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Tony today

I’ve been saying for a while that I’m glad I have no new work publishing in the last half of this year. The book scene is dominated currently by political autobiography. First Mandelson, now Blair, next Bush. We watched Tony a couple of nights ago, in what was more of a conversation with Andrew Marr than an interview by him. You have to give it to Random House; they got their launch strategy spot on. No review copies, no leaks, no serialisation. You want to read it, buy it.  BBC interview on day one. Day two, the media’s full of ex-Captain Barbossa’s friends (no, scratch that, former acolytes, for he doesn’t have any friends) scrabbling to pull something from the wreckage, thus generating even more interest and more sales.

Overall, I’ve always liked Blair more than I’ve disliked him. Still do. But . . . he’ll always be  a pale pink shadow of Thatcher in my eyes. Thatcher? Yes, for he’s convinced me that he’s a Tory at heart. When  Marr put that to him, gently, he said ‘I’m not, I’m a Progressive.’ But, in Northern-speak that’s the same thing, and Tony is essentially a man of the north. No, it’s not just a label. My wife’s dad, a tanker captain, was a Progressive councillor, as was the ruling right-wing group in Edinburgh for decades. Politically, Tony Blair is me; he’s no more a socialist than I am. Personally, he’s damned himself forever as weak, maybe even cowardly. He will be accused of weakness in going along with Bush on Iraq, but I don’t buy into that. Iraq was a cabinet decision, and responsibility must be collective. Only Robin Cook resigned over it. Even Clare Short backed it, initially. No, Blair was weak in not sacking or moving Brown, regardless of the consequences. Every contemporary account agrees that the man sought to undermine Blair as leader and as PM from Day One. To  say now,  ‘Yes he was a shit with no political judgement, and he knifed me in the back, but I kept him because he was a good Chancellor,’  just doesn’t wash. Every Chancellor has behind him a deputy of cabinet rank, the Chief Secretary, who could take over at a stroke of the pen. As I read the emerging histories of the period, it’s clear to me that TB should have moved Brown to the Foreign Office, or even the back benches, after the ’01 election and put one of his own in next door. He wouldn’t have resigned over it, not immediately; his overt greed for power wouldn’t have let him. But he’d have been emasculated. If only Tony himself hadn’t lacked the balls to do it.

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