This book is a study of Blair as Prime Minister and afterwards. To that extent it is not a full biography since it says almost nothing about Blair prior to 1997. This is a compendious account of Blair’s time on Downing Street by one of Britain’s best known authors Tom Bower.
Bower is a barrister like Blair. He has shown a barrister’s flair for sifting evidence and constructing convincing case. At the outset this work is sympathetic towards Blair. Bower voted Labour in 1997. He noted how jaded Britain was in 97 and how people cried out for a Labour Government. Bower chronicles the nervous first steps and the excessive caution that Blair felt despite being surrounded by an intoxicating level of optimism.
Bower writes about Blair’s attempts to improve public services./ This was to be the most frustrating part of Blair’s premiership. Tony Blair was intelligent and fair minded enough to perceive some good on Thatcherism. He professed himself irate at the slow pace of reform of the NHS and schools. Oddly Blair had given remarkably little thought to what needed to change in these essential public services. Sloganising was no substitute for a comprehensive strategy. Labout abolished the Tory internal market in the NHS only to bring to back under another guise several years later. LABOUR also went full circle on schools in some respects.
Bower conducted hundreds of interviews. There are many revealing insights and catty comments. Bower quotes those who adulate Blair and those who revile him. Blair’s accomplishments are noted as are his many failings.
Bower noted how Blair started to go wrong. He began to block unwelcome information. After the 1999 Kosovo conflict he began to conceive of himself as a messiah. His divine mission was to liberate people and save them from genocide. These are noble objectives. In pursuit of these laudable goals Blair persuaded himself that international law was bunkum and that wrongdoing by his allies could be ignored. The purity of his cause became ever more tarnished as he overlooked more and more transgressions by his allies.
The run up to the liberation of Iraq is the most arresting part of the book. Bower demolishes Blair’s Weapons of Mass Destruction claims. Yes, there was ample evidence that Iraq possessed WMD; Iraq had freely announced its arsenal in 1991. There was also evidence suggesting that at least some of it had since been got rid of>. MI6 harboured serious doubts about the extent of Saddams WMD arsenal/ The misgivings and caveats were edited out by Blair’s team when they produced their dodgy dossier. The head of MI6 churlishly went along with this rough massaging of the information. Evidence was inflated and twisted to make a convincing case for war.
*The story jumps back and forth between foreign and domestic affairs. Somehow Bower manages not to lose the thread of the narrative. Blair’s love in with Colonel Gaddafi is described as length. Blair found this deranged tyrant to be a man after his own heart. By contrast Blair thought that UKIP was anathema.
The chapters about Blair’s time after he stood down as Prime Minister as fascinating Blair’s farcical and naive efforts as a peace envoy in the Middle East are detailed. Blair’s unedifying business activities are also described in gruesome detail. This self – appointed advocate for human rights has become a gun for hire working for some of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Blair acting as an apologist for foul human rights abusers is shockingly hypocritical in view of his self-righteous rhetoric. To read this segment of the book you will need a strong stomach.
In places this book is scintillating. It is always lucidly composed. The cross referencing and end notes are superb. No one could accuse Tom Bower of stinting on detail. The minutiae of government policy are sometimes too dull. The book became slow moving in the middle. The book was overly long and lacked punch. Unless you are a policy wonk you will want to skim read the middle chapters.
Blair emerges as a self-delusional and tragic figure. He took office with unmatched capability to do good. He had a landslide majority, sky high poll ratings and a booming economy. His performance as Prime Minister improved the NHS at a huge cost but little else. Blair’s serial mendacity is laid bare. Despite preaching ethical conduct he is an outright prostitute when it comes to selling his principles to kleptocrats and torturers.