Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
A Journey: Tony Blair, 1 October–5 December, 2010.
My rating: ♦♦♦♦♦
Given that this is a review of Tony Blair’s memoirs, and not of his policies or of Blair himself, I shan’t be delving too deeply into the actual decisions represented in the book. Whatever your political loyalties, it is undeniable that Tony Blair is one of the most memorable Prime Ministers in modern history. His decisions are among the most controversial, and there is a real sense of intrigue surrounding his memoirs.
The much-hyped, long-awaited volume promised to go inside the head of the man behind the politics. Instead of being presented in strict chronological order, the book’s chapters are arranged by theme, allowing the reader to read about standalone topics of interest. Given that these chapters are still organised in what is broadly date order, I found myself able to read from beginning to end without confusion.
I found Blair’s prose incredibly easy to read, and other than himself and Gordon Brown as TB/GB, he used the full names of the people he talked about. I mention this because Alistair Campbell’s 2007 offering The Blair Years referred to almost everybody by their initials, perhaps the most irritating quirk of what was otherwise a book I rated very highly. I actually appreciated the very droll humour that Blair used, and on occasion I chuckled out loud.
Most rewarding for anybody who would pick up a political memoir, Blair is refreshingly frank (much to the reported chagrin of Mr Brown and Her Majesty, among others). His bluntness as to his thoughts, his agreements and disagreements makes compelling reading.
Naturally, there is some trumpet-blowing. In fairness, when anybody – and especially a figure as divisive as Blair – attempts to pen their legacy, it can only be expected that their successes are recounted with relish. As Blair himself says, if he doesn’t then nobody else will. But more interesting yet, Blair is honest about what he regards as mistakes and is critical of his own attitudes, speeches and decisions where he feels he got it wrong.
Considerable coverage is given to, unsurprisingly, the Iraq war. Blair seeks not to convince anybody of his case, but he does ask within the book that his words are read with an open mind. Therein, he recounts with what appears to be honestly his reasons for instigating the conflict and answers some of the most frequent criticisms. Thereafter, he leaves the reader to judge.
Admittedly, Blair’s overall account is one-sided at times. No doubt, Brown and other key players would remember things differently. But it is Blair’s memoirs that we are reading and not a history book, so that is to be expected. Having said that, it genuinely does feel like having a conversation with the most powerful man in the New Labour movement. His conversational style, with his frequent sidetracks and returns to his original point, make the lengthy book surprisingly fluid. His personal stories, judgements and anecdotes are as interesting as his political ones and the rare insights into national and international political workings are gems.
Overall, I have awarded A Journey maximum five stars. Not because I believe every decision was the right one, and not because I believe that Blair was the perfect Prime Minister. I rate it five stars because the memoir delivers what it promises to: “Amid the millions of words written about him, this book is unique: his own journey, in his own words.”
For anybody interested in politics, or current affairs in general, this is a must-have. Love him or hate him, Tony Blair is one of the most prominent PM’s in modern times. His decisions changed the national and international landscape forever and to read his thoughts, his reasoning and his outlook in his very own words is compelling, intriguing and the only chance you will ever have to reach into the mind of the longest-serving, most divisive Labour Prime Minister in UK history.