words but in actions….I took this view for reasons both of principle and of national interest.”
12.36 JP - One of the better anecdotes in the book (page 331) is where a distracted Prince Charles tells Blair he has been insulted by Prescott – or at least thinks he might have been. Prescott’s offence was to slide down the seat, legs apart, crotch pointing “menacingly” with this teacup and saucer on his gut. The prince was suspicious that Prezza was making some kind of class point.
12.34 JP - On John Prescott. He could be “maddening”, “dangerous”, “absurd” or “magnificent”. Prescott also “agitated strongly” for Blair to leave in 2006-7. “He didn’t think it mattered electorally if I was swapped for Gordon.”
12.32 JP – On Margaret Thatcher:
“Where Mrs Thatcher was absolutely on the side of history was in recognising that as people became more prosperous, they wanted the freedom to spend their money as they chose; and they didn’t want a big state getting in the way of that liberation by suffocating people in uniformity, in the drabness and dullness of the state monopoly.”
12.31 KS - We mentioned earlier that there was a quote about Blair predicting the death of John Smith. Here it is:
“I remember waking up the first morning and then waking Cherie. I said to her: ‘If John dies, I will be leader, not Gordon. And somehow, I think this will happen. I just think it will.’ Is that a premonition? Not in a strict sense; but it was strange all the same.”
12.30 KS – At one point Blair launches into a rather long description of a scene in Schindler’s List in which a Nazi camp guard’s girlfriend is a passive observer while he shoots a prisoner. He finishes the story by saying:
She didn’t shoot anyone; she was a bystander. Except she wasn’t. There were no bystanders in that situation. You participate, like it or not…You take sides by inaction as much as by action.
He then goes on:
Not very practical, is it, as a reaction? The trouble is it’s how I feel.
And then, 10 years later, Iraq happened. Should we blame Steven Spielberg?
12.29 KS – Blair wants to take credit for Bank of England independence, but he does give Brown the credit for other ideas. “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, was always assumed to be the ultimate Blairite slogan, but apparently not – it was Gordon’s idea, says Blair, and one which showed “a streak of genius”.
12.25 JP - Blair says in 2001 that William Hague had “definite leadership character” but accuses him of loving words too much.
“Such was his ability and use of words and humour, his capacity to weave clever conceits and amusing demonstrations of wit, that he expended too much of his mind on that and too little on the purpose for which the conceits and wit were devised.”
12.23 JP - He admits that in 1997 he knew “a lot about history” but he admits: “About contemporary foreign affairs, I knew little.”
12.21 JP – Blair takes responsibility for the second sacking of Peter Mandelson, despite rumours ever since that Alastair Campbell bounced him into it. “He felt Alastair was pushing me. He wasn’t; it as my decision,” he writes.
12.14 JP - Last night I wrote that the book was very badly written, based on the chapter on Northern Ireland. I’m now prepared to revise that judgment to some extent, having read much of the rest of it. True, the writing is very clunkey in places. (For example: “Your average Rottweiler on speed can be a lot more amiable than a pensioner wronged, or, to put it more accurately, believing they are wronged.”)
Some of his phrases are matey in an ingratiating way. And yes, he does seem to avoid those 10 difficult questions I set out last night in a separate blog.
By making the book part-philosophy (a kind of ‘lessons from my prime ministership’ book) he is able to skip over some very difficult questions. But: it’s not all bad. You can’t help warming, or re-warming, to him at times, even if you don’t want to. And there are a few anecdotes which are actually quite good. For example:
“I caught sight of an old-age pensioner, a woman no less, with a placard that read: ‘Blair, you are a c***. I couldn’t believe it. She looked like your typical sweet granny.”
12.08 KS – When did Blair and Brown first begin to fall out? As early as 1992, Blair suggests, when Brown refused to stand for the leadership against John Smith and worked with Nick Brown to ensure Gordon would be Smith’s number two:
From that moment, I think I detached from Gordon; just a fraction, imperceptible to the eye of the observer, unaccompanied by any expressions of distance, or even by any diminishing of affection… The seed was sown of my future insistence that I should be leader, not him.
12.00 KS – It is difficult not to read between the lines of Blair’s description of Neil Kinnock and John Smith to his own relationship with Gordon Brown. This criticism of the idea that John Smith would automatically follow Neil Kinnock seems like a rather thinly veiled attack on the assumption that Brown would succeed him:
Buggins’ turn was an awful system of choosing the leader and actually at odds with every concept of what leadership should be about.
11.50 KS – Welcome back. One more interesting anecdote for you from Blair’s early years. Apparently he tried to get John Smith to overthrow Neil Kinnock as Labour leader:
The 1992 election was John’s. We might have won had he been leader, rather than Shadow Chancellor. But when I hinted to him in 1991 that he should go to Neil and ask him to step aside and said that myself, Gordon and others would back him up, John dismissed the idea. ‘I will be leader afterwards,’ he said. And that was that.
Is he perhaps trying to draw a contrast between the loyal Smith and the disloyal Brown?