Thursday, September 02, 2010

Tony Blair: He can still make us believe – and then, pages later, feel sick.

I should first admit that I haven't read Tony Blair's autobiography and that I have no intention of ever reading it. His ability to "sincerely believe" whatever it was most politically convenient to believe at any given moment is one of the things which always revolted me about the man. And I say that as a Labour supporter and someone who always wanted to believe that Tony was one of us.

Eventually, I could do it no longer. I simply had to accept that we had been taken for a ride.

So, I was amazed this morning to read Julian Glover's headline - which I have replicated here - which he chose once he had read Blair's autobiography. His review confirms my belief that it is in my best interests not to put myself through the pain of reading Tony's justification for his actions.

No political memoir has ever been like this: a book written as if in a dream – or a nightmare; a literary out-of-body experience. By turns honest, confused, memorable, boastful, fitfully endearing, important, lazy, shallow, rambling and intellectually correct, it scampers through the last two decades like a trashy airport read.

You can't put it down. But then it is so badly written in parts that you can barely pick it up. Blair loved to describe his world as one of absolute contradictions, and what was true of his conference speeches is also true of his book.

At times its great flaws are magicked away by his brilliance as a politician, the man who can make you believe. Then, pages later, you feel almost sick.

My problem with Blair was that he never struck me as a Labour politician. He was a brilliant speaker, he sometimes pushed through a progressive agenda, but he never struck me as someone whose heart beat with the progressive cause. He simply didn't get it on so many levels.

And Julian Glover gives us some indication of why Blair made us feel this way.

The inexplicable thing is why he was a Labour prime minister, not why he was prime minister at all.

Blair himself never answers the question. "After leaving Oxford I joined the Labour party," he writes, with no explanation why – as if it were as natural as taking friends for a pizza. Perhaps to him it was. But Blair's idea of Labour had nothing to do with the substrata of socialism embedded in Gordon Brown.

"I'm not a great one for the Establishment. It's probably at heart why I am in the Labour party," he writes. But having joined, and risen, he found Labour wasn't a radical movement, or at least what radicalism it possessed ran counter to his own. "I voted Labour in 1983. I didn't really think a Labour victory was the best thing for the country and I was a Labour candidate."

I have two friends - both lifelong Tories - who used to both lament to me that they wished Blair was a Conservative as they would love to vote for him. I used to reply to both that their wish revealed to me that Blair, whatever he was, was not Labour.

And, even in the part of the book which covers the most recent economic crisis, Blair again reveals that his instincts are not Labour.
The disagreement is most explicit at the end: Blair's attack on "state spending dressed up as fiscal stimulus", his mockery of the resurrection of Keynes by people who like big government. This reveals him to be a man who now must see his natural home in the coalition.
Glover continues:
But he isn't just a stock rightwinger. He offers an apologia to Labour like a man penning a necessary tribute to a cuckolded partner, but somewhere inside beats the heart of a liberal.
I don't believe the heart of a liberal beats inside the man, there is nothing I have ever seen which convinces me of that. He always led the Labour party as if he was dealing with recalcitrant children, as if he was the only adult in the room and we were being obstinate and ungrateful as he dragged us to where we needed to be. University loans, the Iraq war, the list of areas where we disagreed simply grew and grew. Indeed, every time Blair spoke of the need to "be radical", I always knew he was asking that we take some lurch to the right. The Labour party accepted his leadership because he won elections; which, after eighteen years in the wilderness, was no small thing.

But he was never one of us. And, Glover's review of his autobiography, convinces me of what I have always known in my heart.

Click here for Glover's review.

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