A Journey by Tony Blair – 1st draft extracts part II (Exclusive)

Read Part I here.

Today, In Power:

On being in government (from the chapter ‘Breaking Britain’)

Tony Blair is Britain’s first new Labour Prime Minister for 18 years and he’s riding high on a wave of unprecedented popularity, but what to do?

Look, there’s been a lot of criticism of Labour’s record but people underestimate the difficulty of starting with a blank sheet of paper. That was literally true at the beginning of the first term. Gathered around the cabinet table, I explained to the ensemble that the manifesto was a lovely, glossy document and we were all very proud of it, particularly the cover photograph, but now we’d been elected there was the little matter of policy.

“I believe in cabinet government,” I told them, though I was careful not to look at Mo [Molam] or Robin [Cook], “and I want us to work well together, so I’d like each of you to nominate a policy and we’ll ask Frank [Dobson] to make a note of it.”

“What sort of thing should we be thinking about?” asked Frank. It was that ability to get to the kernel of the issue that had earned him his place at the top table. It was then I was able to respond with my first big idea for the Labour government. I instructed every member of the cabinet to think of a state asset that would benefit from full or part-privatisation. I confess I’d expected a degree of resistance but the suggestions just kept coming – higher education, the health service, schools, the post office, banking regulation – it was like a fire sale!

“This is remarkable,” I said, “this is what modernisation is all about.”

“What’s modern about turning everything over to the private sector?” asked Mo, as was her wont.

“Modern, as in it’s happening now, Mo – in the present.” The difficulty in being leader was that you often had to simplify difficult concepts for your worker bees but I think she understood. Nevertheless, following the meeting and with the minutes safely dispatched to the appropriate civil servant, I made an executive decision not to discuss difficult or contentious matters with colleagues from that day forward. Good government was about unity and consensus, I felt, and the best way to achieve that was to avoid confrontation and keep decision making at the top where it could be executed without interference.

Moments after the meeting I was approached by Alistair, who’d been listening in with an ear to the door.

“Command and control, TB?” he suggested.

Well, I had a spare half hour so we unlocked the console cabinet, extracted the playstation and enjoyed a quick game before my afternoon appointments.

On dealing with 9/11 (From the chapter ‘Shaping The World Around Me’)

Blair has been re-elected with a second landslide following the June 2001 general election. Many commentators have written off the first term as a missed opportunity and the Prime Minister is determined that delivery will be the watchword of the second. However, the war on terror threatens the domestic agenda…

The passage of time may have diminished its impact but I don’t believe that any Prime Minister has faced an event as awful as the September 2001 TUC conference. Addressing the TUC is like facing a hall full of ex-girlfriends, all of whom you left for their more attractive, sexually adventurous pals. They hate you, they’re hoping you’ve turned impotent and they have this self-righteous air about them that I always found nigh on unbearable. On the morning of September 11th I’d prepared a speech, a good one so I thought, in which I’d planned to shoot some zingers, charting the difficult course we had to steer as reformers. It wasn’t exactly poetry but Alistair assured me that there were enough buzzwords and phrases in there to keep the newspaper editors happy and they, after all, were the real audience, not the cast of I’m Alright Jack.

I was orating to a small cabal of advisers who were clapping at the appropriate moments, correcting my stance and remoulding my facial muscles for best effect when Alistair came charging into the room.

“Quick, turn on the TV, not the BBC but one of Rupert’s networks, now!” he barked. On Sky News, we witnessed the live feed from New York. The World Trade Center was on fire, a dense plume of smoke clogging the Manhattan skyline. The headlines were unbelievable: hundreds, possibly thousands dead, the US under full scale attack from what was at this point, an invisible enemy. As we watched the North Tower collapse, my TUC speech fell from my hand. I’d never known such quiet. This was what Peter used to call a ‘Prescott moment’ – it was senseless, incomprehensible – one felt a sense of moral and physical revulsion.

“This is not a moment for hyperbole,” I said, “but this could be the beginning of a new world war.”

The hours following the attack were very difficult. I tried to contact President Bush only to be informed that George had been sedated both for his own protection and that of the American people. His generals were busy executing the so-called “Knee Cap Plan”, changing the country’s nuclear launch codes while a briefing package was put together for the president. This was designed to buy time so that the joint chiefs could explain the complexities of the situation to George before he launched a full-scale nuclear strike against whichever nation he deemed responsible. Knee jerk responses could start a war but it was important to fight the right battle, i.e. choose a target that couldn’t respond in kind.

Once George had been revived and fully briefed I was permitted to speak to him on our direct line.

“Blair,” he said, “these motherfuckers want to kill all of us and that includes you, your family and most of the Western world. Don’t be under any illusionations, we’re dealing with as many as twenty to thirty extremists here. These guys are hiding somewhere in Afghanistan and there’s no limit to what they’ll do – raping animals in church, urinating in holy water, selling women for guns; they’re barely human and we’ve got to show them that we won’t tolerate the mass murderization of our people by killing as many of theirs as possible.”

George would come in for a lot of criticism in the years that followed but people need to understand that he understood the issue immediately, knowing what needed to be done without having to think it through and I respected him for that from the very beginning.

This to me was my calling; it was essentially the reason that I’d entered public service. I realised in that moment that a policy of liberal, and whisper it quietly, Christian interventionism was the only way to restore order and meaning to the world. I was to be morality’s champion. Unless you’ve been Prime Minister you may struggle to understand the importance of having a mission in government. Up to that moment I had struggled to know precisely what New Labour was for. The project had been created to get into government and we had achieved that. I’d often watch old footage of Mrs Thatcher and envy her strength and clarity of purpose. What, I sometimes wondered, was mine? Now I knew. In that instant, I didn’t need to see the United Nations Charter or reams of appeasing legal documentation; my authority was my faith, my ability to persuade and connect, the toolkit that would facilitate delivery of this new and grand project. The war wets would have their say later, sanctimonious in the extreme; for now though this was my time and I took the chance to do what was right and get us on the subs bench with the winning team.

“George,” I said without so much as a flinch, “We’re with you. We’re with you with all our shoulders and hearts. I say to you, unconditionally, we’ll do whatever needs to be done and we shall not falter. We’re all on the same team after all; we’re all on the side of democracy and liberty. Whatever you need from us, rest assured you shall get it.”

It was at that moment that Mary, my PA, cut in on the line. “He’s gone, Prime Minister.”

On Iraq and its aftermath (from the chapter ‘Faint Hearts Never Won Over A Nation’)

Afghanistan has been invaded and the attention of the US administration has now turned to Iraq. Despite immense opposition at home and abroad, Tony Blair has committed Britain to supporting and participating in the planned invasion. With just three days to go before the vote in the commons, the question of the whether there is a legal case for a preventative war dominates the headlines.

The legality of the war was a crucial question. Clearly there was moral authority for an invasion, any fool could see that. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and sadistic dictator who’d killed more people than I cared to find out about and yet, despite this, a million lazy minded, sandal wearing, Guardian reading, pig-ignorant, bleating, pacifist pseudo-communists had marched on London (and a few other places), decrying the whole affair as reprehensible, indefensible and illegal. This final point seemed to me absurd. We were the government and we decided what was legal; that was the authority the people had invested in us – had they forgotten it? Obviously lawyers were ten a penny and you could, if you were so minded, rustle up a bunch who’d tell you that the war was a criminal act without a second UN resolution; no doubt a bunch of 2:2 graduates from The University of Huddersfield or some such! This was idiocy. The only legal opinion that mattered was that which came from within, after all, we had access to all of the intelligence, we’d written it for God’s sake! We had Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, whose reputation was beyond reproach, at least it was at that time. Nevertheless it didn’t hurt to push him a little.

I felt it was important to remind him that the commons vote was now only days away and, more importantly, the fate of myself, the government and our relationship with the international community was resting on his decision. Consequently I rang him every two hours to get an update on his progress. Initially he was flaky – well, you know lawyers, umming and erring as we talked about the legal position.

“C’mon man, I need an answer!” I’d tell him. “Do I really need to have Alistair draft one for you?”

“No, Prime Minister,” he’d say, sounding rather wretched, “I’m reviewing the case for war carefully, you’ll have my decision in due course.”

Well, you can understand my frustration!

Fortunately we got the right answer. With hindsight a lot of the credit for this must go to Alistair. He was magnificent in very difficult circumstances. He had a very open and strongly worded dialogue with Goldsmith and I think that clarified a lot of details in the Attorney General’s mind. Legal questions are entertaining for a while but there comes a point when they threaten to derail the government’s agenda and angry as those million marchers were, I couldn’t believe they really wanted us distracted at such a critical moment in the history of the world.

Despite the haranguing I’ve received from some in the left wing press, and a few in the right wing press, it’s rather unfair that Iraq is considered to be my war. Whereas I’d fully take the credit, were it due, it was the Commons that voted for military action. Now be under no illusions, I had no obligation to give MPs the vote on this matter, I get my authority to declare war from the Crown, but I chose to allow it in order to equally distribute the plaudits for our post-war successes. I wanted members on all sides to share the nation’s thanks for being brave enough to vote in the national interest and protect our freedoms. Years later, it hurts to read that I had contempt for the PLP and the commons in general, that’s nonsense. I always held the utmost respect for my colleagues, regardless of their ignorance or adherence to antiquated parliamentary traditions that were laughable in a 24 hour, fast paced, dynamic, 21st century world. The commons vote is therefore a moment I treasure with fondness. It wasn’t simply that I delivered what was, by common consent, a magnificent speech, rightly lauded as some of the finest and most sincere oratory ever delivered within the chamber, but also that when it came to the crunch both Labour and Conservative MPs (the less said about the feckless Liberals, the better!) voted the right way. I regret that Robin Cook felt the need to tarnish an otherwise adequate parliamentary career with a moment of obnoxious grandstanding, or that over 130 of my own MPs, who only held their seats because of me in the first place, soiled their own reputations and chances of ministerial posts by flaunting an appeasing tendency to the nation while simultaneously patting themselves on the back, but that’s politics. I said a little prayer for each of them.

Waiting for the result of that vote was awful. “This is probably how Patrick Magee felt when he was waiting for the Brighton Bomb to go off!” I joked to an aide but the tension killed the gag.

When the Chief Whip entered the committee room and gave me the nod, I felt twenty feet tall and twice as wide. I was going to fire the starting gun for democracy in the Middle East and I’d taken my party with me. When I now recall what followed, David Kelly, Robin’s unfortunate fall in the Lake District, hundreds of thousands Iraqis dead and of course 7/7, with the degenerates responsible having the Ed Balls to blame our policy in Iraq for the 52 people (though some reports say less) murdered, I’m sad but my heart nevertheless swells with pride. How could it not? There are casualties in every war but life is short and ultimately immaterial; what matters are the principles one lives one’s life by. Values, driven by self-belief, live on in history and endure, long after the blood has dried and the infrastructure has been rebuilt. We fought a good war, the right war, for the right reasons.

I dare say that in a hundred years time, when the slack-jawed critics with their blogs and newspaper columns and pointless public meetings have rotted away to nothing, their children’s illegitimate children will be sunning themselves poolside at a hotel in Tikrit, by that time once of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan places on Earth, and they’ll know, because of their GCSE history, that the reason that Iraq has moved from being a backward, oil rich nation to one of the most vibrant, service economy driven, forward thinking democracies on the planet is due to the hard choices we made back in 2003.

On the handover to Gordon Brown (from the chapter ‘Fade to Brown’)

Iraq has all but destroyed Tony Blair’s standing in the country and the government limps on for a further four years, winning an election in between with the lowest share of the vote in modern times. Gordon Brown wants to be Prime Minister and the pressure on Blair to make way is relentless.

“When are you going to resign?” This, from Cherie of all people who’d started to make comments like “this job is aging you, Tony” and “we’re never going to make any real money until you get out of Downing Street and start hitting the lecture circuit.”

Let me be perfectly clear about this, I didn’t hold onto the premiership for the sake of doing so. The problem was Gordon. To those that would say, “why didn’t you sack him?” my answer is a) he’d never allow it and b) there was a consensus at the time, admittedly from Gordon’s people within the treasury, that he was an excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not only did the treasury think so but also the banking industry, whom despite having no sway on the fate of elections, provide confidence which is considered crucial in winning them. I’ve never understood how that formula works but I’m not an economist.

Although there was no obvious alternative, I was apprehensive about handing the leadership to Gordon. Colleagues kept their true feelings private but one could infer their thinking from jokes and asides. Peter would ring me once a week to say things like “he’ll destroy the fucking party, we’ll be in the wilderness for thirty years” and Alistair, whose levity could always be relied upon to puncture the gloom would add, “he’s a clueless drone, a bean counter – if you ripped open his chest they’d be nothing but thick black hate where his organs should be. We couldn’t do worse if we went to the country lead by Gerry Adams’ conjoined twin.”

Whatever they said publicly, I understood the subtext. I felt it myself. Gordon understood the minutiae of policy and had a forensic intelligence but he wasn’t strictly human. One expects computers to be cold, emotional voidships, making little calculations and nothing more, but it’s disconcerting to see this in a grown man. To make matters worse, he was cruel and aggressive whenever we spoke.

“I hate you,” he’d say, “you’re a fart, a cocktail of shit and afterbirth, you couldn’t lead a dance, you’re a cist on a lepper’s cock – why don’t you just fuck off to the palace and let the big boys take over, huh? Why won’t you go?”

I’d endured these rants for the best part of 13 years and they were finally starting to take their toll. I couldn’t trust Gordon on anything – he was clueless on reform, didn’t understand what was required for the country and had spent his entire time at the treasury forming opposition to whatever I did, rather than come up with a viable, that is to say similar, alternative. He hated people, and though we all did to an extent, he was incapable of hiding it.

Regardless of how I felt, however, I was no longer in control of events. The party was non-cooperative and silent, waiting for me to go. The country, despite everything I’d done for them, seemed to will on my departure. That’s difficult to accept, not least because I’d been so careful not to spook the horses with anything too radical – I’d kept the nation afloat and belatedly responded to the liberal views they’d held for years with half-hearted progressive legislation. Surely I deserved some credit for that? Commentators were now saying that I’d wasted the greatest opportunity afforded to any centre-left politician in British history but that could be dismissed as ahistoric. The people had elected us to govern with a caring face but not make too many changes and that’s exactly what we had done. Now, with Gordon bursting into my office every afternoon, slamming his fists against the desk and crying, “you’re in my fucking seat!”, it was time to get off the stage before it collapsed beneath me.

“I’ll be going in June,” I said to him at last, “I just want to see out ten years and then that’ll be that.”

“Fine,” he said, “but that’s about 5 years too fucking late!”

So that was that, the end. Whatever historians, cultural commentators, the people who’d lived through the period or my own party thought, I knew myself to be the most successful Labour prime minister of all time. My accomplishments were unrivalled and you couldn’t argue with one desperate and two apathetic election victories.

My regret, if I had to declare, was that despite being true to myself I’d been labelled a liar by cynical armchair pundits – podgy failures who spent their free time watching EastEnders and munching chocolate while I was moving the world toward virtue and enlightenment.

Now I’d endorse Gordon by talking up his record, telling the nation what a great Prime Minister he’d make. This wasn’t, as you may suppose, a lie at all, rather an omission. By not providing all the facts about the man I was simply sparing the public undue worry about who’d be holding the most important office in the land. That’s what I did in tough times. I knew what needed to be done so I held a few things back. That’s the compromise we make with ourselves in public life. Maybe, one day, when you’re Prime Minister, you’ll understand.

A Journey by Tony Blair is published by Random House (RRP £25) and is available now. Is That All There Is suggests you donate money directly to the Royal British Legion and save yourself the trouble of reading it.

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 17:55  Leave a Comment  
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