Tony Blair, like many long running high profile political leaders, remains a controversial figure. He’s arguably the most successful leader of the Labour party ever (especially if you consider how long he spent as prime minister or the 1997 and 2001 election results) but is also mired in controversy, especially over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, what does Blair say about his time in government? Does he still stand by some of the more controversial decisions he made whilst in power? and how (and why) did some of the relationships, especially with Gordon Brown and the British press, which helped him in the early years change over time?
Many of the answers to these questions can be found in…
by Tony Blair
The first thing to say about Tony Blair’s autobiography is that, coming in at just under 700 pages, it’s a pretty meaty tome.
It’s also a book which covers a lot of ground including Blair’s initial vision for the country and how this has changed, The challenges of government, Blair’s relationships (including with his family, the queen, foreign leaders and members of his government and the opposition) and of course how and why he made policy decisions including Iraq.
There is also a decent amount of repetition and ‘filler’ which is a bit surprising for the autobiography of a politician who seemed to understand how to communicate powerfully, effectively and concisely.
The book contains plenty of insight…
Firstly there are clear and definitive explanations on why Blair believes that the way we view the world through the prism of traditional left vs right arguments is often a fatally flawed approach.
Its clear that Blair is an advocate of ‘third way’ politics (which normally include left leaning social policies combined with right leaning economic policies) and he argues the reasons he believes why this is the way forward powerfully, logically and persuasively.
Now if I’m being entirely frank when it comes to ‘Third Way politics’ I don’t need much persuading.
In the modern world, and especially one which is increasingly globalised, we need to move away from entrenched political positions and think about the challenges we face sensibly and consider options which are fair but also realistic and designed to keep us economically competitive over the long term.
This means, if appropriate, we should take and use ideas from across the traditional spectrum if it allows us to be socially fair, economically competitive and ready for a future where the world has fundamentally changed.
It seems in the UK at least that we are moving away from that approach with political parties becoming increasingly polarised…which is concerning.
Secondly the book explores the reasons why Tony Blair believed it was right to get involved in various conflicts including Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Sierra Leone.
Understandably “A Journey” focuses more on Iraq than the other conflicts with three whole chapters given to exploring the justification of the particular decisions which resulted in the Iraq way.
In the book Blair lays out his argument on why he felt making this particular decision was appropriate and includes both moral and political reasons but whilst his explanation is comprehensive it doesn’t feel as robust as it should particularly when British lives were at stake.
But I’ve never need to make a life or death decision. A decision which could also save lives but also end them…
Which bring me onto the next thing which shines through…
Prime ministerial leadership seems like both a blessing but also a burden.
The book is an interesting insight into leadership at the highest level.
The privilege. The pressure. What drives and motivates someone in the UK’s top political job (as well as the pressure on those who surround him)
Why and how decisions are made and often how the opinions of others and the emotions of the decision maker matter more than we believe.
At times in “A Journey” Blair seems driven to achieve his goals, particularly at the start of his term and close to the end.
At other times he seems like a pretty reluctant leader who often had mixed opinions about carrying on.
However the book feels authentic in this regard and Blair shares how at certain points and in varying degrees he was optimistic, frustrated, Sad, Joyful and Confused.
This authenticity also comes across when he describes his often complex relationships with other people…
He talks of The Queen with great fondness but also shares personal insights (which the Queen apparently wasn’t over the moon with when the book came out)
Often he describes his relationship with the press not unlike making a ‘deal with the devil’…often necessary but also painful.
It feels like many of his most complex relationships were with members of his own party and government, particularly Gordon Brown.
The book explores “the story of Tony & Gordon” from Blair’s perspective. A story of friendship, intellectual challenge, mistrust, sly political maneuvers and much much more.
It’s an interesting story for sure but you do wonder how much time is wasted in every government fighting about personality instead of debating about appropriate policy? I’m not sure but I suspect it’s more than we’d all like to believe…
“A journey” is full of praise for other people including those who disagree with ‘new Labour’. It’s one of the most endearing features of this book. Blair seems to look for the most attractive qualities in everyone he meets.
It also an interesting exploration of Tony Blair the man…
Optimistic but pragmatic.
Easily impressed by history, pomp and circumstance but also often wary of it.
Driven but often full of self doubt.
Intelligent and logical but also often driven by emotion.
A pretty normal bloke trying to do a pretty extraordinary job.
All in all, and even though it was hard work at times, Tony Blair’s autobiography ‘A journey’ was an interesting book.
But let me end this review with a question…
What’s the most interesting political book you’ve read?
I look forward to your answers…