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Rundle: a book that marks the end of Blair, all echo and no conscience

You know, I of course I feel sorrow for the people who have died, how could you not…” God, there it was again, that voice, pouring out of the radio at 6:30 in the morning, as one of the last sunny days began outside. Tony Blair back from the shadowlands of post-priministerial life, and right in the middle of it all again, to plug his long-awaited memoir, A Journey.

Though it is not being serialised, the doorstopper has become famous before anyone has had the chance to read it, and for reasons evocative of New Labour at its worst. For two weeks now the chatter has all been about the launch and signing Blair will be undertaking at Waterstone’s flagship bookstore on Piccadilly.

The event is being run as a major security operation, and the list of conditions (‘no cameras, no phones, no jackets, your book may not get signed, no talking to Mr Blair’) has turned it into some grim East European parody (‘Comrade Hoxha will be appearing at Borders Ballarat to sign Collected Speeches Vol 52.’), and a magnet for the Socialist Workers Party … sorry, Stop The War Coalition.

Before that there was the gazumping by Peter Mandelson, with his contribution The Third Man, a volume which to call disingenuous would be to, um, diss ingenues — ‘I was very surprised to find that we were selling peerages for party donations’; ‘I was shocked to find that we had invaded Iraq’; ‘It was 2004 before I learnt of the Millennium Dome’ — and last and least the change from the allegedly messianic The Journey to the apparently unobjectionably self-obsessed A Journey. Two words, two lies.

But no amount of foreshadowing can prepare you for the return of Mr Tony. The disastrous radioactive tan and pseudo-American accent are gone, thank God in the election, standing glowing at the podium in Sedgefield Labour Club he looked like a trophy he was awarding to himself. But there is still the smooth alien head, the eyes stretched back to the side of his head, the mouth a rictus grin.

And the cover photo is bizarre, a dead ringer for a B-movie serial killer promo, and all the more alarming when you realise that this, by definition, was the one that made him look the most engaging and inspiring. God knows what the discards looked like.

This is Blair’s farewell to British politics,and he means to do it proper — the book is everywhere. The absence of serialisation has sent journos scurrying for juicy, easily-digested tid-bits. So we’ve heard how Blair now thinks it was a mistake to ban fox-hunting, which permanently alienated a swathe of marginal country seats; how he can’t believe he was so stupid as to introduce a Freedom Of Information Act; that Brown threatened the nuclear option; calling an inquiry into the cash-for-peerages scandal from within government if Blair tried to reduce pensions; and that the relationship became so toxic that Mr Tony took to the bottle and “became worried about his own drinking”.

God knows what problem drinking is for a man like Blair; a second half-glass of white wine, given his government’s definition of binge drinking, but it has the same half-truth of much else of what he’s saying. Blair never had much chance of avoiding that one; the Labour leadership always hated the hunting ban, but the party was largely in favour of it, and it came up through a private members bill. The FOI bill was a manifesto promise, and the effects that Blair describes that makes it impossible to have both open-debate and proper documentation within government as a “huge shock” could both be expected, to a degree, and are highly exaggerated. Drinking, thinking and hunting — not hugely important in themselves but indicative of the way in which Blair manages to avoid inventing reality, but succeeds in bending it to the shape he wants.

That tendency comes out perforce in the two big topics: Iraq, and that man Brown. Ever since his oleaginous performance at the Chilcot Inquiry, in which he wriggled around the word ‘regret’ while giving an account of a war unpurposed and out of control from the start, and his subsequent consultancies, including that for a Korean oil concession in Iraq, has produced something amounting to disgust with him from many people, including those who had supported the war.

Blair has attempted to assuage that despite by the no-strings-attached donation of his book advance (4.6 million pounds, $A9.5 million) to facilities for injured soldiers, but it’s indicative of his lack of understanding that none of the money went to any bloody Iraqis. To do so would be to admit some guilt.

A Journey continues Blair’s long career of obfuscation over the blatantly deceitful, amoral and chaotic lead up to the war, with Blair refining the idea that Saddam Hussein had a WMD program that could be restarted quite rapidly as a casus belli. That was not the case that was presented, of course — we were told that Iraq had WMDs ready for use within 45 minutes of attack.

Despite the fact the British intelligence ‘dodgy’ dossier contained, inter alia, a masters degree taken off the internet and presented as intelligence, or that former inspectors such as Scott Ritter had set out the clear proof that Iraq did not have WMDs, it is clear that war had been on the agenda since 2002 and possibly since before 9/11. In his major publicity piece, an hour-long BBC interview with Andrew Marr, mention of the ‘45 second claim’ was the closest Blair got to losing his ability to dissemble or even speak at all. Unsurprisingly, because it was a barefaced lie.

For the rest of it, it’s the vaguely mad circularity whereby Blair restates the need for the West to reshape the Middle East, and then warns the struggle may become more bitter and wider, because the Middle East seems to be so full of people who unaccountably hate the West.

But of course, the Iraq years were for Blair about the struggle with a malign tyrant of ceaseless energy and cunning. Apparently it was only in the final years the relationship with Brown fell apart. For Blair, what gave the rationale to welch on his deal to hand over to Brown within two terms, was his suspicion that Brown would not follow through on the ‘new Labour’ agenda. This apparently was not futile wars, but public service reform in terms of choice, service delivery, etc.

But even here Blair seems to be seeing the whole debate in the rear-view mirror. His passion was for various forms of quasi-private schools academies even though (like charter schools in the US) they have underperformed state schools on a pound for pound basis. He claims at one point that the NHS wasn’t an issue in 2010 because “Labour had basically solved it”, which will be news to anyone who has had to wait four days for a GP appointment in a 1948-era front-end system that genuinely was in need of reform, and didn’t get it. About 70% of people wanted the privatised oligopoly of the railway renationalised — hardly possible but giving a license to shake them up. And on and on.

Indeed what Blair appears to have meant by public service reform is cutting back welfare in a neo-Thatcherite manner, something which Brown prevented him from doing, thus making him, in Blair’s eyes, unfit to govern. Whether public service reform was ever the vote winner Blair thinks it was, arguing that lack of it cost the 2010 election remains to be seen after the ‘08 crash. Blair would have been dumped too. But Brown’s refusal to let Labour start the cutting may well have given some bulwark to the poorest against the Lib-Con condominium. Blair’s verdict was that Brown was unfit to be PM because of this and because he had “an emotional intelligence of nil. Strange guy.”

Strange guy indeed. Brown himself moved pretty far to the Right, with his enthusiasm for finance-led ‘endogenous growth’ and neo-Victorian moralists like Gertrude Himmelfarb, but Blair simply became a global imperialist, for whom domestic concerns in a shitty little island loomed ever less interesting with each new invasion. He helped sow hate and chaos in the whole geographical middle of the world, and he offers more of the same as a response to what he had created.

He sacrificed a genuinely modernised Britain on the char-blackened altar of a naivete about the West that can only come as the product of being a deeply shallow person. Blair’s new Labour did improve the lives of the poor, but it never got around to attacking inequality of opportunity, before the martial drums began to sound. Had he not committed to that slaughter, and those to come, we could assess him as a middling successful social market reformer — and one who might still be in power, accepting the thanks of a grateful nation for avoiding the Bush-era quagmire.

Instead we have a man who reduced hospital waiting queues in one country, while filling the morgues of another — and then argued that each act inhered in the other. No wonder his face has the perennial tension of a man who is forever trying to stop his skull from breaking through his skin. No wonder he is loathed, even by his colleagues, supporters and friends. Farewell to him, as he wanders between the winds of ‘interfaith dialogue’ and speeches for Exxon, in perpetual self-justification and fear of a warrant.

All I hope is that there are no more mornings when I wake again to his voice on the airwaves, Narcissus triumphant, all echo and no psyche.

11
  • 1
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Your use of the term “a dead ringer for a B-movie serial killer promo” : as though it was a “bad choice”?

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    And getting rid of one dictator “justified Iraq” (after so long Saddam being a well-fitting “Western puppet” :- “Iran - sick’m boy”) - so why didn’t “North Korea” or “Burma”, or any number of African tyrannies, come up for “adjudication” too”, by the same “panel of experts”?

  • 3
    Liz45
    Posted Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s one person who won’t be reading his book. I’ve yet to hear a genuine feeling of anguish for the people of Iraq, who, as far as I know, still don’t have fresh running water, uninterrupted electricity and all the billions of dollars stolen by either US military or their mates in the Iraq govt haven’t been replaced. The 50,000 US military are probably only there to supervise the stealth of the peoples’ oil. I find it disgusting, and in my view Bush, Blair and Howard should be facing war crimes. ‘The Downing Street Memo’ which can be accessed is just one more bit of proof, that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, immoral and the 3 of them lied their heads off for months prior to invasion, and many were sucked in - but not me.
    Yesterday’s comments by Obama, about the “sacrifices” of the 4,500 US military who died made me sick - no mention of the 1.4 million Iraqis who are now dead, or the 4 million people who are displaced, or the overwhelming number of kids who are suffering from trauma, because of us! Just sickening! Afghanistan the same!

    Blair’s written almost 800 pages of bullshit in my view. He only makes my belief, that politicians should send their own kids to be killed before they send others - or, if their kids are too young, lead the ‘charge’ themselves. Then, they’d find an alternative! If Blair, Howard or Bush had to tell the mothers of their kids what their intentions were, we wouldn’t have this terribly sad and appalling situation now. Also, I wasn’t an enemy of the people in the Middle east prior to their decision - I am now, and I don’t blame them at all! I blame those 3, totally! The mothers of the murdered children were no threat to any of the countries involved, but now they hate me, and are more likely to be planning revenge - I don’t blame them!

    Sadly, the world won’t learn, and when in the future, 3 crazies want to invade sovereign countries on a lie, too many people will believe them! Most depressing!

  • 4
    Jenny Morris
    Posted Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Bloody great writing, Guy.

  • 5
    Richard Maher
    Posted Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Strange indeed.

    Of course, I had no knoweldge that John would die prematurely. Except that, in a strange way, I began to think he might… I said to (Cherie): ‘If John (Smith) dies, I will be leader, not Gordon. And somehow, I think this will happen. I just think it will.’ Is that a premonition? Not in a strict sense; but it was strange all the same. On Saturday afternoon we went to see Schindler’s List…”

  • 6
    angelalong@iol.ie
    Posted Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Great article Guy. Oleaginous sums up TB - he truly was not the people’s prince. Who’s The Ghost of this biography? and you mean 45-minute, not 45 second - even mad Tony wouldn’t peddle that much of a lie.

  • 7
    Geoff Baars
    Posted Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Love your article, Guy. I’d read your book any day before Blair’s rationalisations. His reasoning on his conversion to Catholicism is something I’d almost consider reading though - just to see how flimsy and elastic his intellect really can be!!

  • 8
    achimova1
    Posted Friday, 3 September 2010 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    Terrific article and terrific response from Liz45. And Obama’s spin does not mean it’s over. Yes there are the 50,000 troops - but also the depleted uranium which is playing and will play havoc with the Iraqi gene pool way into the future.

  • 9
    Dez Hoy
    Posted Friday, 3 September 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Guy and Liz45, for the passion and eloquence. TB was, and remains, a self justifying, self aggrandizing, Faustian fool. I, too, hope I never hear that voice again, unless it is from the dock of a war crimes court.

  • 10
    Jonathan Maddox
    Posted Friday, 3 September 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Deeply shallow”. Profound.

  • 11
    Liz45
    Posted Friday, 3 September 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    @ACHIMOVA1@DEZ HOY - Thank you! I’ve read Malalai Joya’s awesome book, ‘Raising my voice’ which can be obtained at your local bookshop! She’s the woman who was elected by her people to the Karzai govt(many of the warlords, ex-Northern Alliance and Taliban ‘members’ were appointed-unlike her). She’s been permanently suspended from the Parliament because she spoke the truth about the (alleged)criminals in charge of the country. She’s been spat on, threatened with rape, torture and death, and has to move houses on an almost daily basis - there’ve been 5 attempts on her life, as far as I know - could be more by now?). None of the (mostly male) politicians have even been sanctioned, and Karzai just chastised her as though she was just a naughty little girl. The US have done nothing about the criminals, drug pushers and other corrupt people in the so-called govt. Malalai(not her real name) visited Australia last year. Her book is worth reading - the reality of what we’re doing is clearly annunciated in her book.

    A few years ago I came across a web diary written by a young woman in Iraq. It starts before the invasion in ‘03, and continues until she, with her family had to flee. Her name is ‘Riverbend’ and the diary is Baghdad Burning - still available on the net-I borrowed the book form from my local library. I also access http://www.rawa.org which is the site of the women of Afghanistan, who are fighting to keep the women and kids together; to provide education for the girls(under the noses of the Taliban) and suffering trauma because of it. I have to admit to not being able to read too much in one ‘sitting’ as it upsets me so much. Women suffering from horrific domestic violence, women who are setting themselves alight, rather than remain with thugs, bullies and murderers. But all we hear is how awful it is when one of the ‘soldiers’ are injured or killed. No thought or information re the terrible number of orphans and kids who’ve lost limbs by cluster bombs or other types of bombs. The hunger, the homeless and the traumatized? Then, when some manage to escape, we treat them like criminals, and throw them in the slammer!

    When I think that the reason why this country was invaded was the alleged $16 Trillion of oil and gas in the Caspian Sea, I feel terrible shame and anger. How can a civilized people engage in such wanton behaviour? The people of Afghanistan did nothing to us. The alleged terrorists of 9/11 didn’t even come from there? I can’t understand how some people can speak of this country, and just skim over or not even mention these wonderful and traumatized people! I find it almost impossible to even look at Tony Blair(not without swearing anyway?)! I can’t understand how we(our govt) can tolerate his cruelty but reject the actions of those who they perceive to be terrorists! I know who the real terrorists are! The cancers and babies being born with genetic birth defects are the reality of too many parents in both Iraq & Afghanistan, so much so, that women are frightened of becomming pregnant!

    Reading the comments of others on this site gives me hope! There are others who are as disgusted and sickened as I am! Maybe one day, some country/authority somewhere will arrest Blair, Bush & Howard with war crimes and crimes against humanity- but I’m not holding my breath!

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