JP = Jim Pickard KS = Kiran Stacey GP = George Parker
11.53 KS – There’s still a little more mileage yet to come from the book, so we’ll continue live-blogging until lunchtime. But we’ll be moving onto a new post now, so please stay with us.
11.40 JP – Blair reveals details of the “arctic meeting” with Brown over pensions reform, which ended up with his chancellor allegedly resorting to political threats to try to get his way.
Brown opposed Adair Turner’s proposals for pension reforms; Blair supported them. So Brown made a proposal: if Blair abandoned his support for the pension reforms, Brown would agree not to call for an Labour party inquiry into the “cash for honours” affair which threatened to overwhelm the Blair premiership.
“The temperature, already well below freezing point, went arctic,” Blair recalls, adding that some things said at this “ugly” meeting are better not put into print.
In the event, Blair decided to push ahead with the reforms and two hours later Jack Dromey, Labour’s treasurer, put out a statement calling for an inquiry. “I don’t know for a fact that Gordon put Jack up to it,” says Blair. But it’s clear where his suspicions lie.
11.30 JP – Sometimes working in Westminster it is extremely hard to work out where a rumour has come from, whether it is genuine and so on. The same seems to be true even for those at the top.
Blair recalls the “bizarre” time that Andrew Smith resigned as work and pensions secretary in 2004 to escape being sacked. Except Blair had no plan to fire him. “So wound up was he that he obviously didn’t believe it and said, no, he really preferred to go rather than suffer the indignity of being sacked.”
11.29 JP – To be fair to Blair there are some quite fun moments of self-deprecation in the book.
For example, where he admits that he didn’t remotely understand the millennium bug. “We hadn’t the foggiest idea what the experts were talking about. David Miliband tried to explain it once, and I honestly didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and didn’t ask him to explain it again.”
Also there is a moment during the millennium celebrations at the Dome where he fears that acrobats, without safety harnasses, will fall on to the Queen and kill her. He envisages the headlines: “Queen killed by trapeze artist at dome”.
11.24 JP – There will be a lot of head-scratching as to whether, in the final chapter, Blair is endorsing the coalition’s extreme deficit-reduction programme, or merely the Mili-D/Darling plan to halve it in four years. (He certainly despises the Balls approach).
Elsewhere he is unambiguously flattering towards the coalition. “In many areas of domestic policy, the Tories will be at their best when they are allowed to get on with it – as with reforms in education,” he writes.
11.21 JP – There is a great throwaway line where Blair hints that Brown wasn’t interested in injecting more money into the NHS in the early 2000s. If this doesn’t make GB’s blood boil, what will?
I had also had a conversation or several with Gordon about NHS funding; but as I ancipated, he was fairly adamant against doing anything big on it. Incidentally, I make no criticism of that. It was his job as chancellor to run a tight ship in respect of the finances and repel boarders, as it were.
11.20 GP – Blair expresses relief that Alastair Campbell was not around during the tense final two years of his premiership. He says Alastair “would have been tipped over the edge completely in that last period and would have rampaged through the media like a mad axeman!”
11.13 KS – Where does David Miliband sit on the political spectrum? He has been painted as “Blair’s man”, but Blair insists tonight to Andrew Marr that Miliband is “very much his own man”. Blair seems to see Miliband as sitting to the left of himself and other Blairites right from the beginning, as suggested by this passage:
[David was] more in the same camp as Sally [Morgan] and Alastair [Campbell] [both of whom Blair describes as being more traditionally Labour than him], but New Labour nevertheless.
11.10 GP - The Blair-Brown relationship had been difficult for almost a decade before the prime minister decided to thrash things out with his chancellor at the Admiralty House flat of John Prescott in November 2003.
This dinner turned out to be a disaster, as Blair recognises. Over a tense supper, Blair made the fateful offer not to stand for a third term as prime minister if Brown stopped obstructing his reform programme. Blair says Brown then told all his inner circle about the deal – in breach of their agreement.
Why didn’t Blair keep his word?
He would would say: I received an assurance Tony would go. I would say: I received an assurance Gordon would cooperate and carry through the agenda. You can then debate who kept his word and who didn’t.
No prizes for guessing which side of the debate Brown would come down on.
Either way, Blair now admits that agreeing to sacrifice his premiership so that he could push through his programme was a miserable deal: “Whatever leadership is, that is the opposite of it.”
Blair was then persuaded by John Reid, his health secretary, among others to fight the 2005 election and Brown understandably went ballistic. When the two men discussed it, Blair contends:”He should have reassured me and instead he tried to bully me. He snarled when he should have charmed.”
11.06 KS - There has been a long-standing froideur between Cherie and Anji Hunter, Blair’s gatekeeper for many years. Perhaps this explains why:
Anji was my best friend. We had known each other since the age of sixteen when I had tried climbing inside her sleeping bag at a party in the north of Scotland (without success!).
He goes on to say:
She was sexy and exuberant and used both attributes to devastating effect.
10.57 GP - Tony Blair, in a moment of deep soul-searching, reveals his “greatest weakness” in his memoirs: he is “normal”.
Critics of the former premier might conclude that he has other more worrying character traits, but Blair says he would rather sit down and watch a thriller in the cinema than “a psychological drama about a dying wife who discovers her husband is having a passionate affair” … and so on. He also says he would rather have dinner with friends that sit through Wagner’s Gotterdammerung.
“My greatest strength was my greatest weakness,” he says. “I am normal.”
He also says he is worried that such is the pressure on modern politicians that normal people would walk away, leaving only “the manically ambitious and the weird in their stead”. Who on earth can he mean?
10.51 JP - Blair ends his book with a postscript, in which he describes his current life. He talks about his Middle East role; his Faith Foundation; his university programme; Africa; and climate change.
So far I can’t find any detailed mention of his business advisory group, Tony Blair Associates, which works for the likes of the Kuwaiti government and a South Korean energy company. Why not? If you want to read more about this here is a link to our lengthy piece examining “Tony Blair inc” a year ago.
10.49 KS - What on earth must Gordon Brown make of Blair’s claim he thought of giving the Bank of England independence? His former spin doctor Charlie Whelan gives us some idea, with this Tweet:
Brr Brr phone keeps ringing. All about some book. Latest call from hack says Blair claiming it was his idea to make Bank independent! LOL
My guess is Brown will not react with such good humour.
10.47 JP - Is this a justification of his friendship/alliance with George W. Bush?
You don’t lose your identity as a progressive simply because you share space with conservatives. It is the new world, and we should get used to it.
There is an alternative view: which is, you are judged by the company you keep.
10.43 KS - For all the criticism of Blair’s writing style, he does have an eye for a good anecdote. He illustrates his slightly manic frame of mind on the day after election in 1997 with a story about nearly falling on the queen when being appointed prime minister.
A tall official with a stick stood by me. ‘I should tell you one thing, Mr Blair, he began (note ‘Mr Blair’ until I had been appointed), ‘you don’t actually kiss the Queen’s hands in the ceremony of kissibng hands. You brush them gently with your lips.’
I confess that floored me. What on earth did he mean? Brish them as in a pair of shoes, or touch them lightly? While I was still temporarily disconcerted, the door opened and I was ushered in, unfortunately tripping a little on a piece of carpet so that I practically fell upon the Queen’s hands.
10.40 JP - You can see why the Left distrust and dislike Blair. Because even after the biggest financial crash of all time, he still believes there is nothing inherently wrong with the global financial system as it is and was.
Where others see a chance to reshape government policy on finance or the economy, Blair only sees a big trap.
The danger for Labour now is that we drift off, or even move decisively off, to the left. If we do, we will lose even bigger next time.
This, surely, is – or will be seen as – a coded warning to Ed Miliband.
10.35 JP - This passage is interesting, not least in the light that Blair now works for JP Morgan and Zurich.
He calls for a limit to the supervision of financial groups in the future, despite the credit crunch.
What there should not be is a wholesale attempt to predict every potential crisis and construct rigid rules in advance to prevent it. That way we risk flattening our financial system, squeezing the innovation out of it, trying to return it to the world of yesteryear….
10.33 JP - Tony Blair’s analysis of the downfall of New Labour is that it stopped being itself – in terms of embracing aspiration. He accuses Gordon Brown of adopting a “Keynesian ‘state is back in fashion’ thesis” after the credit crunch. And he cites the fact that the top rate of income tax was put up to 50p in the pound. He criticises the hike in National Insurance. And he complains that ID cards were scaled back.
In my view this may actually demonstrate how out of touch Blair now is with British public opinion.
Here is why:
1] Raising the top rate of income tax on the rich was actually a popular policy with the public.
2] The rise in National Insurance was no more damaging to business than the alternative; a rise in VAT (arguably).
3] Scrapping ID cards is also a popular move.
The idea that Gordon Brown lost because of these points is at the very least open to debate. And bear in mind that in a poll early in the summer Blair emerged as even less popular than Brown.
10.30 – George Parker, our political editor, has spotted this attack on Ed Balls:
Ed Balls’s leadership credentials are praised by Tony Blair, who then swiftly goes on to explain why he thinks he would be a disastrous leader of the party.
Ed Balls was and is immensely capable intellectually, and also has some of the essential prerequisites for leadership: he has guts and he can take decisions.
But he then goes on to say why Balls would be incapable of reconnecting Labour with the swing voters it has lost since 1997.
He suffers from the bane of all left-leaning intellectuals. These guys never “get” aspiration.
Previous accounts of the Blair-Brown relationship have suggested that Balls (Brown’s top ally for the last 15 years) routinely abused the prime minister. Blair claims he encouraged Balls to speak out.
I gradually got Ed to lose his reserve – after all I was prime minister – and provoked him into his true opinions.
Which included “a truly muddled and ultimately very damaging” critique of Blair’s style. According to Blair, Balls believed “you could be a traditional Labour leader and still win”.
10.24 JP – Blair has not dropped his idea that “terror” is a concept that can be defeated by the West, whether by war, preaching or peacemaking.
From the years since September 11 we have learned we haven’t beaten the threat, and we can’t beat it fast. It still threatens us. The question is: have we learned that we have no choice but to beat it and so the only issue is how?
10.21 KS -Alastair Campbell was “crazy”, says Blair:
In my experience there are two types of crazy people: those who are just crazy, and who are therefore dangerous; and those whose craziness lends them creativity, strength, ingenuity and verve. Alastair was of the latter sort.
He goes on:
In the later stages, before he left at the end of 2003, Alastair had probably gone over the edge.
10.16 KS – Bank of England independence? It was all my idea, says Blair. George Parker’s story has the details.
10.15 JP – Tony Blair “reveals” that he rather liked Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon who owns the Times and the Sun.
I thought Rupert an enigma, and the more I got to know him, the more I thought so. In the end – and I’m aware of the shrieks of disbelief as I write this – I came to have a grudging respect and even liking for him.
Except in reality there won’t be any “shrieks of disbelief”, because it is well known that Blair spent a lot of time and effort staying close to Murdoch.
Lance Price, a former Downing Street insider, recently wrote that the Australian businessman was hugely influential over New Labour’s government. Even to the extent that it would not have changed policy on Europe – for example – without consulting him first.This is what Price says:
I have never met Mr Murdoch, but at times when I worked at Downing Street he seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard (but, then, the same could have been said of many of the other 23) but his presence was always felt. No big decision could ever be made inside No 10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men – Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could safely be ignored.
I was reminded just how touchy Downing Street is about Mr Murdoch when I submitted the manuscript of my book, The Spin Doctor’s Diary, to the Cabinet Office. The government requested some changes, as is its right. When the first batch came through, it was no surprise that Tony Blair’s staff were deeply unhappy. The real surprise was that no fewer than a third of their objections related to one man – not Tony Blair or even Gordon Brown, as I might have expected, but Rupert Murdoch.
10.10 KS – Carl Legge (see comments, below) suggests Blair’s style may be a result of his words being transcribed. A neat idea, except that Blair’s people insist he wrote the whole thing himself, by hand, with a fountain pen. That’s not to say that Carl might be right and the spinners wrong though.
10.08 JP – Andrew Sparrow at the Guardian blog points out that Blair is quite polite about Ed Balls, despite his key role as Brown’s lieutenant during the B-B feud.
I’ve had some harsh things to say about Ed Balls – I thought he behaved badly at points, and was wrong on policy – but I also thought he was really able, and a talent that any political party should be grateful to have.”
10.07 JP – One thing is very clear and it is that Blair comprehensively rejects the Ed Balls analysis of the deficit and the economy. Where Balls says that the government should delay cutting Britain’s debt – and not stick to Alistair Darling’s plans to halve the deficit in four years – Blair disagrees.
“The danger now is this: if governments don’t tackle deficits, the bill is footed by taxpayers, who fear that big deficits now mean big taxes in the future, the prospect of which reduces confidence, investment and purchasing power,” he writes. “This then increases the risk of prolonged slump.”
Yes, fiscal consolidation must proceed carefully, he argues. But he goes on: “If we fail to offer a convincing path out of debt, that failure in the global economy of 2010, as opposed to that of the 1930s, will itself plunge us into stagnation.”
Blair is also keen to argue that the credit crunch was not proof of the failings of global capitalism. “The market did not fail. One part of one sector (sub-prime debt) did,” he insists.
10.03 KS – Nick Robinson on the BBC pointed out this morning that the other central New Labour figures who have published their memoirs, such as Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, have made the New Labour project appear very much as a collective effort. That impression does not come over from Blair’s book. This is from the very first page:
I had a strategy for guiding us from Opposition to government; I adhered to it, and I knew if I did so, I wouldn’t fail. I had redefined the Labour Party as New Labour, a changed progressive force in British politics; I had set out an outline programme of sufficient substance to be credible but lacking in the details that would have allowed our opponents to damn it; and I had fashioned a strong but believable attack on the government.
Not much room for other people in that list.
10.00 JP – There are some curious touches that are reminiscent of the Bible – or at least of JRR Tolkien, which is not quite the same thing.
(Talking about Western democracy) We thought the ultimate triumph of our way of life was inevitable. Now it is in shadow. Our confidence is low and our self-belief is shaken. Most of all, we feel weak, at points almost listless.
9.56 KS – Mehdi Hasan at the New Statesman has this forensic analysis of the chapter on Iraq. His conclusion?
I just think you’re being dishonest, Tony. Seven years on from Iraq, nothing has changed
9.54 JP – Blair’s writing style is really quite odd. I know I wrote a blog to this effect last night (see below). But it is bizarre. And we will show you a few more examples as we work our way through the book:
The rise of China is there in real life, visible and pulsating, a fact, no longer an interesting intellectual conjecture… Other nations such as Brazil and Turkey grow assertive, no longer seeking permission to play a role, but simply playing it.
My theory is this: That this style works brilliantly, somehow, when he makes speeches. But it doesn’t lend itself to an easy read. That seems a bit ironic given that Blair himself admits that he finds most political memoirs “rather easy to put down”.
9.48 KS -Much has been made this morning of Blair’s drinking (see Jim’s post at 9.31). But it is another former Labour leader’s drinking that jumps off the page: that of John Smith, Blair’s predecessor. Blair describes him as a prodigious boozer. He describes one night in Shanghai where Smith was leading a delegation:
As the night progressed – punctuated by frequent toasts – things got a little more competitive, and essentially the chief bigwig and John got into a drinking bout. The Chinese guy was holding his drink in great style and it was the closest I ever saw to John being outclassed, but I gave it to John on points in the end (I had switched to green tea several hours before), after he got the entire committee up on their feet to link arms and repeatedly sing a rousing if somewhat unintelligible chorus of ‘Auld Lang’ Syne’.
9.45 JP – Some facts for all you stat-lovers out there: The book is 718 pages long. It took three years to write. It costs £25. The advance was £4.6m from Random House.
9.37 JP -Blair admits that in 2007 he advised David Miliband to brace himself for a leadership contest. He says he didn’t blame him for not standing, but suggested he should be “prepared” in case the issue arose again.
In fact Blair even told Mili-D that he might win if he stood against Brown for the leadership: “Not obviously, but very possibly”, he advised.
9.35 KS – Just to add to Jim’s point about Blair’s “sense of destiny” (below), apparently at one point, Blair describes turning to Cherie one night when John Smith was still Labour leader and saying “John Smith is going to die and I am going to become Labour leader”. I’m scouring the book for the exact quote now.
9.33 JP – Very interesting insight into Blair’s sense of self-belief, when he talks about himself in the early 1990s: “I felt a growing inner sense of belief, almost of destiny”. That could sound quite strange in the mouth of almost anyone else. We’re used to it from TB.
9.31 JP – Several newspapers have led off on Tony Blair’s drinking this morning, in particular his comment that “I was aware it had become a prop”.
Having said that, his comments make clear that he was not exactly in the George Best or Keith Chegwin league – to say the least.
Stiff whisky or a G&T before dinner, couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it. So not excessively excessive.
Is that even slightly excessive? Some may consider it perfectly normal; myself included.
9.26 KS – Random House certainly knows how to drum up a bit of hype. Instead of couriering out copies of books to hungry journos this morning, they told us all to go down to Vauxhall Bridge Road to their offices to pick up our copies. Queue media scrum, one might think. Except when the book was finally released, there were only a dozen or so people waiting for it, many of whom were not even hacks themselves. When George Parker, our political editor, got there shortly afterwards, he was the only one.
9.13 JP – Interestingly, Blair does not only reveal that he found Gordon Brown “strange”. More damagingly, he implies that Gordon Brown lacked values and didn’t quite know what he truly believed. Obviously this is also quite ironic given that it is the charge most usually levelled at – Tony Blair.
I could see Gordon’s enormous ability, extraordinary grasp and unyielding energy, and realised they were all big qualities in a leader. Unfortunately, what I had also come to realise was that those qualities needed to be combined with a sure political instinct in order to be fully effective. And that instinct comes from knowing what you truly believe, not vaguely or at a high level of generality or “values”, but practical, on the ground, everyday-life conviction. And at this utterly crucial epicentre of political destiny, I discovered there was a lacuna – not the wrong instinct, but no instinct at the human, gut level. Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero. Gordon is a strange guy. But by the end I had come to see that this was not the fundamental problem. (He had and has a sort of endearing charm in the strangeness.) The fundamental problem was the he simply did not understand the appeal of New Labour, in anything other than a polling, “strategy”, election-winning sort of way.
9.13 KS – The MPs are still mostly away but Westminster is buzzing today with news and gossip from the man who used to dominate this place. That’s right, Tony Blair’s long-awaited memoir, A Journey, is out this mornimg. We’ve had a copy for an hour or so, and a few clear themes are emerging:
- Blair and Brown found it nigh on impossible to work together by the end of Blair’s tenure. Blair told Brown he would stand down before a third term, but then felt he didn’t need to stick to that deal because Brown was not working to the same agenda as him. At its peak, the animosity saw Brown threaten to trigger an official enquiry into the Labour loans row if Blair did not back down over Lord Turner’s pension reforms.
- Blair will not apologise for Iraq, even though he feels sorry for the lives lost.
- Labour lost the election because they stopped being New Labour, in Blair’s opinion.
- Blair regrets passing the fox-hunting ban and the freedom of information laws.
9.12 KS – Morning all, it’s Kiran here. I’m going to start with a special Blair-memoir themed further reading for all those of you who simply can’t get enough TB today. Here’s our pick of what we and others are saying about the former PM’s book:
Will Tony Blair’s book answer these difficult questions? – FT Westminster blog
Rejecting New Labour lost poll, says Blair – FT
Tony Blair: I knew Brown would be a disaster – Guardian
Tony Blair’s book reads like an evangelical self-help manual – Telegraph
Blair’s book is, in it’s way, a brilliant riposte – The Times (£)
Blair and Brown: an apology – Nick Robinson
Tony Blair’s memoirs, a bluffer’s guide – WSJ