A definite article

It’s the fastest selling autobiography of all time. It’s A Journey, by Tony Blair. Formerly titled The Journey, but, after what publishers Random House (my publishers!) described as “a minor editorial decision”, this was stripped of some of its portent and pomposity with a clever switch from “The” to “A”. But they’re fooling no one: if this book was just a journey, it wouldn’t have sold so many copies in the first 24 hours of publication, outselling Peter Mandelson’s memoir three to one, and presumably singlehandedly saving the book industry from digital doom. The book is, like its author, very bad at humility.

I was on holiday last week, but Tony Blair followed me. August is known to be a slow news month, so you kind of expect front pages to be built around what’s in some books (Bjorn Lomborg, another twat, enjoyed the front page of the Guardian last week, too, because he’s got a book coming out). But the fanfare which greeted our former Prime Minister’s memoirs was deafening. The salient points were hungrily filleted and splashed across our newspapers, desperate after William Hague’s selfish failure to be gay for revelations about Blair’s record-breaking 100 years in power. These were, in brief: he thinks Gordon Brown lost the last election (he did); he had sex with his wife a bit, and on the day John Smith died – which he predicted! – he was a bit of an animal in bed; he warns against trying to be “matey” with the Queen; he thought the Finnish Prime Minister should “get a life”; and he feels really bad about all the people who’ve been killed because of him, but he “can’t” apologise for taking the country into war. That’s pretty much the long and the Clare Short of it, but love him or loathe him, you had to buy his hardback book, apparently. I own one of Margaret Thatcher’s memoirs, but I bought it in paperback years after its publication, and only because I was planning to write a novel about the Falklands. I expect Blair’s will be just like that: sketchy and selective, and not especially candid. (Admittedly, she doesn’t talk about having sex with Denis. Thank God.)

It seems that even people who hate Tony Blair have bought his book. This must be the case, as most people hate him. Don’t they? And I meant people who used to like him now hate him too, right? It’s the sheer promise he represented that makes him such a historic disappointment. (I got into trouble on Twitter for idly stating, for effect, that “everyone” hates Tony Blair, and a perfectly reasonable woman gently took me to task, as she clearly doesn’t hate him. Fair enough. I was generalising to make a point in 140 characters.) Although the admirable protests that met the author’s arrival at the marvellous and politically-charged bookshop Easons on O’Connell Street in Dublin made the headlines – especially as some protesters threw eggs and shoes – many Blair admirers queued up all night to get their books signed, mainly those who felt his part in the Northern Irish peace process was an achievement and – Blair’s favourite concept – a legacy worth celebrating.

That is for them to decide. For me, the fact that he sold Labour, and the Labour movement, down the river, systematically dismantling all that the party once stood for when it was proudly unelectable, is a greater legacy. And the invasion of Iraq is not even something I’d forgive him for if he had the letters of the words I AM SOOO SORRY tattooed across his, his wife and his children’s faces, one letter per cheek, and was forced to walk in a line with them, in the correct order, for the rest of their lives. Gordon Brown may have proven useless, but it was Tony Blair who lost Labour the last election. It is he who has given us the Tory government so many people seem to reflexively hate. It is he who had made Labour inelectable again, but for shoddy reasons, not noble ones. Without him, we might have a few more up-and-coming politicians who weren’t 41, and didn’t all look the same. He’s arsed it up for a long time to come.

Incidentally, according to the venerable Andy McSmith in the Independent, one of many hacks and politicos forced to speed-read all 720 pages of A The Journey this week in order to bullet-point its contents, this is what Blair writes about his decision to push through the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force in 2005: “Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders, you idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate … Where was Sir Humphrey when I needed him?” This is Tony Blair showing us that he is capable of the human emotion of regret, and is not afraid to admit what he regards as a mistake. Except shaking his head about the Freedom of Information Act, which has mainly hurt the government and MPs, even shaking it until it falls off, just makes his refusal to regret Iraq all the more galling.

In writing this, I am merely adding to the chatter. His interview with Andrew Marr, which was hardly the Chilcott Inquiry, but which Blair treated with the same grinning contempt (why does he snortingly laugh when exasperatedly reiterating that he takes no pleasure from the deaths of soldiers?), drew 1.8 million viewers, while Jon Snow’s concurrent grilling of the five almost-interchangeable Labour leadership candidates on Channel 4 drew about 0.5 million. It’s as if, truthfully, we’re still dazzled by the man’s celebrity. I say we, because I cannot claim to be ignoring him. I’m not. I’m caught up in it too. I wish he’d fuck off.

Tony Blair is donating his advance and all his royalties from The A Journey to the British Legion so that they can use it to help rehabilitate soldiers injured abroad. Why not – as Al Murray suggested on 5 Live this morning – just see how little your local bookshop is having to slash the book’s cover price to (£12.50 at Waterstone’s, from a RRP of £25), and donate that to the British Legion instead. That way, you circumvent a man’s ego. An ego which needs no further massaging.



13 thoughts on “A definite article

  1. “Proudly unelectable”.

    I liked that. Parties appear to be all too proudly electable these days. Too keen to reach out to the wider electorate with superficiality. I think many may be regretting the Lib Dems (and Cleggs) electability given the grotesque scenes which have transpired.

    And more of the biting political commentary!
    Thought the same too as you did that bit during your free fringe show (Was it with the newspapers?), although appreciate a comedic hour aimed at proliferating the phenomenon of secret dancing may not necessarily be the appropriate vehicle…

  2. your criticisms of Blair and the New Labour concept are certainly valid ones, but remember, that party was elected with a landslide, and was re-elected for 13 years. Inelectable they are not – and I’m fairly sure they did more good in those 13 years than the Tories would have (minimum wage, age restrictions on work, civil partnerships, fox-hunting, etc)

    • There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being a Labour supporter. But in my black and white world, one of the main parties is usually unelectable, so the other party wins (or, in the most recent case, has to make friends with a third party to win). Labour didn’t win the 2005 election; the Tories, unelectable under Michael Howard, lost it. Labour won the 1997 election in some style, but the Tories had by then become unelectable. Cameron and Clegg “won” because Labour had run their course, and had become unelectable. I’ll stop now.

  3. Well said.

    Does anyone else imagine Tony Blair feeding John Smith creamy jam doughnuts and whisky whilst also encouraging him to vigorously exercise and generally overdo it?

    Under Smith as PM Gordon Brown may have dodged the New Labour bullet and achieved a more balanced, sane perspective, succeeding Smith as Labour leader, while Blair defected bitterly to the Tory party where he belonged all along.

  4. I feel your pain Andrew.I could not help but nod in agreement with everything you wrote in your rant/blog.He was maybe the first of a new wave of career politicians who hang their hat wherever an opportunistic peg is to be found irrespective of ideology and conviction.We are destined to be run by these chancers for the foreseaable future.


  5. All politicians disappoint though don’t they? I think Blair lasted quite a long time before the cracks showed, whereas quite surprisingly Obama’s proved to be a bit of a C almost from the off, which has been a bit of a shocker.

    I’m still glad Saddam’s dead though, the murdering old fucker, and plenty of the repressive Taliban have been killed too.

    Is it worth getting involved in these campaigns though? I can’t say yes or no, honestly. Would I go and fight? Yes. Could I send anyone else? No. Do I think it’s right to let the Taliban and Saddam types do as they like in the world and kill loads of people? No. But can I come to terms with the non-combatent casualties and deaths that come with a military intervention? No.

    Anyway I don’t blame Tony Blair for everything, no more than I could blame Saddam, Bush, Reagan, Kinnock or Thatcher for everything. Makes a convenient filing label for various angst though, I admit. Only Hitler and Stalin can properly be blamed for ‘everything’ as they were both absolute dictators.

  6. Andrew thank you for the entry. Tony Blair, eh? The Margaret Thatcher for a new generation? He certainly seems to trigger the same pavlovian responses and I’m getting close to the stage not where “I wish he’d fuck off.” But I wish that comment pages on the internet were just switched off automatically when his name was mentioned to save the blood pressure of those who feel the need to pour out vitriol.

    And then there is the spectacle of protestors throwing eggs and shoes in Dublin. Fair enough, freedom of speech and right to protest are the cornerstones of democracy. But, for goodness sake, at the same time waving placards with the legend “Victory to the Resistance.” Resistance to what? Resistance to elections? A resistance that want to return to a minority community maintaining power through brutal violence? Is this what ‘progressives’ now want?

    Nothing will redeem the decisions made in the run up to war in 2003 but one thing I would like you to consider Andrew, and I say this in a supportive way because I like your writing and broadcasting, is that Iraq was already broken by that point. It was broken by a combination of factors, some dating back the Ottomans and the British; others the result of Saddam; and the others the legacy of the sanctions imposed after the Gulf War. While Bush and Blair didn’t help there wasn’t any prospects for a peaceful transition of power anytime soon. And every year that transition was postponed more Iraqis died either in the low level civil war in the south of the country or in the ethnic cleansing in the north, around Kirkuk. Both storing up potential for future conflict.

    So please don’t fall for the simplistic argument that if we had left well alone everything would have been fine. It wouldn’t have. You can rightly argue that the death wouldn’t have been on the same scale but Iraq was not a country at peace with itself in 2003.

  7. Bit late to this entry, I am, of course, supposed to be doing something else.
    I think the title was changed so as not to confuse us with The Journey, The Secret, The Power or any of those self help law of attraction improve your life trademarked concepts. There are many one liners that can stem from that connection, I am sure.

  8. I wanted to read this book but didn’t want to have just the profits go the charity. So, I “found” a copy online for my eReader and donated the entire cost of the eBook (not just the profit) to the Royal British Legion

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