Reading Tony Blair's memoirs, there are a few episodes that have me scratching my head and thinking, "Is that really how it was?" For example, in the early years he tells us that "the broad framework on the economy, never mind anything else, was set by me" – i.e. that Gordon was the engine driver but Tony built the train and decided which direction the tracks should go in. But it certainly didn't feel like that inside 10 Downing Street as we struggled day in, day out, to work out what the Chancellor planned to do in his next Budget.
Blair was remarkably relaxed about the unprecedented power he allowed Brown to wield as Chancellor. "I did so," he says, "without any fear of being eclipsed or outmanoeuvred." Yet those around him were not so sanguine and, of course, at the end of the day he was finally outmanoeuvred.
Politically, the most serious charge that can be levelled against Blair on the basis of his own book is that he knew a Brown premiership would end in failure, and yet he did nothing to prevent it. To put it crudely, having decided to try to keep Gordon Brown in the tent pissing out, rather than outside pissing in, he ended up with him inside the tent pissing on the floor and making it a pretty unpleasant place for everybody else to be.
Blair is at least honest about the complex mixture of emotions that led him to allow Brown to get away with so much – genuine admiration for his positive qualities but also fear of his destructive power should he sack him. And while this book may be one-sided at times and it has a strong streak of let-me-put-the-record-straight indignation, it is surprisingly brave. There is a confessional tone that I find refreshing.
Blair didn't have to tell us that he became a bit too dependent on alcohol towards the end, he didn't have to reveal how clearly he understood the impulses that drive politicians to take crazy risks with sexual infidelities, but he chooses to do so.
Nor did Blair have to admit that, in order to bring the two sides together in Northern Ireland, he stretched the truth "past breaking point". It leaves him wide open to the charge that if would lie under those circumstances – to achieve an outcome that he believed to be right – then he would do the same in others. Those who will never forgive him for Iraq will use that against him – and he knows it.
As well as frankness, this book has humour. His description of Prime Minister's Question Time as "the most nerve-racking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror-inspiring, courage-draining experience" is priceless. It helps explain why he put his staff through hell every Wednesday morning while he prepared for it.
A Journey will stand the test of time if for no other reason than it's a good read. Those who loathe him won't stop, but those who are prepared to read what he says with an open mind may be pleasantly surprised.
Lance Price is the author of 'Where Power Lies – Prime Ministers v The Media', published by Simon & Schuster this yearReuse content