Book review: A Journey by Tony Blair
Published by Knopf Canada, 720 pp, $40, hardcover
There’s a grassroots campaign under way to move copies of Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, from the biography to the crime sections of bookstores. I trust that’s true crime and not mystery, because the 700-page reflections of the former British PM who infamously stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” with George W. Bush contain precious few twists or unexpected insights. No mea culpa here.
Considering that Blair’s journey begins with the whole-scale rebranding of the Labour Party and its landslide 1997 victory, then declines slowly and steadily through the Iraq War disaster, the duel for power with Gordon Brown, and finally the bursting of the neoliberal bubble, the book is remarkably strident and unapologetic.
A scaled-back version of A Journey might, in fact, be a perfect fit in the self-help or business-leadership sections. Peppered throughout are the mental reminders Blair fed himself at important moments; it’s the prime-ministerial version of the “self-talk” bread and butter of these genres. For instance, as he goes to cast his own vote in front of the cameras: “Smile, but not exuberantly. Talk, but not with too much animation. Look natural”¦”
Such are the preoccupations of a politician who came to define neoliberalism in a multimedia age. “I was very non-political in my view of politics,” Blair explains, preferring to follow his instincts in an era where “for most normal people, politics is a distant, occasionally irritating fog”. In these apolitical times, it’s form over content—this is the essence of his explanation as to why he, and not the more experienced but stodgier Brown, was the best man to make New Labour happen.
If this trust in his own instincts reminds you of his friend George’s faith in his gut, think lower. Blair’s highest compliment is to talk about someone’s “balls”. He even goes there when complimenting women he likes; Kate Garvey, his schedule keeper, “was quite prepared to squeeze the balls very hard indeed of anyone who interfered”.
Blair also admires those with big guns who are not afraid to use them. How else to explain, other than as an attempt to cater to the U.S. book market, that the entire introduction is devoted to discussing the American presidents he met and the “nobility in the American character”? Blair covers the seminal U.K. events he presided over—peace in Northern Ireland, Lady Diana’s death—but his preoccupation is the Atlantic alliance with the U.S. and the men who lead that superpower. Clearly, he believes this took balls, and he wants you to think he doesn’t give a sod that public opinion was against him. After all, Blair would probably find it emasculating to concede he’s bothered by the widespread scorn that now follows him into the final chapters of his journey.