With the questions I have about the man it was inevitable that I was going to get Blair’s memoirs. It does make me feel a little better that my money is going to the British Legion rather than his Tonyness.
Unlike most post career memoirs this one was written by the subject. Blair says that he wrote every word in longhand “on hundreds of notepads” and as the deadline approached he even had his blackberry taken away. I can believe that, he’s an OK writer, but the book would have benefited from fewer clichés and a few more reflective moments.
Unquestionably he is one of the best communicators as a speaker or interviewee. The moments he talked off the cuff and threw away the speeches was when he was at his best, and his best was brilliant (Labour conference in ’95 or ’96 where he talked about his belief and vision for the UK was astounding). In those moments he showed a passion and created a connection that is sorely missing from the book.
One of the most interesting things in the book were his thoughts on Gordon Brown, it’s clear that their relationship in later years was at best, poor. He admits to never really dealing with Brown and his allies when they started to undermine his position; this led to what some commentators called the “Blair-Brown civil war”. Perhaps his most important admission is that he knew Brown would be a disaster a premier (which he was) but did nothing to change the succession agreement between the two rivalries.
He writing does lead to a sort of honesty that’s missing from many of his contemporaries efforts. Unquestionably one of his biggest triumphs was the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Yet in his discussions of that time he admits to stretching the truth to “breaking point” when trying to put together a settlement in Northern Ireland. Few, if any politicians are honest enough to admit that they were willing to deceive to make the right things happen.
This same emotional honest is missing from his justification for Iraq. He’s direct and clear that he still believes that it was the right thing to do.
He sees him self as a man who tried to bring out the positives in other, and there is significant evidence that this is the case. This is the man who got Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley to work together for peace in Northern Ireland, no one else could have managed that.
He does admit his admiration for George Bush, he calls him a man of genuine integrity and an idealist. You rather get the impression that Blair felt rather bent over by Bush and the relationship does not always reflect well on Blair. Again there is an honesty that was somewhat unexpected, but at the same time the mistakes are not truly acknowledged.
The title comes from his transition over the course of his premiership.
He started his term as a populist leader that completed the Labour journey to government started by Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Ten years later he had matured into a statesman led by his beliefs, popular or not. Ultimately he had to compromise and reshape some of his beliefs to become Labours longest serving PM, he’s open about the compromises he made and accepts where the journey ended was not where he wanted it to.
It’s interesting, and as these books inevitably do, it’s promises more than it delivers. However My Journey comes far closer than many of his peers in delivering something substantial.