Why is Blair so afraid of these books?

Political biographies timed to coincide with the Labour conference are giving the PM the jitters
Click to follow
Indy Politics

One is the story of a Liverpool schoolgirl who grew up to be the power behind a prime minister; another is the tale of warring neighbours plotting each other's demise; the third is the life story of a dancing girl who left the chorus line to preside over the Commons. They are the books that could rock Brighton. And Tony Blair is dreading them.

With publication timed to coincide with Labour's autumn conference, the political book trio promise explosive and potentially damaging revelations.

Mr Blair knows from bitter experience that books alone have managed to corrode New Labour's Teflon coating since 1997. And despite dismissing them as "little more than political gossip", his allies know this latest trio could cause real problems. The publishers certainly think so: they have already commanded more than £1m in advances and serialisation fees.

Linda McDougall, wife of the Labour MP Austin Mitchell, has written the first biography of Cherie Blair, Cherie: The Perfect Life of Mrs Blair. Her publisher, Politico's, insists it is "not a hatchet job", but even so its publication comes against the wishes of Downing Street. Originally due in February, the book was planned as a "light celebrity profile".

Several months later, its arrival has been announced amida barrage of opposition from Downing Street, who told a number of people – many of whom defied their wishes – not to talk to Ms McDougall. It is quite a different book.

Iain Dale at Politicos said: "Quite a lot of people talked to her because they weren't at all happy about being gagged. It's not a hatchet job at all. That's where Downing Street has gone wrong. They have tried to portray it as a book that is very anti-Cherie, which it is not at all. But nor is it a hagiography." The Mail on Sunday has bought serialisation rights for an undisclosed sum.

Meanwhile The Rivals, by James Naughtie, presenter of BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme, attracted a £300,000 advance from publisher Fourth Estate. It is expected to contain new revelations about the fraught relationship between Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown, re-opening speculation about a deal which some believe could see Mr Blair vacating Number 10 in favour of his next-door neighbour – or a very angry Mr Brown if he doesn't.

The Brown camp has "refused to a man" to have anything to do with the book, a Westminster source said. But it is understood to have received a "heavy briefing from Downing Street". Mr Naughtie regularly meets Mr Blair in the Today studio and is known to have dined with him on a number of occasions.

The third book, Betty Boothroyd: My Autobiography, published by Random House, is exactly as it sounds. It has been written with the help of Sunday Times journalist Michael Jones and, apart from the reported £750,000 advance, is expected to earn considerably more through its newspaper serialisation.

Other books due out in the coming weeks include the second volume of former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown's diaries, Simon Walters' Tory Wars: The Conservatives in Crisis, former Conservative MP Teresa Gorman's memoirs, No Prime Minister, and BBC political correspondent Nicholas Jones's Election 2001: Campaign Diary.

Even the broadcasters are getting in on the act, with arch-rivals John Sergeant, the former BBC man who is now political editor of ITN, and the ex-BBC political editor, Robin Oakley, publishing memoirs in the same week.

'Cherie: The Perfect Life of Mrs Blair' by Linda McDougall.

Out: late September.

Potential damage rating: 3 out of 5.

'The Rivals', by James Naughtie, (the 'rivals' are Tony Blair and Gordon Brown).

Out: early September.

Potential damage rating: 4 out of 5.

'Betty Boothroyd: My Autobiography', by Betty Boothroyd, with help from Michael Jones.

Out: early October.

Potential damage rating: 2 out of 5.

Comments