Blair’s very, very long Journey

Note: I did see a copy in one of the local charity shops the other day. I was put off by its vast size and by the prospect of moral corruption from just having a copy in the house. Besides, I have a young child to consider. The front cover alone might damage her development. SIG

by Robert Henderson

Blair’s very, very long Journey

This review of Blair’s Autobiography was published by the Quarterly Review ( )in 2011

ROBERT HENDERSON endures the self-justificatory and selective memoirs of one of the worst PMs of modern times

Blair takes 691 pages to say what could have been fitted comfortably into 200. It is little more than an exercise in the author’s vanity. The other problem with A Journey is Blair’s ineptitude as a writer which extends not merely to tortured syntax, purple prose, the presentation of banality as profundity, a mania for short sentences and an addiction to cliché, but to a relationship with correct punctuation which does not extend much beyond the use of the full stop.

When it comes to their autobiographical offerings, Barack Obama and Tony Blair have much in common. Both massage their past shamelessly. Both are superficial in their approach to politics. Both unwittingly tell you things about themselves that directly contradict the persona they are carefully attempting to construct.

Blair also copies Obama in one highly suspect trait: he provides acres of dialogue. This is distinctly odd because, apart from a mention of an “intermittently” kept diary in 1983-5 (p60), there is no indication that Blair has kept any contemporaneous record of his life.

This supposed conversation in the House of Commons lobby between Blair and Peter Mandelson shortly after the death of the Labour leader John Smith in 1994 will give the flavour. Blair is pressing Mandelson to support him rather than Gordon Brown for the vacant leadership:

“[Mandelson] ‘Now, let’s not run away with all this. Gordon is still the front-runner, still the person with the claim.’

As ever with Peter in a situation like this, you could never be quite sure what he was saying; but I was sure what I wanted to say.

‘Peter’, I said, ‘you know I love you, but this is mine. I am sure of it. And you must help me to do it.’

‘I wouldn’t be too sure about that,’ he said. For once, there was no playfulness; and for a moment we stood, looking at each other by the green leather-topped table at the north side of the Aye Lobby.

‘Peter,’ I said, putting a hand on each shoulder, ‘don’t cross me over this. This is mine. I know it and I will take it.’

‘You can’t be certain of that,’ he replied.

‘I understand.’ I spoke gently this time, the friendship fully back in my voice. ‘But just remember what I said.’

Someone entered the lobby. As if by telepathy, we moved apart and went in different directions.” (pp62/3)

Apart from the extreme improbability of anyone accurately remembering a conversation from 16 years before, there is the oddity of a relationship between two men in their forties rendered in a manner disconcertingly reminiscent of a Mills & Boon novel by a man now aged 57. Note also Blair’s willingness to threaten someone he claims as a close friend.

The man also has a curious lack of dignity. He does not seem to understand that it is unseemly for a former prime minister to write something like this:

“On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love that Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct… “ (p65)

Blair frequently builds up his character as being one thing, then forgets the script and sabotages his intention. For example, he constantly attempts to represent himself as being in politics not from any vulgar ambition but because he wishes to serve the country. Suddenly this pops up:

“I was almost forty. I had been in Opposition for a decade. The thought of another five years of merely incremental steps towards change in the party that was so obviously needed, filled me with dismay. If the steps were too incremental, we might fail again and I would be fifty before even getting sight of government; and what was the point of politics if not to win power, govern and put into practice the policies you believe in?” (p51)

So, it was vulgar ambition after all.

Blair may not “do God” very much in A Journey, although he assures us before he ends that “I have always been more interested in religion than politics” (p690), but he certainly wants us to think that he was in some mysterious way called to be the saviour of his country. Here he is visiting the Commons for the first time before he was an MP:

“I walked into the cavernous Central Lobby where the public meet their MPs, and I stopped. I was thunderstruck. It just hit me. This was where I wanted to be. It was very odd. Odd because so unlike me, and odd because in later times I was never known as a ‘House Commons man’. But there and then, I had a complete presentiment: here I was going to be. This was my destiny. This was my political home. I was going to do whatever it took to enter it.” (p34)

Blair’s fraught relationship with Gordon Brown threads its way through the book with Blair’s character assessment of Brown – “ Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero.” (p616) – bleakly summarising the state of relations between them at the end.

Blair several times addresses the question of why he did not sack Brown. He attempts to explain this by saying Brown was a brilliant chancellor, but capsizes this line on p494 with “By then [2003], even more so than in 2001, removing Gordon would have brought the entire building tumbling down around our ears. He had massive support in the party and had backing among powerful people in the media.”

So there you have it. He did not sack Brown for the crudest of political reasons, to keep himself in power.

Tellingly, having described Brown as a great chancellor and a brilliant intellect throughout the book, Blair is silent on Brown’s failure to foresee the financial disaster we are currently enjoying. Instead he employs one of his favourite scapegoats, the incompetent expert:

“The failure was one of understanding. We didn’t spot it. You can argue we should have, but we didn’t. Furthermore, and this is vital for where we go now on regulation, it wasn’t that we were powerless to prevent it even if we had seen it coming; it wasn’t a failure of regulation in the sense that we lacked the power to intervene. Had regulators said to the leaders that a huge crisis was about to break, we wouldn’t have said: There’s nothing we can do about it until we get more regulation through We would have acted. But they didn’t say that.” (pp666/7)

Yet the greatest political hate object of Tony Blair is not Gordon Brown but the Labour Party. Tony Benn’s views amounted to a “virus” (p45) and old Labour was “more like a cult than a party” (p89) before Blair appeared on a white progressive horse to turn it into New Labour. How did he do this? By ignoring the party:

“In order to circumvent the party, what I had done was construct an alliance between myself and the public.”

Blair is also consistently snide about his immediate predecessors as leader, always decrying them not only for their politics but their personal failings, for example, John Smith was “a stupendous toper” (p37). Unsurprisingly in the light of this attitude, Blair toyed with the idea of bringing Lib Dem MPs into his cabinet because

“I was closer in political outlook to some of them than to parts of the old left of my own party [and] …Re-uniting the two wings of progressive social democracy appealed to my sense of history.” (pp118/119)

There are a few genuinely startling things in the book. Take this anecdote about the Sinn Féin leaders:

“In October 2006, while I was at St Andrews for the Northern Ireland negotiation with Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the new Chief of General Staff, gave an interview to the Daily Mail essentially saying that we had reached the end in Iraq, we were as much a risk to security as keeping it and we should transfer our attention to Afghanistan where, in effect, we had a better chance. As you can imagine, I wasn’t best pleased, my humour not improved by Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams telling me the IRA would never have had one of their generals behaving like that.” (p470)

“One of their generals”? Sinn Féin has always claimed to be separate from the Provisional IRA. Improbable as this may seem to most people, this line was always supported by British governments from John Major onwards. Yet here we have Blair claiming that the two most influential public faces of Sinn Féin casually admitted that they directly controlled the Provos.

Those who still believe that the police enforce the law without political interference will have their illusions shattered by passages such as this on the fuel duty protests which briefly panicked Blair’s government in 2000:

“I looked at the police officer. ‘Tell me what you are going to do to stop the protests.’

‘Stop the protests?’ he said, his eyes narrowing slightly. ‘You mean you want us to prevent them taking place?’

‘Yes,’ I said, very calm. ‘And I want you the oil companies to instruct your drivers to cross the picket lines, and if they don’t, for reasons anything other than fear of violence to their person, I want you to sack them. And I would like the army to come in and if necessary drive your tankers, and if they meet with any violence from protesters, I want you the police to deal with them very firmly, and if not, to let the army take care of them. They’re very good at it.” (p295).

Then there is Blair’s appetite for gratuitous war-mongering which is surely greater than any other British PM. His utter recklessness is shown when he tries unsuccessfully to persuade Bill Clinton to commit 150,000 men to a land invasion of Kosovo with half coming from Europe despite the fact that he admits he “had no clear reason to believe Europe would contribute any troops other than UK ones…” (p239).

Despite the mess left by the Kosovo adventure, Blair learns nothing:

“I’m afraid, however, that Kosovo had not diminished my appetite for such intervention where I thought it essential to resolve a problem that needed resolution, and where a strong moral case could be made.”(p246).

Though he does not realise it, Blair is carrying on the old imperial idea of bringing civilisation to the benighted natives, believing

“We thought the ultimate triumph of our way of life was inevitable.”(p665).

Blair is remarkably dishonest in his omissions. Take immigration:

“The truth is that immigration, unless properly controlled, can cause genuine tensions, put a strain on limited resources and provide a sense in the areas into which migrants come in large numbers that the community has lost control of its own future. In our case this concern was the numbers involved. It was not inspired by racism. And it was widespread. What’s more, there were certain categories of it from certain often highly troubled parts of the world, with their own internal issues, from those troubled parts of the towns and villages in Britain. Unsurprisingly, this caused real anxiety.” (p524)

A reader unfamiliar with Blair’s premiership might imagine from those words that he made strenuous efforts to control the influx. The reality is that he presided over the greatest surge in immigration into Britain ever seen. Yet Blair does not acknowledge this and fails to mention the single biggest encouragement to immigration during his time in No 10 – the failure to put restrictions on the movement of people from the new EU entrants such as Poland, which resulted in at least half a million migrants in a very short time. All Blair does is complain about asylum seekers.

The lasting impression left by the book is not of a career politician but of an adolescent living out his fantasies and satisfying his exhibitionist urges. When these inevitably lead to disaster, like adolescents everywhere he refuses to take responsibility and drifts ever further into a fantasy world in which he is never wrong merely misunderstood. That such a child was the most powerful man in Britain for ten years is a truly frightening thought.

17 responses to “Blair’s very, very long Journey

  1. Lots to be going on with for the trial.

  2. He may ‘feel the hand of history’ on his shoulder yet-if we’re lucky!

  3. It’s quite interesting to me, because what comes across is demonstrated by his consideration of having Liberals in the cabinet. Blair was really a Liberal all along, not Labour at all. He was in the Labour Party for the pragmatic reason that it could win an election, and the Liberals could not. But ideologically he should have been in the Liberal Party.

    “New Labour” was really “Even Older Labour Than Old Labour”, in that what he calls “Progressive Social Democracy” is the earliest (and resurgent) Anglospheric socialism- moral/religious socialism in the Victorian mould, in which missions to the Poor save them from themselves. Old Labour was the economic and trades union socialism of the 20th century, primarily concerned with redistribution and showers at the pit head. Progressives are more concerned with stopping the coal miners drinking their wages than with providing them with higher wages.

    In this sense, we see in Blair strong echoes of Lloyd George- the representative of the Old Moral Socialism that was being replaced by the economic and trades union socialism of (now “Old”) Labour. Like Lloyd George, Blair was a warmonger; like Lloyd George he was intrinsically corrupt and Machiavellian, like Lloyd George enormously vain, and like Lloyd George a puritan (“stupendous toper” indeed!).

    In that sense, New Labour was really a Liberal government all along.

  4. 738835 380389Paris Hilton: So lovely spending time with Manny and h 389625

  5. Will Wolverhampton

    The lasting impression left by the book is not of a career politician but of an adolescent living out his fantasies and satisfying his exhibitionist urges. When these inevitably lead to disaster, like adolescents everywhere he refuses to take responsibility and drifts ever further into a fantasy world in which he is never wrong merely misunderstood. That such a child was the most powerful man in Britain for ten years is a truly frightening thought.

    Yes, he is perhaps the most interesting non-entity in British history. We’ve had foolish monarchs, but monarchy delivers fools automatically and without malice aforethought. Democracy delivers them after due process (as it were). So one of the interesting questions about Blair is: why was someone like that supported, and lavishly funded, by people who weren’t fools?

    And, of course, there was a Machiavellian benefit to Blair: he attracts the opprobrium and attention Machiavelli pointed out will accrue to the prince’s lieutenant, not the prince himself, if the prince selects the right kind of lieutenant.

    • He completed Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of England from England into something vile and sinister. Historically, the two must be seen as a double act.

  6. Will Wolverhampton

    He completed Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of England from England into something vile and sinister. Historically, the two must be seen as a double act.

    I point this out to a Maggophile Blairophobe I know and he refuses to accept it, simply because he likes Maggie and doesn’t like Blair. That is the problem with our present system: intelligent people who cannot see what is front of their faces, because their emotions or their worship of labels leads them astray. The only truly significant difference between M.T. and T.B. is that Maggie wasn’t a non-entity. Otherwise she laid the foundations for Blairism in almost every way you can think of, from letting Murdoch off the leash to importing American spin-doctoring and politics-as-branch-of-advertising techniques to can’t-say-what-‘coz-Big-Brother-is-watching. If Thatcher was a conservative, Blair had a giant intellect.

  7. Hanging is too good for him.

  8. “Uncle Jim” was certainly less of a Progressive than Mr Blair.

    The only good thing about “Tony” Blair is how utterly discredited he is – a good (practically not philosophically) to attack any policy is to say “Blair was in favour of this”. Everything from wars-to-spread-democracy, to anti-discrimination-“rights”, “this is Blarite” is a good practical attack upon it.

    As far as I know only a handful of people still admire Mr Blair – sadly the present British Prime Minister is said to be one of these people.

    Was Blair (in spite of getting rid of the old, and frankly totalitarian, “Clause Four”) a secret socialist? Such incidents as the “Fabian Window incident” indicate that he may have been (although it just as possible that he was either trying to fool the real Fabians – or simply did not understand the stained glass window he was praising).

    Of course if he was “just” a Jacabin (someone who hates tradition and traditional cultural insitutions and practices) and wishes the state to be “all in all” with everyone dependent on the state for X, Y, Z then the Economic Law “problem” comes into play.

    Such a policy (the destruction of civil society and is usurpation by the state) inevitably leads to de facto bankruptcy and economic breakdown.

    Such long term stuff may not matter if one is at the point of time that Bismark or David Lloyd-George were – when the state is very small and one can expand it a great deal whilst still having economic advance (although something was rotten in British political culture long before this – for example the monster Frederick the Great was almost universally admired, the similar Louis XIV certainly had not been).

    But at the point of time of 1997 (when government was already vast and civil society much undermined) things are rather different.

    As for now…….

    We need no longer talk about the long term.

    Because the “long term” is now upon us.

  9. Writing as someone too young to really remember Thatcher as Prime Minister can someone point me to a good source see why you say she laid the foundations to Blair?

  10. Yes indeed Sean Gabb wrote a lot about the decline of common law traditions in the 1980s – and a lot of what he says, on this matter, is actually true.

    Although, as such works as “The New Despotism” make clear, the traditions of the Common Law (and limited government) were in decline before Mrs Thatcher was born.

    Mrs Thatcher was a complicated mixture of good and bad.

    Mr Blair, as far as I can remember, does not appear to have had a good side.

  11. Of course it must not be supposed that bad law is simply a matter of bad statutes and bad regulations (delegated legislation – Parliament giving officials the right to make rules, within a certain area, that have force of law). “Judge made law” can also be utterly vile.

    For example, when Edmund Burke had the statutes against “engrossing and forestalling” (i.e, standard practices in the wholesale trade) repealed, judges just made up law to rule in the same silly way (putting their judgement of what a market “ought to be” over what people actually do – and people think that modern university economists invented that mistake….).

    It took an Act of Parliament in the mid 19th century to stop judges telling people how the “ought” to trade.

    However, the tradition of the English Common Law can be defended – and Sean is more than qualfied to do that.

    The American Common Law however……

    American Federal judges in the 20th century have engaged in terrible law on a massive scale.

    For example, the “legal fiction of the invitee” (someone who you did not, repeat not, invite to your property hurts themselves – and you are liable because idiots in robes say you are).

    And the history of American Consitutional jurisprudence over the last century has been one of massive abuse. Justified as an “evolving Common Law approach” (of course Sean Gabb would complain at this point that a proper Common Lawyer does not think that a contract or other such “evolves”, a document is what it is – and Sean would be right, however the judges are not interested in such arguements).

    With Judges such as R. Pound producing hundreds (or thousands) of pages of totally irelevant “evidence” (statistical reports worthy of the German Historical School) to declare that the law “ought to be…..” because of various (totally misunderstood) ideas of economics, sociology and what not.

    The “tradition of the common law” does not work if the judges are modern university types.

    Although, yes, I am leaving aside the debate about whether it ever really worked.

    After all merchants used to shun the Common Law courts (even more than the, even worse, Courts of Equity) for their endless delays and bad (and unclear) principles.

    Lord Mansfield (a Scot – I suspect that was no accident) imported Law Merchant concepts and practices wholesale into the Common Law courts for civil disputes.

    Between the Civil Codes of the Continental Europe and the degenerate “Common Law tradition” of the United States (which the Harvard Law School has led into the slime) the English Common Law has been caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

    Of course, a Common Lawyer could reply, for people to shun the courts is not automatically a bad thing…….

    The “lets sue” attitude of the United States is surely something best avoided.

  12. Mrs Thatcher and the law?

    A trained lawyer (like Blair) and (also like Blair) no real “feel” for Common Law traditions.

    Although, unlike Blair, Mrs Thatcher does seem to have had some warm feelings for the idea of the Common Law.

    Somewhat confusingly, however, Mrs Thatcher also gave speeches praising the code of Justinian (and Justinian personally) as the foundation of Western law.

    Justinian was a tyrant – even by the standards of late Roman Emperors.

    And his code was the most extreme development of Roman law (originally a rather Common Law like tradition itself) – into a code.

    Oh well it did last a long time.

    I am told that Bavarian Civil Code (in force till 1900) was basically the Justinian Code of Roman Law – and that the foundation of the law of little Andorra is basically old style Roman law to this day.

    Of course Imperial Roman Law is not about limiting the power of the ruler (of government). It does not say “tyrannical ruler – jolly good” it is just not interested in that sort of thing (it is like Francis Bacon – believeing that the law should be a lion under the throne, not in any way limiting “the throne” itself).

    The idea that the ruler is limited in their power and in some sort of contractual relationship with subjects (at least some of them) is more of a “Feudal” concept (yes the word “Feudal” is not automatically a “boo word” things are lot more complicated than that).

    Sadly the “Feudal” elements of the English Common Law (and of Scots Law – which was not all Roman) were being removed even in the 19th century – thanks to the influence of J.S. Mill and others.

    American Constitution writers (not just the Federal Constitution but most of the State Consitutions also) were really thinking in Feudal terms (with their “rights” and government must not……..) and in Cannon (Church) law terms – yes, in spite of being rabid anti Catholics, they were using stuff straight from the SchoolMen (one of the ironies of history). With the idea of natural law being a real force trumping government laws (whereas Roman lawyers accepted that natural law existed they held the will of the state trumped it – the Church turned that view on its head).

    As neither Feudal Law or Cannon Law (especially not from the Middle Ages) is taught American Law Schools it is no surprise that modern judges are not really on the same “wavelength” as the documents they are supposed to be defending. Something like the Harvard Law School and the Constitution of Texas are like matter and antimatter.

    Someone can not believe (at the same time) in a view of law based on armed people (barons and other such) in a wary contractual relationship with the govenrment – and believe in The Republic of Plato, or Francis Bacon’s “New Atlantis”, or in R. Pound’s “Sociolgicial Jurisprudence”.

    The idea of law as a nonaggression pact, and the idea of law as something that “plans society” are just too different.

    How much of the above did Mrs Thatcher understand?

    Most likely not much.

    As for Mr Blair – he most likely did understand some of it, and was very much on the plan society view of law side.