I’m contemplating writing my memoirs. I hear they are in vogue. I fear, however, that my offering might not be as eagerly anticipated as Tony Blair’s memoirs, published today under the title A Journey. I can make my peace with that, however, since Amazon.co.uk has predicted that Tony Blair’s will be “the biggest political memoir of all time”. It was inevitable that this publication would be swathed in controversy, and it hasn’t disappointed. Even the book’s title incited dispute, and it was changed from The Journey. The indefinite article is known for its ability to dispel allegations of narcissism.
Blair is no fool. He knows that his legacy has been tarnished by the war in Iraq. Now he is endeavouring to rectify this both through his words and his actions. His decision to dine at the White House tonight, where he will engage in Middle East peace talks, sends out a message of his dedication to the cause. This could easily be dismissed as more hype, much as his donation of the royalties to the Royal British Legion was. Cynics suggest that Blair has left the country in order to avoid the spotlight. It is undeniable that the book’s publication today has attracted significant media attention, but it seems counterintuitive to suppose that Blair is seeking refuge from this in America. After all, he is about to embark on an international tour to promote the book. Is that the action of a man who is media-shy? I think not.
No, it seems that his motivation lies elsewhere. He has acted consistently in the weeks preceding the publication of his memoirs. Whatever his ulterior motives for donating the royalties to the British Legion may have been, this was still a substantial sum of money which will allow the charity to continue its essential work. His choice to direct the money in this way displays a commitment to remedying the aftermath of “the nightmare that unfolded” in Iraq. His enthusiastic involvement in the Middle East peace talks again demonstrates his concern, and the timing of his visit to the US actually appears to have been politically astute. He has been keen to emphasise the effort he has devoted to the peace process since leaving Downing Street. Perhaps this dinner is another verse of his mea culpa. This seems more likely than the idea that the erudite, calculating Blair should be running away.
Whilst his decision to take Britain to war in Iraq was viewed as defining his premiership, this is not a single issue memoir. Blair illuminates several of the political and personal challenges he has faced throughout his career, as well as offering his opinions on Brown’s ill-fated leadership and the future of the party. Whilst he does not explicitly comment on the contemporary leadership contest, he does cast veiled aspersions on the ability of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to offer a viable solution to the country’s financial problems. It is this aspect of the memoirs which is likely to have an impact on the party, as Blair delivers very clear advice on how the party could be returned to its former glory.
Actually, this advice could be summarised in two words: New Labour. Blair attributes Gordon Brown’s decline to his departure from the New Labour ideology. His words do ring true: “Labour won when it was New Labour… It lost because it stopped being New Labour”. Then again, it is hardly surprising that he should be an advocate for that manner of government.
The current leadership candidates have consistently been wary of praising the benefits of New Labour, which David Miliband recently dismissed as “a thing of the past”. The aim seems to be to appeal to the Left. Neither Brown nor Blair is especially popular with the British public any longer, so this is an understandable reaction, but is it a wise one? We shall have to wait and see whether Blair was correct, and whether the next Labour leader will take heed of his warnings.
Actually, maybe this memoir-writing lark is too stressful after all.