by Chris Ricôt
No sooner had I left the bookshop than the sales assistant ran after me. “I’m sorry, sir, but I wasn’t actually allowed to sell you that book.” What was going on? “It’s embargoed. Apparently the release date’s been pushed back. It’s being serialised in a weekend newspaper.”
No prizes for guessing which. This book is hysterical in its condemnation of Blair. Page after page of wild estimates about personal fortunes, consultancy fees and property portfolios go beyond the polemic. It’s a double-page spread of tabloid anti-Blairism extrapolated over 370-odd pages. A quick look at the sources at the back list a tangle of websites that alternate between Mail Online and the Telegraph. Serious journalism this ain’t.
The authors aren’t sure if Blair is callow, cynical or both. Their story begins on 27 June 2007, the day Blair resigned as prime minister. As soon as he was appointed Middle East peace envoy, Blair ‘set about making himself seriously rich.’ The distaste for Blair’s “excellent state pension,” “twenty-four hour security team” and “increasing web of relations” (whatever that’s meant to mean) is established right from the outset. The authors are baffled that those “who still support him do so with greater intensity than ever before.”
The book peddles the myth that Blair didn’t achieve much in office, when his supporters remember how he fundamentally transformed our country. It’s not just Northern Ireland and the national minimum wage: it’s Sure Start. Civil partnerships. Paternity leave. Devolution. A reference to Sierra Leone’s civil war is dismissed as “his most (and only) successful foreign intervention.” What about Kosovo?
There is no mention of the effort Blair and Bertie Ahern made with politicians of every hue to bring about peace in Northern Ireland over ten years. Blair’s work to defend human rights and the rule of law in Bosnia and East Timor is similarly ignored. It therefore came as no surprise to me that any engagement Blair has with a foreign leader is distorted through the authors’ prism of suspicion. It’s as though his intentions were dubious and his efforts could never lead to anything worthwhile anyway. Thus the Tony Blair Faith Foundation is only ‘supposedly aimed at getting religious groups to work together.’ What about the million lives reached through practical support for malaria prevention?
Blair was 54 when he left office. For all of the above, this book does underline the need for a wider conversation about politicians and their work when they step down. There is no context setting here of the post-office paths of Heath, Thatcher or Major. But public office and its place in national life should never be seen as a stepping stone to pecuniary careers. It’s not good for democracy. The time is ripe for debate on our expectations of politicians after they step down. As our PMs get leave office ever younger, what are we prepared to tolerate?
“We were not out to write a hatchet job” stress the authors in their introduction. Finish this book and judge for yourself.
Chris Ricot is a local government adviser and Labour activist.