John Rentoul: Cherie twists the knife, before it's too late

In her new book, Mrs Blair attacks Gordon Brown with lawyerly restraint. It's her timing that says most about his premiership

Share
Related Topics

The most wounding judgement that Cherie Blair makes of Gordon Brown in her book is not in the text. Some of the words are certainly wounding enough, although their impact is mainly that of putting on the record views that were well known. The first impression is that her words are mild, carefully phrased and lawyerly in their self-justification.

Thus, if she was sometimes fierce in her resentment of Brown's "impatience" about her husband "moving on", this was because "I was just terribly partisan for Tony and I'm sure Sarah is partisan for Gordon, and so she should be".

She even diverts attention from the fury that she felt about the way Brown advanced his ambition by saying: "Gordon wanted to be leader and he had a perfect right to want to be." A simple rephrasing of what Tony said two years ago: "There is only one top job and it's not an ignoble ambition to want it."

One of Peter Mandelson's maxims was "kill your enemies with cream", and Cherie seems to have put that one in her recipe book. Speaking for Myself, a richly ironic title for a book that could have been called Speaking for My Husband, fits the partly sincere self-image of the Blairites as polite, respectful and party-minded, in contrast to the Brownies, who are nasty, brutish and short-tempered. How fitting that the book should be published under the imprint of Little, Brown or, as it might now be known, Belittle Brown.

Not that it quite works. Yesterday's serialisation in The Times, by compressing extracts from the book, managed to juxtapose two paragraphs that directly contradicted each other. In one, Cherie says that, had Brown "been prepared to implement Tony's programmes on internal reform" – at this point one imagines the author turning from her computer screen to ask what they are – "academy schools, foundation hospitals and pensions, Tony would have stood down, there is no question".

Except that in the preceding paragraph Cherie explains how "I was convinced that if Tony failed to stand for a third term, it would be seen as a response to the negative criticism of the war. It would be read by history as a tacit admission of failure." Now that rings true.

Cherie's account of the Granita period rings true too. She confirms that Blair was determined to seize the Labour leadership, but sought to manage Brown's bruised ego for the sake of "the team". Unsurprisingly, she was one of those in the inner circle – Charles Clarke was another – who wanted Brown to stand so that Blair could defeat him. "'You'll win anyway,' I said. 'So don't come to a deal. Just let him lose.' But Tony said no."

She cannot resist a little revisionism, however. The terms of the deal included, she says, Tony making it clear to Gordon "that he had no intention of staying leader for ever and that when he did stand down he would support Gordon as his natural successor". Then she adds, with the benefit of what looks like hindsight: "... assuming they worked well together as PM and Chancellor in the meantime".

Such touches are forgivable, however. As a general principle, we ought to approve of Cherie's right to set down her own version of events. So much rubbish has been written about her – her holidays, her property dealings, her New Age remedies – that she is entitled to try to set the record straight.

Only yesterday, the Daily Mail was at it again. In the middle of last week the newspaper got wind of the decision to bring forward publication of the book, and put together an 1,800-word "spoiler", which included an eye-catching detail. Apparently, one wall of the Blairs' London home in Connaught Square is adorned by a "life-size colour poster of the Pope, his hands raised in benediction". This is said to be "fixed to the wallpaper with Blu-Tack and illuminated by a single candle on a table below". All most amusing to the higher sensibilities of Mail readers, no doubt. But I am told that it is a "total fabrication".

Normally, it is hard to tell fact from fiction in the curious world of the Mail's Cherie coverage. The author of yesterday's article, Paul Scott, did, after all, bring us the obviously made-up story that Cherie had charged the Labour Party £8,000 for having her hair done during the last election campaign – a story that turned out to be true.

Cherie-reporting is a sub-branch of modern British journalism that is now winding down, partly because Blair is out of office and partly because Cherie has become more aggressive in seeking legal redress. But she is still entitled to try to correct some of the nonsense that has helped to colour people's perceptions of her.

The question is one of timing. And that is where the story of the book's publication becomes interesting. The 30-year rule is being reviewed, in one of Gordon Brown's finer comic touches, by Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail. Meanwhile the diarists of the Blair years offer divergent interpretations. Alastair Campbell observed a 12-day rule, publishing on 9 July last year; Jonathan Powell, who gave the television cameras a teasing glimpse of his handwritten volumes for his film about Northern Ireland, says "Never" in his best Ian Paisley voice, which is surely going too far the other way.

But if Cherie is going to write a book at all, why will it be in bookshops on Thursday, instead of in October as once planned? The official explanation for its early publication is as partial as Cherie's claim that "Tony thinks Gordon could win the election" (if several impossible things happen by 2010). She "was eager to put paid to rumours about its contents", said The Times yesterday.

This is not untrue. I understand that, once she had defied all precedent in the publishing industry and delivered her text early, one of the arguments for publishing now was the desire to avoid being accused of undermining Labour's annual conference. There have been "rumours" that publication in the autumn would be deliberately unhelpful to the Prime Minister. However, Cherie can hardly say that this was a reason for the change of plan, because it would concede that the contents of the book were damaging to the Government.

There is another factor that must have been in Cherie's mind when she decided, some months ago, to bring publication forward. That is the possibility that Gordon Brown might not be Prime Minister by October. If he went, the marketability of the book – and its serialisation rights – would be radically diminished.

For many of the friends and associates of the Blairs, the endgame for Brown has begun. Elsewhere in The Times yesterday, for example, Peter Hyman, Blair's former speechwriter, called on Brown to make David Miliband Chancellor in the reshuffle that will follow the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Hyman is right that Miliband as Chancellor is the only reshuffle that could make any difference to Brown's fortunes. Yet it would work only because it would be an admission of weakness and an act of generosity towards a rival who could take over if Brown's stock failed to recover.

Cherie surely shares the Blairite view – even if her husband's opinion remains inscrutable – that Brown's chances of leading the party into the next election are no better than 50-50. Best to publish now before her account becomes the dry-as-dust history of two prime ministers ago. That is her book's most wounding judgement about her husband's rival and successor.

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Members of the House of Lords gather for the state opening of Parliament  

Peer pressure: The nobles in the Lords should know when to go

Jane Merrick
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator, and the subject of the spoof Sony film  

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Joan Smith
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick