Sucking up to Blair

November 29, 2008

Blair Unbound

By Anthony Seldon (with Peter Snowdon & Daniel Collings)

Simon & Schuster, 2008

669 pages, Paperback $29.95

Blair Unbound is the second part of a two-volume biography of Tony Blair, covering the period from September 11 2001 to Blair's resignation as British Prime Minister in June 2007.

It is based largely on material gleaned from extensive interviews with members of the inner circles surrounding Blair, then-chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown, and US President George Bush.

Useful as it is, the book fails to add up to a convincing or plausible account of Blair's involvement in the important events in world politics between 2001 and 2007.

One reason for this is that although the book is in some places mildly critical of Blair, it is on the whole marred by an overly deferential — in some places almost sycophantic — attitude towards its subject. This often manifests itself in the unquestioning acceptance of utterly implausible claims that could easily have originated from Blair himself.

Two examples: US neoconservatism is described as the view that "America's mission was actively to spread democracy throughout the world, rather than simply containing tyrants like Saddam Hussein" and Blair's "academies" — state schools taken out of local authority control and handed over to businessmen or religious zealots to run — are said to have been taken over by "successful external sponsors offering inspiring vision".

Other embarrassments for Blair are either played down or ignored completely. For example, the cold-blooded public execution of the completely innocent Jean Charles de Menezes by British secret police in London in July 2005 gets only three brief sentences.

Guantanamo Bay gets the briefest of mentions and there is nothing about the massive decline in Labour's share of the popular vote since 1997, nor of the catastrophic collapse in Labour Party membership in the same period.

Examples like these could be multiplied easily. And Seldon expresses an odd view of Blair's overall trajectory since 1997.

Many would see Blair as having started tolerably well in 1997 with the introduction of the national minimum wage, the setting up of devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales, and modest but welcome reforms to the House of Lords.

Then he headed rapidly downhill towards war in Afghanistan and the scandals of Iraq.

Seldon, however, expresses the opposite view — that Blair started out badly and became more successful towards the end of his premiership.

Remarkably, in the course of charting Blair's "long farewell" prior to his resignation in 2007 Seldon reports without comment, or even a hint of irony, Blair's pride in the "success" of the intervention in Afghanistan!

Despite this tendency towards whitewashing Blair's crimes and failings, at some points the book does unwittingly point towards the truth.

For example, despite the meticulous and detailed account of what insiders were saying and thinking in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, at no point does anyone ever raise the question of how British troops would cope if the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) allegedly possessed by Iraq, were turned on them.

This is proof in itself that the WMD were in fact a fabrication concocted by Blair and his fellow war criminals.

In addition, in a telling Freudian slip, Seldon gives the game away about WMD.

Of a trip Blair made to China in 2003 Seldon writes: "By shifting the focus on to a real concern with WMD, North Korea's nuclear weapons, Blair had hoped the trip would draw a line under the dossiers and WMD before the summer recess".

By qualifying the concern with North Korea's nuclear weapons as "real", Seldon unwittingly confirms that Blair's "concern" with Iraq's WMD was in fact unreal: just what we always knew.

The book throws some useful light on Gordon Brown. One thing that emerges time and time again is that whenever Brown appeared to be to the left of Blair on a given issue, this had more to do with Brown's personal political ambitions than any genuine leaning towards "Old Labour" values.

For example, the book records that immediately prior to the attack on Iraq, Brown launched a passionate defence of Blair's strategy at a crucial meeting of cabinet.

As unemployment soars and the failings of the free-market economy beloved of Brown and Blair, are daily thrown into sharper relief in 2008, it is strikingly ironic to be reminded of the title of the Green Paper championed by the two New Labour founders Blair and Brown as recently as 2007: "In Work, Better Off: Next Steps to Full Employment".

So much for the myth of Brown's economic foresight and competence.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.