Tony Blair

Tonight’s Telegraph splash is in one aspect sensational: how on earth did they get hold of Ed Balls’ private correspondence? (UPDATE: He left the documents in his old desk at the Department of Education. Sir Gus O’Donnell is set to order an inquiry into the leak, according to Politicshome.)

In another, it is less so: The letters show that the Brownites were agitating to wrest Tony Blair’s hands from the keys to 10 Downing Street six years ago, if not earlier; this we already knew. Not least because it was a very public Brownite coup by half a dozen government aides, led by Tom Watson, who finally held the gun to Blair’s head and forced him to put a timeline on his departure. The poisonous relationships at the heart of New Labour has been well documented by Andrew Rawnsley and countless others. Read more

The coverage of Prince Andrew’s ties with Kazakhstan has reminded me of another high-profile Brit with a fondness for trips to Astana: Tony Blair.

When we investigated Blair’s business and charity empire, we were puzzled by the former prime minister’s meeting in 2008 with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longtime ruler of Kazakhstan. Read more

Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq warThis post will automatically refresh every three minutes,  although it may take longer on mobile devices.

Read our earlier post here.

1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”

1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. Read more

Good morning. The Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.

12.30: We are now taking another coffee break. Alex will be your host when delivery returns in about 10 minutes’ time. You’ll need to go back to and open a new window – ie Iraq inquiry part two.

In the meantime here are some quotes from this morning’s inquiry which will no doubt make the news later.

* Blair told his chief of staff a year before the war with Iraq that the UK “should be gung-ho on Saddam”.

* “Up to September 11, we had been managing this issue. After September 11, we decided we had to confront and change.”

* “There are people who say that extremism can be managed. I personally don’t think that’s true.”

* On his Iraq policy in 2002: “I wasn’t keeping my options open. I was setting out a policy that was very very clear.”

* He said the cabinet was aware of his policy: “Go down UN route, get an ultimatum. If he fails to take the ultimatum, we’re going to be with America on military action.”

* “We were probably the most successful centre left government in the world.”

* “I was raising issues to do with Somalia…the Middle East peace process…Lebanon. My view was that this was all part of one issue, in the end. You couldn’t deal with it sequentially.”

* The nature of Saddam’s regime in Iraq was not a justification for going to war – “but it is why we should be proud to have got rid of him”.

* “I didn’t see September 11 as an attack on America, I saw it as an attack on us – the West. I told George Bush – ‘Whatever the political heat, if I think this is the right thing to do, I’m going to be with you.’”

* “When the military pressure was off, he was going to be back, and with far more money. If we had left Saddam there, I think it’s arguable he might have been developing in competition with Iran.”

12.25: Blair has argued that he wanted to get a majority of the UN security council, even if he could not get unanimous support. Sir Lawrence Freedman asked if Blair stopped the UN weapons inspection process just at the crucial point when it was starting to reap dividends. Blair sidesteps the question, saying Saddam was “back to his old games”. Freedman ponders whether a few more weeks may have made a difference?

Blair says Saddam may have made a few more concessions but his overall stance would not have changed – it was still a mistake to leave the dictator in place, he insists. Read more

A dramatic day already in the Commons, and the AV debate has only just begun. Theresa May has just been forced to answer an urgent question from Labour’s Tom Watson on the allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.

During that session, Tom Watson made a prety extraordinary claim: that Tony Blair has written to the Met to ask if he was a victim of phone hacking.

In one way, this shouldn’t be surprising – Tony Blair was the highest-profile public figure at the time, and it is only natural that he should at least ask whether he was on as list found by investigators back in 2006 belonging to the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. After all, if John Prescott, his deputy, believes he was hacked, why shouldn’t Blair? Read more

Much has been made in the last few days about Tony Blair’s apparent U-Turn on the Freedom of Information Act, which allows anyone to access information about the workings of government.

Having passed the act in 2000, Blair has apparently changed his mind on its efficacy, writing in his book:

Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.

Quite a dramatic volte-face, it seems. But Maurice Frankel, the pro-FOI campaigner, points out in a very interesting article for the Campaign for Freedom of Information, that Blair had never been entirely whole-hearted in his support of the reform, and that in fact his concerns nearly derailed it entirely. Read more

Here are just a few omissions from A Journey which spring to mind.

1] Cliff Richard

No mention of how the pop singer lent the Blair family his £3m Barbados villa three years in a row. Is this because the former PM wants to downplay his rich friends?(There is a passage in the book where he insists that most of his pals are regular guys rather than super-rich.)

2] Kuwaiti government

There is plenty at the end of the book about Mr Blair’s work in the fields of charity, climate change, faith and the Middle East peace process.

There is zilch about Tony Blair Associates and its paid work advising companies and governments. The index does not list the Kuwaiti government, for which TBA works, nor another client; Mubadala, a company owned by oil-rich Abu Dhabi. Read more

No time to read the full Blair memoirs? Never fear, we’ve crunched it into five handy paragraphs for you:

The first MP I ever met was Michael Spicer, who was introduced to me by my father. He and my father were both Tories, and I admired them, but I soon realised they were wrong.

I began to have premonitions, and realised it was my duty – my destiny – to lead the Labour party and the country. I changed the party, I made us electable and I defeated the Tories. For my first act in power, I decided to make the Bank of England independent. Gordon might tell you it was his idea, but he is wrong.

 Read more

George Parker, political editor, reviews the long-awaited autobiography of Tony Blair, commenting on its lack of contrition and the ex-premier’s attack on his former friend and colleage, Gordon Brown. Read more

The FT’s Westminster team live blogs the launch of Tony Blair’s memoirs.  Read more

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.” Read more

This morning’s papers, blogs, radio and TV will be full of insights into the Blair biography and what it can tell us about the mind of the prime minister who won three terms for Labour.

Key lines include: 1] He believes that Gordon Brown abandoned the principles of New Labour, which led to this summer’s electoral defeat; 2] if he had sacked GB it would have destabilised the government and made matters worse; 3] he can’t regret the decision to go to war in Iraq, although it leaves him with nightmares.

Unfortunately it also reveals that he is a lousy writer. Reading through the chapter on Northern Ireland, you can’t help but be struck by the clunky way in which he strings sentences together. The impression is of a motivational speaker and part-time preacher trying to sound both philosophical and matey at the same time. And that grates.

The best political autobiographies make you feel that you are in the room with the writer, hearing verbatim conversations and watching history unfold one-to-one. This one doesn’t. It will be astonishing if Random House recoup their £4.6m book advance. Read more

For the Blair memoirs to be a genuine bestseller and pageturner it would help if they answered some of the outstanding questions of his decade in 10 Downing Street. You could write an entire book on those concerning the Iraq invasion – but instead I’ve come up with an alternative list:

1] Which of the current leadership candidates does he prefer? Is it David Miliband, as widely presumed? What is his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the shadow foreign secretary? Ditto the other four candidates? If DM, at what point did he identify him as a future party leader and bearer of the New Labour torch? Also, did he have doubts about DM’s commitment to the “Blairite” reform agenda?

2] Did he believe that Gordon Brown was trying to undermine him during the run-up to the Iraq invasion? How committed was GB in private to the process? Did Brown try to rein him back? Did he fear that if the war went badly GB would mount a coup? What role did religion play in Blair’s thought processes?

3] Just how influential was Alastair Campbell (pictured) in government? Did the former head of communications play a key role in reshuffles, big policy decisions and so on? Did Blair ever regret giving him so much influence? Was AC instrumental in the second sacking of Mandelson? How hard did Blair try to keep Mandy in post?

4] Relations between Downing Street and the Treasury. How did things get so bad ? Did Blair feel frustrated that the domestic agenda was in Brown’s hands? What were his feelings in only getting Budget announcements at the last minute? How close did he come to sacking Brown and why did he refuse to? Was this out of weakness or brotherly love?

5] Euro. Why did he believe that entering the single currency was such a great idea and how hard did he fight for it internally? How did he feel when he was frustrated over the issue? Is he still a euro believer? Read more

I was not the only one to react with some cynicism at the news that Tony Blair is giving proceeds from his autobiography to the Royal British LegionRead more

I spent a couple of hours at the Chilcot inquiry yesterday where Hans Blix was talking.

Like many people, I had understood that Blix thought Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction in early 2003 – encouraged by headlines such as this one in January: Hanx Blix warned Tony Blair Iraq may not have WMD.

The Blix position is in fact much more nuanced.

Yesterday he said he told Tony Blair one month before the Iraq invasion that he thought Saddam Hussein may still have illegal weapons in spite of his growing doubts on the matter. Read more

You have to admire Ed Balls for his persistence. On this morning’s Today programme he suggested that the New Labour battles between the Brown and Blair camps were merely a spot of “creative tension” that led to “great achievements.”

Bear in mind that there were vicious screaming matches between the two men and periods where they were barely on speaking terms – creating dysfunction at the top of the government machineRead more

Senior Labour figures including John Reid and David Blunkett spoke out against a Lib-Lab coalition during the post-election talks. Now we know that Tony Blair was equally sceptical about the idea, thanks to Mandelson’s memoirs in the Times.

According to Mandy, “Blair was firmly oppposed to even thinking about a deal with the Lib Dems.” It would be a serious error that prompted an outcry, he argued. Labour would be “smashed” at the next election. A few days later Blair repeated that it would be a “constitutional outrage“.

The book also reveals that David Miliband and Alistair Darling were firmly against the talks. The national mood at the time was fairly unsympathetic to the idea of Labour – and not only Brown – remaining in Downing Street.

Mandelson says that when Gordon Brown first started discussing the idea of working with the “Liberals” the peer said to him: “If you’re serious perhaps you should stop calling them the Liberals and get their name right.”

There is also a great line about Clegg finding Brown “bullying” and “uncongenial“: In fact Brown had been in what passed for his “listening mode“, according to the peer. It makes you wonder what he was like on a bad day. Read more