I have had a negative view of Tony Blair for a few reasons:
- He carried on the Thatcherite consensus
- He didn’t carry out open and honest politics
- Let’s be honest, the Iraq war didn’t help
However, last week I decided to read Blair’s autobiography to get his side of the story and reconsider my opinions. It wasn’t a good read. The prose was awful, the sex scenes disturbing and some chapters were incredible messianic but it was the final chapter where he outlined his views on the direction of Labour (after urging the current government to invade Iran) that was the most chilling to read. According to Blair Labour lost the 2010 general election because:
- They weren’t nice enough to bankers
- They taxed the rich (with the 50p tax) rather than the poor (with a VAT increase)
- They “scaled back” on ID cards
I don’t consider myself to be on the far left of the Labour Party and I want Labour to be electable but I don’t see what good can Labour do if it triangulates to the extent it becomes indistinguishable from the Conservatives. The Labour Party is supposed to be on the side of the poor and vulnerable, it’s why I’m a member, and I don’t see how carrying out the above policies make Labour any different than this right-wing coalition. It’s a total cliché to quote Orwell (a Blair I actually agree with) but the final paragraph of Animal Farm sums up my feelings perfectly:
“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
I’ll always be slightly disappointed that Tony Blair (in my opinion) didn’t take advantage of the 1997 landslide victory and a suicidal opposition but I think I would be less disappointed if he had followed Clement Attlee’s example by carrying out clean politics.
In her memoirs Margaret Thatcher described Clement Attlee as:
“He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the Nineties, he was all substance and no show.”
I don’t think that the above sentence could be used to describe Tony Blair.
In his book Blair continually justifies keeping on cabinet ministers who had indiscretions while in government, he even regrets one of the few times he did make someone walk (Mandelson). I’m aware that people will make mistakes and mess up but I wish heads of institutions would realise that the individual isn’t necessarily a bad reflection on the institution but failing to act and justifying the individuals actions is (in my eyes) definitely a bad reflection of the institution. Attlee dealt with clean politics, this wasn’t because none of his ministers acted inappropriately while he was in office but because when one of his ministers did do the wrong thing Attlee would always have an inquiry (before Churchill demanded he should), the minister would resign and Attlee would actually accept the resignation. You can question Attlee’s politics but it’s hard to question his integrity, I don’t think the same thing can be said of Blair.
In “A Journey” Blair is shockingly honest about his dishonesty and brags about his skills as a manipulator. One part that really stood out for me was when he wrote about Clause IV:
“After the 1992 defeat, and without discussing it with anyone, not even Gordon, I had formed a clear view that if ever I was leader, the constitution should be rewritten and the old commitments to nationalisation and state control should be dumped.”
I think that jettisoning Clause IV was the right call by Blair but he later writes:
“Fortuitously, I had never been pressed on this during the leadership contest. The issue had been raised, but it was never pushed to the point where I lost ‘wiggle room’. I had closed down without closing it off.”
He knew that he was planning on rewriting the constitution of the Labour Party but deliberately kept it hidden until after he’d been elected. How incredibly dishonest and undemocratic.
I finished Blair’s book thinking even less of him. It wasn’t the butchering of the English language but Blair’s unflinching belief that he was always right (except for Freedom of Information and banning Fox Hunting, the only two things he regrets, because open government is BAD and ripping foxes to shreds for sport is GOOD) that depressed me the most.
I really hope if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister he won’t triangulate to within a millimetre of the Conservatives, won’t metaphorically bitch-slap the UN by carrying out illegal wars, engages in clean politics and lets Cameron (and his vacuous rhetoric) be the “heir to Blair”.
PS If you have the urge to read “A Journey” please don’t. Read this instead.