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.
Getty
Show Hide image

Expressions of sympathy for terror's victims may seem banal, but it's better than the alternative

Angry calls for "something to be done" play into terrorists' hands.

No sooner had we heard of the dreadful Manchester Arena bombing and before either the identity of the bomber or the number of dead were known, cries of “something must be done” echoed across social media and the airwaves. Katie Hopkins, the Mail Online columnist, called for “a final solution”, a tweet that was rapidly deleted, presumably after she remembered (or somebody explained to her) its connotations. The Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson wanted “a State of Emergency as France has” and “internment of thousands of terror suspects”, apparently unaware that the Nice attack, killing 86, happened after that emergency was declared and that nobody has been interned anyway.

It cannot be said too often that such responses play into terrorists’ hands, particularly if Isis was behind the Manchester bombing. The group’s aim is to convince Muslims in the West that they and their families cannot live in peace with the in-fidel and will be safe only if they join the group in establishing a caliphate. Journalists, striving for effect, often want to go beyond ­banal expressions of sympathy for ­victims. (It’s a mistake I, too, have sometimes made.) But occasionally the banal is the appropriate response.

Pity begins at home

Mark Twain, writing about the “terror” that followed the French Revolution and brought “the horror of swift death”, observed that there was another, older and more widespread, terror that brought “lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak”. The first, he wrote, we had been “diligently taught to shiver and mourn over”; the other we had never learned to see “in its vastness or pity as it deserves”.

That is true: more children across the world die each day from hunger or disease than could ever be killed in a terror attack. We should not forget them. Nor should we forget that the numbers killed in terrorist attacks in, for example, Baghdad far outnumber those killed in all European attacks of our times combined. In an age of globalisation, we should be more cosmopolitan in our sympathies but the immediacy of 24-hour news make us less so.

When all is said and done, however, pity, like charity, begins at home. We naturally grieve most over those with whom we share a country and a way of life. Most of us have been to concerts and some readers will have been to one at the Manchester Arena. We or our children could have been present.

Cheers from Highgate Cemetery

What a shame that Theresa May modified the Tory manifesto’s proposals on social care. For a few giddy days, she was proposing the most steeply progressive (or confiscatory, as the Tories would normally say) tax in history. True, it was only for those unfortunate enough to suffer conditions such as dementia, but the principle is what counts. It would have started at zero for those with assets of less than £100,000, 20 per cent for those with £120,000, 50 per cent for those worth £200,000, 99 per cent with those with £10m and so on, ad infinitum. Karl Marx would have been cheering from Highgate Cemetery.

Given that most people’s main asset – the value of their home – did not have to be sold to meet their care costs until death, this was in effect an inheritance tax. It had tantalising implications: to secure their inheritance, children of the rich would have had to care for their parents, possibly sacrificing careers and risking downward mobility, while the children of the poor could have dedicated themselves to seeking upward mobility.

The Tories historically favour, in John Major’s words, wealth cascading down the generations. In recent years they have all but abolished inheritance tax. Now they have unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly, who knows?) conceded that what they previously branded a “death tax” has some legitimacy. Labour, which proposes a National Care Service but optimistically expects “cross-party consensus” on how to finance it, should now offer the clarity about old age that many voters crave. Inheritance tax should be earmarked for the care service, which would be free at the point of use, and it should be levied on all estates worth (say) £100,000 at progressive rates (not rising above even 50 per cent, never mind 99 per cent) that yield sufficient money to fund it adequately.

Paul Dacre’s new darling

Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail editor, is in love again. “At last, a PM not afraid to be honest with you,” proclaimed the paper’s front page on Theresa May’s manifesto. Though the Mail has previously argued that to make old people use housing wealth to fund care is comparable to the slaughter of the first-born, an editorial said that her honesty was exemplified by the social care proposals.

On the morning of the very day that May U-turned, the Mail columnist Dominic Lawson offered a convoluted defence of the failure to cap what people might pay. Next day, with a cap announced, the Mail hailed “a PM who’s listening”.

Dacre was previously in love with Gordon Brown, though not to the extent of recommending a vote for him. What do Brown and May have in common? Patriotism, moral values, awkward social manners, lack of metropolitan glitz and, perhaps above all, no evident sense of humour. Those are the qualities that win Paul Dacre’s heart.

Sobering up

Much excitement in the Wilby household about opinion polls that show Labour reducing the Tories’ enormous lead to, according to YouGov, “only” 9 percentage points. I find myself babbling about ­“Labour’s lead”. “What are you talking about?” my wife asks. When I come to my senses, I realise that my pleasure at the prospect, after seven years of Tory austerity, of limiting the Tories’ majority to 46 – more than Margaret Thatcher got in 1979 – is a measure of my sadly diminished expectations. l

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

0800 7318496