Cherie Blair – ‘Speaking For Myself’, Part 1

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Update: 1st July, 2008

Have now got Cherie’s book. Haven’t read much yet, but when I do, I’ll add a little of my thoughts here, if you’re interested.

Meanwhile Michael White has a good resume on all three recent biographies – Cherie’s, John Prescott’s and Lord Levy’s.

10th May, 2008

The Times book extract from Speaking for Myself by Cherie Blair (part 1)

In this first extract from her autobiography, Cherie Blair gives her side of the so-called Granita pact over the Labour leadership

Granita

[After John Smith’s sudden death in 1994, Cherie urges her husband to stand for the leadership, against Gordon Brown if necessary]

“Listen, Tony. This is your moment. You’ve got to take it. Who dares wins.”

He just sat slumped in the passenger seat with his eyes closed and said, “I know.” But it was with no sense of triumph or eager anticipation. It was more resignation: “I know.” . . . I knew that time was of the essence. My fear was that Gordon would just move in, and it would be a fait accompli, and I knew Tony was the right person for the job. By the next general election there would be people voting who had never known a time when the Tories weren’t in power. The new leader had to be someone they could relate to. Tony had always been more appealing to the general public than Gordon, and more grounded in the realities of everyday life. What could be more grounding than bringing up a young family? Ironically, Tony was always saying: “Gordon, if you really want to be leader, you need to get married.” Yet he also felt it was a mark of how honourable Gordon was that he didn’t marry just for appearances. On the other hand, if he had, in my view, he would inevitably have been a more rounded person, with another dimension to his life.

Nothing would happen until after the funeral, so to that extent discussions would be ongoing, but we all had to know if Tony was going to stand . . . . . . My own belief is that he decided to go for it straight away. For him, the real question was not, would he stand, but how to reconcile Gordon, in order to preserve the modernisers’ ticket. What he most feared was that if both of them stood, the modernisers would lose out through squabbling among themselves. Tony’s main aim over those next few days was to persuade Gordon to give way to him.

Getting Gordon to stand aside was no easy task. First, he was the more senior. Secondly, he obviously had his supporters just as Tony had. One of the key players, of course, was Peter Mandelson. That first night I remember sitting in our kitchen and asking Tony, “And what about Peter? What does he think?” and Tony saying with a sigh: “Peter is very conflicted.” I wish now that Peter’s ambivalence had been better known at the time, because Gordon’s conviction that Peter was instantly in our camp destroyed their relationship.

[After the funeral] . . .

As the week went on Tony clearly had the momentum and I was coming to the view that, if Gordon wanted to stand, he should just let him.

“You’ll win anyway,” I said. “So don’t come to a deal. Just let him lose.” But Tony said no. The modernisers were a team, he said, and this was a team effort.

Back in London there was yet another meeting with Gordon. It was at Lyndsey’s [Cherie’s sister’s] house in Richmond Avenue, just round the corner – one of the conditions of these meetings was that no one should see Gordon coming to our house. This was the meeting where essentially it was agreed that Tony would stand unopposed and Gordon would be Chancellor; that they would work together and that Gordon would support him, and the aim would be to reform the Labour Party and take power.

It was always a given that they would work in tandem and that when Tony stood down Gordon would take over. Tony also made it clear to Gordon that he had no intention of staying leader for ever and that when he did stand down he would support Gordon as his natural successor, assuming they worked well together as PM and Chancellor in the meantime.

As far as I know the timing was never discussed but when Tony left for Lyndsey’s, I made my position perfectly clear, even if I framed it as a joke. “If you agree with Gordon that you’re going to do this for one term only, don’t come back home. Because that’s just ridiculous.”

But Tony was always very supportive of Gordon having his chance. He used to say in terms of ability that Gordon was way ahead of everyone and the irony is that if they’d only worked as closely together as originally agreed, his chance would have come sooner.

As for Granita, they did meet up there a day or two later. But by then it was all done and dusted. The Granita meeting was basically for them to talk about the announcement. It wasn’t the forum for the kind of stormy discussions that had preceded it. No way would that have happened in public, in a restaurant.

My own reading of the myth – that is, that a “deal” was done at Granita – was that Gordon didn’t want to admit that he’d agreed anything without first discussing it with his people. At least, from Tony’s perspective, it was already agreed.

Cherie on Gordon

[In 1996 she was concerned that her earnings, as the main breadwinner, would drop now that she was the Prime Minister’s wife and that she would not be able to take on so many cases and that they would still have to find mortgage money for Richmond Crescent.]

At the first Cabinet meeting of the new Labour Government, the new Chancellor announced he was not going to take the salary increase and he put pressure on the others not to accept it either . . . I couldn’t believe it. All my calculations were based on the increase.

I remember sitting at the table at the kitchen at No 10, putting my head in my hands and staring at the now completely redundant financial breakdown, as Tony tried to calm me down. I wouldn’t be calmed down. How dare Gordon do that? What did he know about financial commitments? He was a bachelor living on his own in a flat with a small mortgage. Tony admitted it was a problem, but every problem, he said, has a solution. I just had to find it. He wanted to get on with the business of governing.

Loyalty to Tony

As the tension began to mount inside No 10, Tony once again began to consider standing down and I felt helpless to do anything . . . Gordon wanted to be leader and he had a perfect right to want to be. Yet my sympathies inevitably lay with Tony and I wanted him to go on his own terms. It was the effect that the constant attrition had on my husband, the man I loved, that coloured my feelings. I accept that I am not objective on this and, frankly, it would be odd if I were. Nor am I blind to the many qualities Gordon has. But I was intensely loyal to Tony and resented any pressure being put on him.

Third term

There was no doubt that in April 2004, with Gordon rattling the keys above his head, Tony suffered a crisis of confidence as to whether he was still an asset to the Labour Party. I remained determined that Tony was not going to resign, that he was going to fight the next election and that he was going to win it, and in this I was helped hugely by our closest friends in the Cabinet, especially Tessa Jowell, Charlie Falconer, John Reid, Hilary Armstrong and David Blunkett. Also the support of Patricia Hewitt, Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers helped to persuade Tony that he had to stay on. It wasn’t just for the sake of his reputation, but for the sake of the new Labour agenda – most importantly for the public services. As before, when he had failed to get a seat, or when he was uncertain about whether he would win the leadership, I reminded him that he needed to “pick himself up, dust himself off and start all over again”.

Among many others, I was convinced that if Tony failed to stand for a third term, it would be seen as a response to the negative criticism of the war. It would be read by history as a tacit admission of failure. I worried that he was responding to a Guardian-type intelligentsia who would never forgive him for Iraq even if he were to flagellate himself in front of them, but who would just say: “I told you so. We should never have trusted him.” I always felt strongly that he should not apologise for something he believed to be right. He could regret the lives lost in Iraq but he should not apologise for taking the right decision for the country.

How Tony would have stood down

Gordon wanted to become Prime Minister so much, he failed to understand that, had he been prepared to implement Tony’s programmes on internal reform – academy schools, foundation hospitals and pensions – Tony would have stood down, there is no question. Instead of which Tony felt he had no option but to stay on and fight for the things he believed in.

Speaking for Myself is published by Little, Brown on May 15, priced £18.99.

© Cherie Blair 2008




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3 Responses to “Cherie Blair – ‘Speaking For Myself’, Part 1”

  1. Cherie - “Gordon Pushed Tony Out” - Surprise! Surprise! « Tony Blair Says:

    […] Book extract, Part 1, as in The Times […]

  2. Josef Says:

    I am NOT waiting until October 22nd for this one, I can tell you that.

    Last summer, it was Alastair Campbell’s “The Blair Years”. This summer, “Speaking for Myself”. Next summer, I hope, “Seizing the Moment & Reordering the World” by Tony Blair!

  3. keeptonyblairforpm Says:

    Good title for the Tony book, Josef! If only.

    Cherie’s book is out next week, by the way.

    Thanks for your comment.

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