The Blair book

A few titbits from “A Journey” that you may not have read.

Since the publication of extracts from Tony Blair's A Journey on the book's website last night, a number have been reproduced in the media, mainly as "world exclusives".

We have confirmation of the now 15-year-old story that Blair and Gordon Brown largely did not get on in government, and some more substantial sections on Iraq -- see Mehdi Hasan's forensic overnight blog -- and Northern Ireland. They are all over the place. So I thought I'd reproduce a few bits -- in no order -- that you may not yet have seen from the wider book.

  • David Miliband went to see TB in May 2007 to ask whether he should run against GB for the Labour leadership and post of prime minister. DM was uncertain, more so than Blair, that he could win. "I think you might win, not obviously but very possibly," TB told DM. He writes: "Played correctly, it would put full square the choice of New Labour or not." Is that the choice between the Miliband brothers today?
  • Blair accuses Brown of having "tied up" the support of "Murdoch and Dacre" in 2007.
  • Blair exonerates Ed Miliband and Ed Miliband alone among the GB circle when it comes to plotting against TB.
  • He accuses Ed Balls of being the Brownite plotter-in-chief.
  • Blair thought John Prescott's punch in 2001 against a countryside protester was "extraordinarily funny. The egg was funny. The mullet was funny. The left hook was funny. The expression on both their faces was funny."
  • Blair calls Alastair Campbell a "genius".
  • He says he talked to Campbell about what to say on Diana's death, but stops short of attributing the phrase "people's Princess" to him.
  • He heaps praise on Douglas Alexander and laments that Brown sucked him into his circle of insiders.
  • Blair admits he "deeply regretted" Peter Mandelson's second resignation, but denies that Campbell pushed him into it, saying "it was my decision".
  • He says the 11 September 2001 atrocities were carried out by "fanatics" who were not representative of Islam, and says that, had he known that ten years later the UK would still be in a war in Afghanistan, he would have been "profoundly alarmed".
  • Blair grabbed his friend Charlie Falconer by the lapels over allowing media editors to queue with "ordinary members of the public" on the Tube for the Dome. "'What? What? What the hell are the media doing there? You didn't, no, please, please, dear God, please tell me you didn't have the media coming here by Tube from Stratford, just like ordinary members of the public.' 'Well, we thought it would be more democratic that way.' 'Democratic? What fool thought that? They're the media, for Christ's sake. They write about the people. They don't want to be treated like them.' 'Well what did you want us to do,' Charlie said, feeling he should be fighting his corner a little, 'get them all a stretch limo?' 'Yes, Charlie,' I thundered, 'with a boy or girl of their choice and as much champagne as they can drink; or at least have got them riding in the Tube with us.' I am ashamed to say I then shouted and bawled at him for a bit longer, while the more sensible of our party tried to find out what to do."
James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred