Comment at end
14th July 2010
AND THE BEAT GOES ON … AT ALASTAIR’S BLOG
WRITING FIT FOR PURPOSE
Alastair Campbell compares “memoirs ” with diaries. In other words Mandelson’s book’s recollections with his.
I have to agree with Campbell that daily diary memories are likely to be more accurate than a memoir written with a specific purpose. A diary is also far more likely to be balanced.
Campbell’s memories include such as “but Gordon was interested and involved at the meeting today” remark. Not that that says a lot more than that Gordon often wasn’t. But, you get the drift. I’ve read most of the book now and there is plenty of nuanced thought, in the way only Alastair can do “nuanced”.
As to what exactly is Mandelson’s purpose in writing his memoir – we used to say “Gord knows”.
Just to make money? I doubt it. To trump Blair’s memoir due out in September? I don’t think so. It’ll only raise interest. To get his own back on such as Campbell and Rawnsley whose books were not exactly empathetic to Mandy? Partly, perhaps.
Whatever the “why now” the press and bloggers are going heavy on the “madness, badness” claims and many of them conclude that it’s all Blair’s fault that we had to put up with the mad, bad Brown. I don’t know the man, but personally I wouldn’t know if he is bad or mad. I doubt it. I think that through his bitterness and spite towards the usurper of his expected crown, he certainly became “dangerous”.
Blair is portrayed by the usual suspects as not having been strong enough to remove Brown when he had the chance, or chances.
The best chance to negate Brown would have been very early on. Right after John Smith’s death in 1994 when the leadership bews up fr grabs. But Blair, who was likely to win, highly likely, did not want a contest in case it embarrassed or humiliated Brown. Another opportunity might have been after the second landslide election in 2001. But such an action then would have been unpopular as Brown was then seen by ALL to have been an excellent Chancellor. (Those were the days.)
After the 2005election, although Blair seriously planned to remove Brown, he realised that his powerbase within the party was by then too weak. His moment had passed.
It’s easy for us to say, but with hindsight, Blair should have insisted that Brown stand against him in 1994. That would have ended Brown’s expectations of his “due”, and allowed Blair to function at full throttle for his ten years as prime minister. Instead he was often hamstrung by another man’s ambitions.
EASY TO SAY. NOT SO EASY TO DO
So, removing Brown was never a genuine option, and became even less of an option as time passed, albeit for different reasons.
The difficulty is that like a lot in life, it was never that simple. It is widely agreed (with hindsight) that it would have been better if Blair and Brown had gone head to head for the leadership in 1994. But, and it is a big but, these New Labourites were on a rising curve. They had worked together for many years for this “togetherness” in opposition to the then splits evident in John Major’s post-Thatcher Tories. They were “different”. They had a strategy and were developing policy. They agreed on almost everything major regarding direction and “vision”.
Was one of them about to make waves, the one on the centre right of this party of the left, thereby seeming to open up fundamental differences with his colleague on the left? Just as Clause 4 was being set up for banishment? Just as the one on the left was mulling over sabotaging Clause 4 by appealing to the unions? In order to strengthen his appeal to the grassroots? Hoping by so doing to catapult Blair’s party leadership, just as it had begun to take roots in the party, and before it had touched the country?
Reading AC’s diaries it seems clear, and is repeated frequently, that Blair thought Brown was a genius. A ‘difficult’ genius, but fundamental to their success. It is also clear that Blair did not like confrontation. He wanted people to work together and he appreciated their differing inputs. In fact others wanted to be rid of Brown far more than did Blair.
WHY BLAIR’S MEMOIR IN SEPTEMBER?
Why not July/August/October?
The party conferences start in September. These are the places for political books to be seen and bought. Nothing new in that. So even if it does turn out to be a grenade thrown into the midst of the leaderless Blairless/Brownless Labour party, we won’t forget Blair, not like we did in 2007, 2008 or 2009 when he was all but airbrushed from their conference, and from their history.
Good on ya, Tony. Show the ungrateful bastards.
Labour said leadership candidates would declare themselves from May 24 to 27, hustings would take place in June and July and balloting would run from August 16 to September 22. The winner will be announced at the annual party conference on September 25.
Campbell’s blog: A few musings on diaries (mine) and memoirs (Peter M’s)
The Daily Telegraph yesterday asked me to fill their notebook slot with any thoughts inspired by the coverage of Peter Mandelson’s book. Here they are, as printed in the paper today.
One of the reasons I keep a diary is that when events are fast-moving and days and nights roll into each other, my memory is unable to hold more than a few general impressions and key moments. So when the BBC’s Nick Robinson – despite my thrashing him on Top Gear as a so-called Star in a Reasonably Priced Car – asked to interview me for a documentary on the days between the election and the forming of the coalition government, I consulted my entries for May 6 to May 12.
Nice chap that I am, I even took extracts along, and read out my account of the final call from Nick Clegg which preceded Gordon Brown’s departure from Downing Street. When GB said to NC: “It is a choice one way or the other and you have made the choice. I’m not going to hold on…”, his final words were: “OK, thanks Nick, goodbye.” Then he turned to us and said: “OK, let’s do it.” He was referring to his resignation. Doubtless the formal record – the one taken by the civil servants – will be different in tone.
Minutes are but one form of historical documentation. Diaries are another. And memoirs yet another. The benefit of the diary over the memoir is its immediacy and lack of hindsight. The benefit of the memoir over the diary is, hopefully, a broader perspective – which Tony Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, clearly felt was missing in my diaries. “Nobody can accuse you of writing a self-serving memoir,” he said, “you come over as a complete lunatic.”
Peter Mandelson is perfectly entitled to write a memoir, and as I found when publishing The Blair Years and Prelude to Power, there is never a perfect time and someone, somewhere will always find reason to criticise.
But in getting out his version of the election aftermath, he could have done worse than ask to see my diaries of the time. According to an extract of The Third Man published yesterday, Gordon came back from his constituency in the early hours of May 7, spoke to staff and then had a meeting with Peter and Andrew Adonis. I’m afraid his memory is playing tricks. Gordon did have a meeting, but it wasn’t with Andrew. I remember this beyond doubt, partly from my diary entry (I noted the meeting was with Sue Nye and David Muir from his office, Peter, me, and party polling expert Greg Cook), but mostly for GB’s mild irritation that Andrew was in a television studio rather than hitting the phones to the Lib Dems. Andrew called in shortly afterwards, just as GB was finishing another bacon sandwich. Nick loved the bacon sandwich detail. Robinson that is, not Clegg. The Nick I beat on Top Gear.” (Read more at Campbell’s blog.)
WHAT THE PRESS SAY
- Sky’s Adam Boulton has far more time for Peter’s book than he has for Campbell’s. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Adam had a recent on-screen set-to with Campbell, and anyway Campbell is far too chummy with Blair who knew Boulton’s wife long before he did. “Knew”, not in the biblical sense, of course.
- John Rentoul has this on why Campbell turned down the serialisation money.
- Roy Greenslade at This Is London has an account of the press reaction to Mandelson’s book. And it doesn’t make pleasant reading. Well, it wouldn’t , would it?
- Guido Fawkes – ‘Blair believed Brown bonkers’ – Maybe, Guido. But not quite as bonkers as your blog’s commenters.
Anne McElvoy’s – “Memoir wars for Mandelson & Blair” – was published the day before Mandy started his excerpts.
McElvoy: ‘The substance of Blair and Mandelson books is hotly guarded. However, those close to Blair say The Journey will reveal his own torment over the aftermath of the Iraq War, and how close he came to resignation when the American atrocities at Abu Ghraib were revealed. “He really had to be talked out of it by Cherie, Tessa Jowell and Mandelson,” says one of his close friends. “That’s a story that has never been told.”
He is also expected to delve into the ideological splits which always plagued New Labour. But his aides emphasise it is “… forward looking. With lots to say about the future. It’s definitely not a farewell,” says one. “The thing about a journey is you’re still on it.”
But someone who has read the manuscript says, “If people are expecting him to say sorry, they will be disappointed.”’
GOOD. Good for him. He has nothing to be sorry for. His detractors are the ones who should be grovelling.
McElvoy lists what we can expect “between the covers” –
Peter Mandelson: The Third Man
Cover image: monochrome, Rankin-esque, tie-straightening Powermensch tells (nearly) all.
What will it reveal? Peter’s emotional closeness to the Blairs but also his self-doubt and tendency to run feuds. Expect chapter and verse on the depth of the hatred between the Blair and Brown camps and the black arts they practised against one another.
Any secrets? What was he up to at Nat Rothschild‘s villa? Why did he return to help his old foe Gordon? And how does loyal partner Reinaldo put up with him?
Index search: Charlie Whelan, Carla Powell, Tony and Cherie , loads of Rothschilds and a few stray oligarchs.
Expect: a tale of revenge, served piping hot after the Labour defeat.
Tony Blair: The journey
Cover image: close-up, steely open gaze, a tribute to Bill Clinton.
What will it reveal? Blair’s real views on Gordon Brown. What he now thinks of George Bush and the administration’s failures in Iraq. How he has adjusted to the afterlife of power and his desire to become a “player” again in a Middle East settlement.
Any secrets? Did he have personal doubts about the wisdom of the WMD dossier? What does he regret about his leadership? And how high maintenance is Cherie?
Index search: Himself. George Bush. Carole Caplin. Gordon Brown (see feuds, continuous)
Expect: a classy read from an alpha politician, still burnishing his image and looking for the Next Big Thing.
I wonder how accurate this will turn out to be? Her “Expect” lines are interesting.
- Julie on “The Man who is said to be hated” I also linked to this article at my “Gary Younge Liar” post. Just to put Newsweek right as to who should be hated: the British press, in case you’re wondering.
- In-depth links on Sky to Tony Blair
- For those who still see a way forward for Labour there is this at Progressives’ website – ‘Neither Thatcherism nor denial’ by Pat McFadden
- David Miliband, party leadership favourite and Blair protege says “Labour lost direction under Brown”. WOW!!! I could have told him that before they allowed Blair to be ousted to make way for their new “winner” Brown. Oh the folly. The folly. The folly.
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
A recent comment from an Albanian, Mr Leonard Dedej from Tirana – “It takes big leaders to make the hardest turns in peoples life…mr Blair is a big leader and a great man for millions of people in Balkans!!!for stopping a savage war!about Iraq I believe that the press wherever it is has not the right to judge on this issue because it simply is to small to judge!!history will judge mr Blair!as long as it is an ongoing war no one can blame mr Blair,after all he started something for a big reason..the press its often wrong because it fights for audience!!!”