Sunday 5 September 2010

The worst political memoir ever

I loath Tony Blair. There you are; I’ve said it; I simply can’t be objective here. I believe that American people are surprised by just how disliked he is on this side of the Pond, as he remains a popular figure in the States. I really could go on at length about this but I think it sufficient to say that his government served my country so ill a foreign occupier could not have inflicted much more damage. As a student of political history, casting my eye all the way back to the eighteenth century, to the point where the British parliamentary system began to emerge in its modern form, I can think of no worse ministry than that of New Labour, no worst prime minister than Tony Blair.

I make these comments in the light of the publication last week of A Journey, Blair’s political memoir. I had no intention of buying this book, a decision that was – temporarily – weakened by its reception on one of the late evening news bulletins. The reporter said that it was a “good read” and then proceeded to demonstrate how good it was with selective quotations. I assume the passages in question are among the ‘gems’, the usual practice, which made the whole thing all the more shocking, because they were downbeat, shallow, self-pitying and stunningly banal.

“That’s it”, I thought, “I will have to buy it and review it if this is the kind of thing one is to expect.” I no longer have to; the kind of assessment I would have written has been penned by Bruce Anderson of The Spectator. Even Bagehot in The Economist, generally appreciative, has pointed to what he refers to the “weirdly rootless” prose, references by Blair to his press aide’s “clanking great balls”, to one of his ministers as “fully simpatico with the direction of change.” But it is Anderson who delivers the killer under the heading The worst-written memoir by a serious politician. Here it is in its entirety;

It is bizarre. As he often demonstrated in the House of Commons, Tony Blair knows how to use words. He could also have mobilised a team to help him write his memoirs. Instead, it is all his own work, and the words mutinied. This book is not just badly written, it is atrociously written. For almost 700 pages, Tony Blair stumbles between mawkishness and banality.

Prime ministers send soldiers into combat. Some of those soldiers are killed. That is a subject which would lead the least sensitive of men to reach into their souls and craft language out of emotional depth. This is Mr Blair's version. "The anguish remains. The principal part of that is not selfish. Some of it is, to be sure. Do they really suppose I don't care, don't feel, don't regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died?' Yes, they do. They know that the "every fibre" line is a thoughtless cliché. Many, many of the fibres of his being were otherwise engaged.

This is not just a pedantic point. If Tony Blair was to write on this topic, he was obliged to write sincerely. The passage continues: "And not just British soldiers but those of other nations...' He then proceeds to list them, as if anxious to leave no-one out. He concludes: "I am now beyond the mere expression of compassion. I feel words of condolence and sympathy to be entirely inadequate." There, we can agree. His words are not only inadequate. They are a pathetic, tin-mouthed babble, and anyone who can refer to a "mere expression of compassion" has a tin-mouthed soul.

This does not prevent him writing about religion. He tells us that for him, it has always been "a passion bigger than politics". Alastair Campbell once said "We don't do God". Judging by these pages, his wariness was justified. Mr Blair certainly cannot do passion. 'So that's my new life", he tells us at the book's end. "What makes me optimistic? People. Since leaving office, I have learned one thing above all: the people are the hope". You could not make it up.

It is as if Tony Blair set out to do the parodists' work for them. Apropos of the UK's Olympic bid, he tells us that: "We also put David Beckham into the mix. David is a complete pro - he did what he was asked to do with no messing about and generally sent Singapore into a twitter, which is exactly what was required'. Twitter is the word; reading this guff, one has to remind oneself that this man is trying to describe an important premiership. Instead, he has produced much the worst-written memoir ever twittered by a serious politician. It will inflict lasting and deserved damage upon his reputation.

What more needs to be said? The memoir is clearly in character, in character of this infantile, shallow man, disingenuously honest, sickeningly phoney. There is one other thing. Blair, I understand, is now a Catholic. He therefore, I assume, accepts the dogma of hell. Personally I hope that is where his journey ends, the hell to which he consigned so many others.

As a postscript to the above I’ve just discovered that a Facebook group has been formed, now with close on 4500 members, made up of people committed subversively to moving Blair’s memoirs to the crime section of book shops- I would have preferred the comedy section, or placing it alongside such gems of romantic fiction as the Mills and Boon paperbacks of Barbra Cartland, but – what the hell – I’ve joined. I’ll do anything for a spot of fun, anything to make this man look ridiculous.


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  3. Thanks, Adam. I've got an even better flavour from comments and reviews in the Sunday press. A pattern is being established. Blair has broken every rule set out by George Orwell in Politics and the English Language. I simply cannot believe that this is not deliberate, a dumbed-down book from a dumbed-down prime minister. No cliche is left unused, as Andrew Rawnsley says in The Observer. Loins are girded, leashes are strained, die are cast, lights appear at the end of tunnels, and wounds rubbed with salt. Derry Irvine he says is "like the proverbial dog with a bone." There are heaps of "I digress", "Funnily enough" and "Needless to say". One paragraph concludes with "Get a life." It's appalling, it really is appalling. It simply has to be deliberate, either that or he is unbelievably stupid. Quite frankly, it's frightening, the tedium and banality stunning.

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  5. Adam, you are destined for great things. :-)

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  7. Since reading this typically forceful and well-written article by Anastasia I have had a chance to look through the latest edition of the Church Times.

    An article by Paul Vallely caught my eye. It was headed "Why all the Vitriolic Blair - baiting?"

    He begins by admitting that reading the ex PM's book will not change his mind about Blair and reflecting that he is not alone in having such immovably settled views.

    He then goes on to try to put things into perspective. Admitting that the Iraq adventure was a disaster he points out that Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland were to be put on the credit side.

    And there can be no doubt that schools and hospitals received more attention from his government than under the preceding administration.

    I detested Blair when he became PM and still look back on the election of 1997 as a disaster. I hated his "patter" which I thought more appropriate to a DJ than a statesman and felt that he cheapened politics.

    But he is gone now and I cannot find it in me to hate any more. He was a genius, even if a flawed one and as long as he was in office the opposition never laid a glove on him.

    I shall not be buying the book and have to take the word of others that it is badly written and self serving - like most political memoirs.

  8. David, in a way I envy you - hatred is not good. I just despise him so, I can't help it; I despise him for the harm he has done to our country, to our democracy. I grew up in the era of Blair, an era where smug, self-serving hypocrisy was turned into a political art. His book is a symptom of his rule, if that makes sense.

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  10. I was lucky enough to grow up under the 1951 - 1964 Conservative Government. It seems a long time ago - even to me.

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  12. Something else I think deserving of envy. :-)

  13. Yes, Ana, sadly this person did govern us for all those years. I will not buy or indeed read his book, I feel no inclination to do so. Reviews like yours more than adequately inform me of the rather base standard of the writing. Perhaps it was not aimed for the British reader in the first place.

  14. Shermeen, there is a good article in the current issue of The Spectator on Blair and his self-promotion. This is book is the Book of Blair, intended for all mankind. So, yes, you are right. Behold the new Prophet.