Monday, 18 April 2016

'Broken Vows' by Tom Bower

Margaret Thatcher compared Tony Blair with Hugh Gaitskell. She saw Blair as being the most formidable Labour leader since the man said to be the best Prime Minister we never had. In that, as both leant to the right, her instinct was justified. Tony Blair was Labour in name only. In reality, he was, Neo-Liberal. However, his similarity to the earlier Labour leader was different in another marked way. Gaitskell, even if he led from the right of centre, had substance to his arguments, robust policies that he believed in and a system by which to effect them. Mister Blair had a vision of how a modern Britain should be. But had only a series of agendas which lacked policy initiatives plus the mechanics of government to execute those radical reforms. He was a man with a canvas and an abstract brush, a well-meaning man perhaps but not the greatest leader ever of the Labour Party.

Forever aware of his long-term future, even as Prime Minister, Blair set about softening the politics of the previous administration, bringing them in line with a fairer, more equitable society. I bought into this concept believing it would bring sufficient progressive change following more than a decade of authoritarian austerity; of being drip-fed the crumbs from the rich man's table. I voted for New Labour. However, new they may have been, Labour they weren't.

In some respects, he succeeded yet his self-conceit of seeing himself as the moral, righteous leader duty bound to defeat despotic dictators was, in part, his undoing. I felt his warmongering was nothing more than a desperate attempt to replicate Maggie Thatcher's successes in the Falkland's. That by defeating a nation threatening us with their Weapons of Mass Destruction he would win over the hearts of the British public. That set of people isn't as gullible as politicians would like to believe even with individuals like Campbell and Mandelson feeding them mistruths.

Being Prime Minister was only part of his objective. Located in the back of his mind, as his memoirs indicate, was to make money. This book focuses on that aspect of Tony Blair as much as it does his term in office. In fact, it spends insufficient time on his current activities.
My wife always likened Blair to a second-hand car salesman. His presentation skills were without equal. His personality was such that voters were attracted to that rather than his parties policies all of which were built on personal vision yet delivered by spin and media manipulation. His affiliation with Paddy Ashdown, their proposal to merge New Labour with the Liberal Democrats made perfect sense. Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on your perspective) that never happened. His sense of purpose, his central thrust was his belief in his ability to deliver a presidential lead type government that would modernise Britain without having the vaguest notion how. 

Tom Bowyer's biography does nothing to change my opinion; an opinion incidentally formed from not only intuition but by having read 'The Blair Years' by Alistair Campbell, 'The Third Man' by Peter Mandelson and 'A Journey' by Tony Blair. The one central link, disgusting in my view yet hardly surprising, is the way all four books highlight the way in which 'spin' was used as a method by which to control the media and then, by default, the masses. 

We are presented with a man who has little if any time at all for the Civil Service. He is not alone. Tony Benn found them obstructive. Margaret Thatcher was of a similar mind yet managed to utilise their sometimes ponderous obfuscation. Bower portray's Blair as being ignorant of a range of subjects that the knowledge of is vital for a Prime Minister to have. We are shown a man who didn't so much delegate as abdicate responsibility. Apparently, he was fond of planting a seed of a vision then expecting, without any firm clarity or instruction, his ministerial heads of department to, by mental telepathy or perhaps osmosis, bring his inspiration to reality. This was seldom done at cabinet meeting but often casually on a person to person basis. This according to Tom Bower.

His bias toward the civil service, a mechanism which he found an obstacle that stood in the way of his reforms,  was all consuming. It appeared to deflect his intellect in much the same way his relationship with Gordon Brown did. In his memoirs, he explicitly informs us that it wasn't until his final days in office that he eventually realised the best ways to exercise his powers effectively against those that sought to help him. Yet, according to this biography and Mandelson's own historical accounts, he never bested Gordon Brown. If anything he lost that particular battle.

His speech delivered in 2001 following 9/11, a remarkable oratory, reveals a man wanting to be thought of as Churchill's heir. It also shows a man with a massive ego keen to be seen on equal footing with Presidents and world leaders. "The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder the world around us."  Hang on a minute. Are we talking about Britain here? You know, a country (then) with a military numbering, if we count janitors, maybe 45,000? Have we gone all imperial again or what?

And it is not as if, according to Tom Bower's book, Blair is playing poodle to George W. Bush's predatory, pugnacious, evangelism. No, it is with Catholic fervour that Tony Blair promotes, then preens the American Presidents desire for revenge. He not so much wants, as is desperate for, a crusade against what he passionately believes is part of the 'Axis of Evil.'  You feel his self-conceit turn swiftly into self-deception then ultimately into self-destruction as a consequence.

This again is made plain in Blair's memoir as it is in Mandelson's book. He saw himself as being God's voice on earth, of having religious fidelity. His fervour now seems unbelievable in this day and age.

Now out of office, and of British public life, the real Tony Blair confronts the world in the guise of ambassador when in reality he is doing a sales pitch. What's he selling? Himself and at such a price!

With all my moans and groans about Tony Blair, all his errors, all his foibles, and yes I think he is guilty of war crimes, this book, with its snide comments that are swiftly slid into the text with degrees of twisted humour, is nothing but a hatchet job. It reveals little of that which we didn't know. I find the zealous glee with which Mister Bower disguises his vindictiveness toward his subject as appalling as I do the facts that surround the former Prime Minister. Bower, says at the beginning of his book that he bears no ill will, no malice toward the one time head of government. I find that to be fiction. Bower plainly dislikes Blair.

Blair did want a progressive society. His and Brown's constant bickering prevented much good intent from manifesting itself in practical terms. Nonetheless, he was a better option than Thatcher; a far better Prime Minister than David Cameron or John Major. His biggest failing for me will always be Iraq. That and his not being progressive enough. To retrospectively meld his political failings with those of his current business affairs strikes me as little better than hammering nails into a pre-prepared coffin lid.   

I found the years covering Blair's premiership to be nothing revelatory at all. They just echo what we already know. However, the final quarter of the book, which manages to  lift the veil, is disquieting.

Bower present us with a man who pedals his wares around the world. Blair does this well and by using his reputation. He is a large C capitalist hob-nobbing with the likes of Paul Kagame and President Buhari. With contemptuous ease, he overlooks the questions regarding these leaders poor human rights policies. His main focus being profit. Of course, there is nothing wrong in making the world a better place as you furnish your multi-million pounds house is there?

 ‘I pioneered the skills to make government work effectively. The Delivery Unit is the leader’s weapon to make his government effective across the civil service and country.’ 

As for Blair's trying to sell Nigeria Israeli drones along with other weapons, a contemptible and immoral thing to do, well that's just a matter of fact. Recorded for posterity. But of course, it was with a view to fighting Islamic fundamentalists whose very existence owes much to the war waged on Iraq. 

I dislike the world Blair now inhabits. I think it shallow. Corporate morals are non-existent. Corporations have no morals. Blair, like virtually all of the political classes, has jumped onto the money-making bandwagon. As with all who seek power the better to frame a more equitable world then soonest forget power corrupts, his corruption is complete.

Mister Bower scratches the surface of that other world, that arena where dictators and former political heavyweights meet to discuss international arms trading deals, how authoritarian dictatorships are able to invest monies in fundraising projects as they slit the throats of the people they rule. It is a frightening world, made more so with the current discussions being held by the TTIP. Tony Blair features in that world although not as large as he would possibly like.

His duplicity, his connivances and his massive ego are all brought into sharp contrast. The man, supposedly a devout Christian, worships at the altar of avarice not the feet of Christ.

But what of the Clinton's? What of Bill and Hilary? Has not the former President taken the same route as Blair? Isn't Hilary's past clashing with her present as she plans for her future? Why would any sane person vote for her when there is Bernie Sanders on the same ballot paper? Is this not the way of modern, former, leaders of nations? To trade on their reputations as their bank balances bulge?

The book would have been far better had Blair's time in office been left out. We know that history. Had the final quarter been extended, fleshed out, then I think the effect  would have been of greater worth. Completing the book I felt Tom Bower's ego on par with Tony Blair's.

Yes, Margaret Thatcher compared Tony Blair with Hugh Gaitskell. The first a man of shadows the latter a man of substance.


. Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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