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UK Politics

Blair's memoirs: From No10 to No1

Hours after publication it was already topping the best-seller lists. Andrew Grice reports on the frenzy created by 'A Journey'

Tony Blair's account of his time in Downing Street became the fastest-selling autobiography of all time yesterday after shifting hundreds of thousands of copies in its first 24 hours.

The book, A Journey, went straight to No 1 on Amazon.co.uk's British bestseller list and sold more copies in a day at Waterstones than the former business secretary Lord Mandelson's memoir managed in three weeks.

Finally, and spectacularly, breaking his three-year silence on domestic politics, Mr Blair:

* Describes Gordon Brown as a "strange guy" who had "zero" emotional intelligence and accuses him of blackmail during a heated debate about pensions policy by threatening to call for a Labour Party inquiry into the "cash for honours" affair;

* Claims it was he, not his former chancellor, who was the architect of the decision to hand control of interest rates to the Bank of England;

* Admits that he promised Mr Brown in 2003 that he would quit before the next general election, but then changed his mind. He describes himself and Mr Brown as being "like a couple who loved each other, arguing over whose career should come first";

* Reveals that he used alcohol as "a prop" when Mr Brown pressured him to hand over the reigns of power;

* Blames Labour's election defeat this year on his successor abandoning New Labour's policies;

* Says he would use military intervention, as he did in Iraq, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons;

* Suggests he was wrong to force Lord Mandelson to resign from the Cabinet on both occasions that he quit;

* Had a premonition that the former Labour leader, John Smith, would die less than a month before he did in 1994 and that he, not Gordon Brown, would succeed him.

When Lord Mandelson unexpectedly rushed out his memoirs in July, there was a fleeting panic in Mr Blair's inner circle that A Journey would bomb as a result. These fears led to him announce that he would hand the estimated £4m proceeds from the book to the Royal British Legion to help it rehabilitate injured servicemen.

Mr Blair need not have worried. Yesterday, Andrew Lake, the political book-buyer at Waterstones, said: "Nothing can compare to the level of interest shown in this book. You have to look at hugely successful fiction authors such as Dan Brown or JK Rowling to find books that have sold more quickly on their first day.

"Mandelson may remain the prince but Blair has reclaimed his title as king, certainly in terms of book sales."

Amid blanket television and radio coverage of the publication, Mr Blair was in Washington, where he attended Middle East peace talks and a White House dinner with President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Israeli and Palestinian leaders. His visit to the US was a coincidence, not an attempt to be out of Britain when the book went on sale. A London launch party scheduled for last night was postponed.

His publisher, Hutchinson, had pre-recorded a series of promotional interviews with the former prime minister, which were screened everywhere from the Arabic news network Al Jazeera to ITV1's This Morning.

Ironically, Mr Blair and Mr Brown had a warm and friendly conversation when Mr Brown telephoned his predecessor on the day he resigned as prime minister in May. If Mr Brown had hoped that would help persuade Mr Blair to pull his punches in his memoirs, it was already too late.

Mr Brown has made no comment about the book, but is believed to have told his supporters to hold their retaliatory fire until after this month's Labour conference, when his successor as leader will be chosen. Privately, some Brown allies have accused Mr Blair of kicking a man while he is down, after he lost this year's election.