Andy McSmith: Blair's book reads less like a memoir, more like a long memo to his staff

Compared with these extracts, the memoir by Peter Mandelson is downright racy

Share
Related Topics

I pity the hapless book buyer who dips into the introduction to Tony Blair's memoir and forks out £25 on the strength of what is in the opening paragraph, because crashing disappointment must inevitably follow.

The former PM declares that this is not a "traditional political memoir" because "most such memoirs are, I have found, rather easy to put down... there is only one person, who can write an account of what it is like to be the human being at the centre of that history, and that's me".

No one could argue with that. But it is the promise that Mr Blair makes to his readers of "a personal account, a description of a journey through a certain period of history" which – to judge from the extracts released last night – must be considered a gross breach of the Trade Descriptions Act.

The book has virtues, of which the greatest is that he has evidently striven to be honest. One of the most frequent accusations thrown at Mr Blair is that, in office, he bent the truth to suit his political purposes. In an indirect way, he admits that this was so.

"Politicians are obliged from time to time to conceal the full truth, to bend it and even distort it, where the interests of the bigger strategic goal demand it be done," he wrote. "And don't get too offended by it; we all make these decisions every day in our business and personal lives."

There is also the absence of private malice. We know from other sources such as Alastair Campbell's diaries that Mr Blair's relations with his popular Northern Ireland Secretary, the late Mo Mowlam, descended from poor to disastrous, but there was no mention of this in the extract from the chapter on Northern Ireland posted on the web last night. He simply includes her alongside Peter Mandelson and others in a list of secretaries of state who served under him, claiming that they were all good appointments.

He has even found words to praise Clare Short, who stormed out of his cabinet and out of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and six months ago told the Chilcot Inquiry that Mr Blair had "misled" the cabinet over Iraq and was "obsessed with his legacy".

Though she "could be very bitter", Mr Blair wrote, "she had real leadership talent" and Labour should be proud of what she achieved as International Development Secretary.

More striking still, perhaps, is the absence of self-pity and self-justification, given that what we have here is the memoir of a politician who has attracted more criticism and more bile than almost any other living Briton.

In the published extract on Iraq, Mr Blair sets himself the unambitious aim not of converting anyone who opposed the war, but of persuading those prepared to hear him out that there is at least a case in his defence worth considering. It is a detailed passage which he seems to have written without help from anyone, because it contains a curious error which any half-competent researcher would have noticed.

He mentions "a son-in-law" of Saddam Hussein who fell out with the dictator in 1996, fled abroad, exposed the Iraqi government's interest in developing weapons of mass destruction, and then went back to Iraq, where he was shot dead. Actually, there were two sons-in-law, not one, who defected and then returned and were murdered.

These qualities will reassure anyone using the memoirs for historical research, but they do not make for compelling reading. These extracts are less like a "description of a journey" and more like a long memo to Mr Blair's staff, setting out their boss's decisions and reasoning.

Compared with these extracts, the recent memoir by Lord Mandelson is downright racy. The Northern Ireland extract, for example, is made up of Tony Blair's top tips, numbered from one to 10, for anyone mediating a religious or ethnic conflict.

Even the brief flashes of personal reminiscence are too bare to command attention. Here, for example, is an intimate moment he shared with the Rev Ian Paisley: "Once, near the end, he asked me whether I thought God wanted him to make the deal that would seal the peace process. I wanted to say yes, but I hesitated. Though I was sure God would want peace, God is not a negotiator. I felt it would be wrong, manipulative to say yes, and so I said I couldn't answer that question."

There it is – one of the world's most famous and fierce anti-papist preachers seeks advice on what God thinks from a politician who is married to a Catholic and at the time was suspected of being a covert Catholic himself.

That is all Tony Blair has to say about that peculiar moment. If this is his idea of a "personal" account, one must wonder what he is like when he is being impersonal.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones