Andrew Grice: Blair's true legacy was saddling Labour with Brown as its leader

Inside Politics
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The Independent Online

Even the ecstatic, flag-waving crowd which welcomed Tony Blair to Downing Street in 1997 was phoney.

Although ordinary people would have been just as jubilant, the New Labour machine left nothing to chance. The crowd was bussed in from the ultra-loyal Mitcham and Morden Labour Party, the base of Margaret McDonagh, who would the following year become the national party's general secretary.

The story came back to me this week as I read Mr Blair's memoir, A Journey. Not because he included it, of course, although he called his first chapter "High Expectations" and fretted immediately about how to fulfil them. His skewering of Gordon Brown was more brutal than many, including Mr Brown, expected. He waited three years to take revenge for the grief Mr Brown caused him, and then twisted the knife. Mr Brown will be devastated, but he will try not to show it hurts.

My job was to chronicle the TB-GB rows in the news pages. A Sunday spent with the Blair clan produced a front-page story in this newspaper about how the TB-GB relationship had plunged to a new low. It resulted in a joint tour of the Commons press gallery by the Blair and Brown spin doctors to tell everyone the report was untrue and that the Prime Minister and Chancellor were working as closely together as ever.

There were many such charades. If anything, we all underplayed the psychodrama. Mr Blair's book shows the media sees only the tip of the iceberg. The remarkable thing is the Labour government functioned at all, let alone won three elections.

Despite the disaster of Iraq, Mr Blair was a good prime minister, even if he tried to please everyone for too long and his time was running out before he worked out what to do about public services. To paraphrase Mr Brown, Mr Blair was at his best, and boldest, in his curtailed third term. He was decisive, prepared to take risks and had a good people around him in No 10.

In contrast, Mr Brown was surprisingly poor at a job for which he waited for so long. He listened to too many voices and agonised over every decision. Yet it is not as simple as Mr Blair's claim that "Labour... lost because it stopped being New Labour." He conveniently forgets he had to recall Mr Brown to a central campaign role to win his third victory in 2005. (Mr Blair denies he was a "divisive" figure, insisting that "while I had repelled some voters, I had also recruited others." After Iraq? I doubt it).

Winning with 35 per cent of the vote was hardly a great triumph, and Mr Blair was lucky never to face an electable Tory leader. His claim that Labour could have won this year if only it had remained on his true, new path does not stand up. It takes no account of the Tories finally getting their act together nor of the passage of time which makes every election harder for an incumbent government. Even when a party changes its leader, renewal in office is very hard to do.

Mr Blair also forgets that the New Labour band was put back together for one last gig in May. I don't recall Peter Mandelson running an Old Labour campaign. Or Alastair Campbell, Philip Gould or the several other ultra-Blairites running the show. The "Tony 3, Gordon 0" election scoreline – Mr Brown's nightmare scenario as he tried to lever Mr Blair out during his second term – is a bit unfair on Mr Brown.

Yet there are lessons for the next Labour generation. Mr Blair knew the game was up this year when Labour lost the support of business over its decision to raise national insurance. It was fairer than increasing VAT but the loss of business was symbolic, sending a signal to a much wider group of middle-class voters that Labour turns its back on "aspiration" at its peril. The party's next leader may not want to say so during the current leadership election but should remember it afterwards – or Labour will blow its (reasonably good) chance of a swift return to power.

As for Mr Blair, he seems to have learned very little from Iraq. He pleads for our understanding but would do it all again to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Even George Bush didn't want that.

Mr Blair has travelled far on his "journey". He assures us that, while can "sometimes think conservatively" on economics and security, "my heart always beats progressive". To some extent, he always floated above his party; now he seems to have floated away from it.

The most striking part of his book is his postscript. He takes a very tough line on the deficit and the role of the state, barely distinguishable from David Cameron's. "He is a centre-right politician," says one key figure in the Coalition. Yet I doubt Mr Blair would have acted differently from Mr Brown during the financial crisis. Who else could have saved the banks, and averted a global depression, other than governments? The irony of the Blair era is that his legacy to his party was the man he did not think was the right one to succeed him.

Mr Blair was a pretty rotten career planner for David Miliband, who he now wants to lead the party. He didn't give him enough experience to enable him to challenge Mr Brown in 2007.

As Lord Mandelson told Mr Blair as he prepared for his new life: "You are in danger of being blamed by history for saddling us with Gordon because of your own desire to keep buying him off to save yourself, and because of your failure to build up an alternative in the Cabinet." According to Lord Mandelson, Mr Blair replied: "I fear you may be right."

Quiz: Did you read all about it?

After all you have read this week, you should know Tony Blair's A Journey through and through by now, even if you have not yet seen a copy of the actual book. But do you? Here are 20 questions to test whether you have been paying attention.

1 "Naïve, foolish, irresponsible, stupidity, imbecility" – words that describe which action by the Blair government? (No, not the Iraq war.)

2 "Determined, vengeful, verging on wicked ... really dark" – describes who, or what? (And it was not suicide bombers.)

3 Who and who and when "were like two people standing on either side of a thick pane of glass trying to have a conversation"?

4 Which public speaker had Tony Blair sitting "enraptured, absolutely captivated and inspired" and wishing he could speak like that?

5 Who was escorted into Downing Street by a police officer, looking "very sorry-assed" and why?

6 Who was an "absolute toper", who could "drink in a way I have never seen before or since"?

7 Somebody was warned by Tony Blair that their new sexual involvement was a "problem" that made him "uneasy" for reasons that he could not quite pinpoint. Who?

8 Who was mercurial and difficult, did not conform to normal, predictable modes of behaviour and, at one stage, "had probably gone over the edge"?

9 Who was a "fascinating study" and "as fly as hell when the occasion demands"?

10 "There's nothing quite like being utterly and publicly humiliated for teaching you a lesson," Blair wrote. But who was it who inflicted this memorable humiliation?

11 "A bit like lovers desperate to get to love-making but disturbed by old friends dropping round, we would try to bustle them out ..." No, it was not Tony and Cherie, it was Tony and ... who?

12 Who was "rather unreasonable in his persistence, actually manic" but also smart and brave?

13 "There was absolutely no justification for his resignation but I could tell he had had enough. You have to be superhuman or maybe subhuman to endure it all." Which cabinet minister could not stand the heat any longer?

14 Who discombobulated the heir to the throne by balancing a cup of tea on his tum?

15 During the tense negotiations over who would run for the Labour leadership in 1994, Tony Blair took a surprise telephone call from Gordon Brown saying what?

16 Who did John Prescott expect to find one day when he stormed into the Cabinet room, and checked under the table?

17 Somebody asked Tony Blair whether God supported what they were about to do, but Blair said he could not answer. Who was it, and what were they up to?

18 There was something related to the Iraq war that made Tony Blair feel sick, with "a mixture of anguish and anger". What was it?

19 The whole culture of what was "totally alien" to Tony Blair?

20 What was the joke that nobody but Tony Blair got?