Tony Blair

Jim Pickard

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? 

Jim Pickard

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 Legion

Jim Pickard

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. 

Jim Pickard

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 machine

Jim Pickard

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.