Tony Blair has just published his memoirs, a 700-page slab with the title “A Journey.” Since leaving office, Blair has been giving lectures here, there, and everywhere, taken on consulting jobs, been busy solving the Middle East dilemmas, and been photographed on vacations, so when did he find time to sit down and write? I know it takes me two years to write a book, not counting time on research.
Anyhow, one always wonders who really has written the books of retired politicians. There is usually some poor ghost toiling in the background. I have only dipped into this one, but the tone of voice is Blair’s and I guess that he may have dictated it. However, Craig Brown, a brilliant parodist, has just rewritten Little Red Riding Hood as told by Blair. What Blair says he also unsays, and Craig Brown gets this style of canceling himself out with a pitch that is perfect.
Of course, Blair must have expected that the reception would be stormy. The point of the book is to praise himself by denigrating his successor, Gordon Brown, long-time colleague and rival. Brown is quite probably the worst prime minister Britain has ever had. Not that he is stupid. Far from it. He is quite a substantial figure, informed in several fields. What’s wrong is his character. Blair sums this up in three words: “Emotional intelligence, zero.” Brown proved unable to communicate with either individuals or the collective electorate. His unhappiness at having to show himself a human being was painful.
It is unusual, nevertheless, for an ex–prime minister to cut his successor off at the knees. Edward Heath resented Margaret Thatcher. He let it show in the scowl on his face but didn’t openly campaign like this in print. The timing of the publication is also fraught, since the Labour party is in the process of selecting a new leader. Blair’s book makes for divisiveness and faction. Brown’s revenge will come, and it will be cold.
The consequence of publishing this memoir is that Blair is hated with an intensity that I can’t recall any previous politician arousing. It is an irony, seeing that he sold himself as “a pretty straight kinda guy.” He’s so hated that he has had to cancel book-signings. People sound willing to rough him up. He’s perceived as a liar who made up reasons to go to war in Iraq because he was sucking up to George W. Bush. I am virtually the last person left in the country to defend Blair’s decision to participate in the overthrow of Saddam. I have just found myself in the company of undoubted conservatives, some of them with military backgrounds, and they could hardly believe their ears when I said that the campaign opens up the Middle East. The Arabs are taking themselves down, and taking us with them. If they can’t help themselves, then we have to help them. Everyone in the room, like everyone in England, was too busy hating Blair to be bothered to answer.
There may be nothing else for it — he’ll be the first British ex–prime minister to have to go hide in Florida.