THE BLAIR MEMOIRS: A COMMENT
"But I want to put these events in a wider context – economic, political and security – because I do not believe Kosovo can be seen in isolation.No one in the West who has seen what is happening in Kosovo can doubt that NATO’s military action is justified. Bismarck famously said the Balkans were not worth the bones of one Pomeranian Grenadier. Anyone who has seen the tear stained faces of the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border, heard their heart-rending tales of cruelty or contemplated the unknown fates of those left behind, knows that Bismarck was wrong. This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values. We cannot let the evil of ethnic cleansing stand. We must not rest until it is reversed. We have learned twice before in this century that appeasement does not work. If we let an evil dictator range unchallenged, we will have to spill infinitely more blood and treasure to stop him later.But people want to know not only that we are right to take this action but also that we have clear objectives and that we are going to succeed....One of the reasons why it is now so important to win the conflict is to ensure that others do not make the same mistake in the future. That in itself will be a major step to ensuring that the next decade and the next century will not be as difficult as the past. If NATO fails in Kosovo, the next dictator to be threatened with military force may well not believe our resolve to carry the threat through".
Anthony Blair, "Prime Minister's Speech: Doctrine of the International community at the Economic Club," 24 April 1999, in www.keeptonyblairforpm.wordpress.com/blair-speech-transcripts-from-1997-2007
"There’s a line from Tony Blair’s memoir that neatly describes the malaise of modern politics. Leadership, the former UK prime minister avers, is all about decisions that change things. The effort to run with public opinion is as worthless as it is futile. Casting an eye across the world’s democracies, it does not take long to count the leaders who are there to change things.
Mr Blair’s observation, of course, is self-serving. It contrasts his own willingness to court unpopularity, with the timidity of most of the current crop of western politicians. It thus underscores his personal journey from chasing opinion polls to the politics of conviction.
On the other hand, I struggle to recall the last political memoir that did not seek to burnish the verdict of history. Mr Blair has more to do in this respect than most. He may have won three elections but, among the British political classes at least, you have to go back to Margaret Thatcher to find a politician who attracts such opprobrium.
The Iraq war tends to drown out everything else. Peace in Northern Ireland, a costly modernisation of the welfare state, devolution in Scotland and Wales, the advances in sexual equality and human rights, big increases in overseas aid – all are lost to the decision to go to war alongside George W. Bush.
Mr Blair’s explanation of that war is unlikely to change much. Those with open minds may be reminded that the choice was not between war and a cuddly regime seeking nothing but the best for Iraqis. But, by and large, views are too entrenched to be susceptible to argument.
There are other things to quarrel with in Mr Blair’s account of his decade in Downing Street – from an excess of piety to the toe-curling confessionals about his private life. The call to leadership sometimes seems a fetish – testimony to what his principal aide Jonathon Powell used to call a messianic streak.
Mr Blair has a habit of reaching for easy (often eternal) verities when the intelligent response is to acknowledge uncertainty. His present membership of the global plutocracy has also hardened some of his more reactionary instincts.
All that said, the memoir reminds us that Mr Blair also has a rare strategic brain. He reads politics as well as if not better than any leader of his generation; and he understands more than most the fundamental challenges now facing parties of the centre-left....".
Philip Stephens, "Blair's lessons for the left," 2 September 2010, in www.ft.com.
"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs."
Enoch Powell, Joseph Chamberlain. 1977.
"After such knowledge, what forgiveness?"
T. S. Eliot, "Gerontion". 1920.
One can at this point of time, only say less than agreeable things about the suddenly infamous Blair Memoirs ('A Journey' ), based upon the comments that one reads in the London press. Whether or not, as per the Spectator's Bruce Anderson, the work is: 'the worst-written political memoir by a serious politician,' only time will tell (see: Bruce Anderson,"The worst written political memoir by a serious politician," 4 September 2010, in www.spectator.co.uk). As one can well imagine, there is quite a lot of competition for that particular post. Most especially on this side of the Atlantic...Regardless of this more aesthetic issue, which to be honest, does not really interest me, since aside from such Blair acolytes such as the Financial Times' Philip Stephens, hardly anyone anticipated that the Blair book, would be a classic in the political memoir genre, `a la say Lord Butler ('The Art of the Possible'), or Duff Cooper ('Old Men Forget'). What everyone did anticipate was that someone who was for over ten years, the First Lord of the Treasury & PM would be able to make a coherent and reasonable defence of his years in office, and in particular of his involving Britain in the Bush regime's war in Iraq. Unfortunately, this is something which Mr. Blair seems incapable of doing. Indeed, he seems to be completely unable to summon even the normal amount of rationale argumentation, that one expects from an ordinary, educated citizen, much less someone of Blair's (still) eminence and stature. Instead what is the reader of these all too much together hyped book exposed to? A strange combination of simplistic, reductionist & or incoherent arguments, as a substitute for strategic thinking and rational thought. As the quotation cited above aptly highlight. In which the reasoning used to justify the Kosovo War, wrong and erroneous both historically and diplomatically in that instance in question, was of course used subsequently with much more disastrous effect in the case of Iraq. For the rest of it, one may assign the vulgarity and mauvais ton of this book to Blair's habit (all too common unfortunately to the current generation of Anglo-American politicians and public figures) in disclosing aspects of his private life to all and sundry, to au fond, a similar taste for vulgarity and poshlost in aspects of his political career. The sloganeering which one remembers quite well circa 1997-1998, about a 'New Brittania', is now something that only brings a shudder to one. The fact of the matter, is that at heart, 'New Labour', was merely an attempt by a coterie of political charlatans (Campbell, Mandelson, Blair, Brown and Prescott), to use the then unpopularity of the ruling Tory Party, to impose (or attempt to impose) the gauchiste social and constitutional views of the Labour Party on the country. While using the well-oiled, UK economy, running off of huge tax receipts coming from the City of London, as a means of paying for it all. The fact that such ordinarily intelligent commentators like Anthony Selden, Sir Peter Stothard, the leader writers for the Financial Times, as well as the already cited Philip Stephens, were taken in by it all, just proves how easy it was for a politician with a little political charisma to go a long way. Just think of the Kennedy Presidency in the USA, or indeed the egregious Clinton Presidency for examples from this side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, it took the combination of the horrific Gordon Brown premiership, and the Financial crisis, before the entire epoch became as it were unmasked. It was not for nothing that the late Tony Judt, called the 'third-way' politics of Blair and Clinton, 'opportunism with a human face'. In short, if one had to put a label on Blair's place in British history, one would say that he had all of the unfortunate qualities of Gladstone: his messianic streak, his hypocrisy, his unwillingness to defer to his political colleagues, his demotic and reductionist political rhetoric & style, coupled with a willingness to vacation off of the well-to-do, without any of the GOM's good qualities. In short one may in the future think of Mr. Anthony Charles Lyton Blair, First Lord of the Treasury, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, as a sort of Gladstone de notre temps: pocket-size.