on 3 December 2010
I have never liked Tony Blair, never liked Labour and marched against the War. I bought this book from a desire understand why Labour and particularly Tony Blair governed as they did. I could not put the book down and found it genuinely fascinating both as an insight into politics and also the role of the prime minister in modern Britain. Blair is very different from the man I was expecting and a far better man than I would have guessed. Although still against the war, he had by the end convinced me there was an argument both ways. Whilst I consider myself objective, I admit I felt a bit of shame that I definitely fell into the camp that has allowed itself to be led by media opinion of individuals rather than seriously considering a politicians argument on its merits. His reflection on the negative way the media influences politics and public opinion is spot on and this really must change. A lot of reviewers have criticised the personal style the book is written in and in normal circumstances I might agree. However A journey is such a good read that this becomes irrelevant and actually really helps to get inside the mind of a man who is making decisions with historic and grave consequences every day. The analysis of the relationships within the Labour Party is also particularly intriguing. Most of the negative reviews on this site do seem to come at the book with an agenda and also I suspect have not read the entire book or even some of it. Certainly for me it has changed my whole perspective of the New Labour years and its principle architects and is more informative than one hundred second-rate history books on the subject. To sum up, if you have any serious interest in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its future, this is a book that should definitely be read.
I enjoy political biogrpaphies and autobiogrpahies whether or not I like or agree with he politics of the subject. Tony Blair clearly mdoernised the Labour Party (although it appears to have now regressed!).but did he change it to a sound bite media friendly machine that was more gloss than substance? Did he really as PM improve anything for anyone? People will have of course have different views. I found this book a rather boring read. It takes so long to get to the point you sometimes forget what the point was in the first place. I found interesting his relationship with Gordon Brown (no love lst there?). It was interesting to read his take on some of the crises that arose during his time. However, I could not help but feel he was out of touch with the people of some of them, which pretty much fits my view of the last Labour Governments. it is a book that for lacks sincerity. These were exciting and difficult times and the book is rather stodgy and boring. Blar did well for himself but did he do well for the country? I found myself skipping page after page to get to the point. I found it a rather disappointing and a rather boring book. It could have done with a good few hundred pages less and getting to the point quicker. I was looking forward to reading this but lam disappointed
on 31 March 2016
As a Brit who lived in the US throughout Blair's period as PM I've always wondered how someone who won three elections (two of them landslides) ended up so vilified in the UK. His autobiography gives the reader a number of clues:
(1) Blair comes across as very smart, but also very pragmatic. He had a really good sense of how British society had changed and early on he was willing to set the government to work on what the electorate actually wanted the government to do - and he was able to get changes made - many of which were very significant in how major institutions in the UK operate.
(2) In the last few years of his period in office he appears to have given up trying to explain or even convince his colleagues or the electorate what he was up to - he just knew he was right and got on and did it. Not exactly how a democracy is supposed to work...
(3) He really thinks he is much smarter than the people around him. He clearly felt Gordon Brown was not up to the task of being PM - and blocked him for as long as he could. Subsequent experience bore his judgment out though - which is pretty telling.
(4) Politicians nowadays have a strict "sell by" date. The media gets bored with the same face for too long. Party colleagues get angry at the lack of opportunity for them because the leader refuses to move on.
(5) Iraq was a tight call - which went the wrong way for him - and exacerbated point (4) above. The book has multiple long rambling defenses of his actions on Iraq (some of the less interesting passages of the book) but in the end he made a call (the UK must stay close to the US) on a very weak hand (there was no WMD) - and paid a huge political price.
Most interesting to me is how his success had NO lasting impression or impact on the Labour Party. After he left after ten years in office, they "chose" Gordon Brown who lost an election, they then shifted further left with Ed Milliband, who lost an election, and now they have Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Enough said.
Blair now looks like someone who could have been a successful leader of either party - most of his ideas are now part of David Cameron's bag of tricks and they seem to sit there just fine.
I was never a huge fan of Tony Blair and New Labour. I never could warm to him as a person and was suspicious of his relentless desire to change things. However having read his fascinating autobiography I now have a respect for a man who has a towering intellect and an astute political vision. He comes across as a serious, ambitious moderniser driven by a deep belief in his own rectitude and virtue. However he also comes across as being too single minded and intolerant of those who disagree with him. The book is well written and covers the period between his becoming Labour leader and him stepping down as PM in 2007. The reader gets fascinating insights into the lifestyle and thought processes of a British Prime Minister,the pressures and the problems. We find out about his fractious relationship with Gordon Brown, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the election victories and his driving ambition to implement New Labour social and economic reform policies which were different from Old Labour ones in that they accepted the virtues of the market, competition and personal wealth accumulation in contrast to socialist values which were suspicious of them. New Labour was a centrist, Tory lite concept which was however extremely successful. Blair won three general elections and attracted voters who would tend to normally support the Tories. Since Blair left the scene Labour has returned to its old socialist ways and predictably has lost two elections in a row. This book is an intriguing analysis of the New Labour years and Blair comes across as an impressive figure. However he will probably be remembered for his less than successful military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan which have come to define his legacy and made him a hate figure for those on the Left who have set about destroying New Labour. It may take another two election defeats for Labour before they return to Blairite policies once again,but there is a certain inevitability that they eventually will. Anyone who is interested in politics and history should read this book and reach their own conclusions about this divisive ,but influential ,political giant.
"I was middle class and my politics in were in many ways middle class". This admission by Tony Blair early in his memoirs "A Journey" may not seem radical but is in many ways the fundamental underpinning of the new labour revolution. Whether you agree or not with the transformation of Labour achieved by a small political elite, Blair took a party that was a political irrelevance and fixated on turning it into a modern market-based social democratic party based on the principles of social mobility, aspiration and wealth accumulation. These were values of what he describes as a "very tightly knit group" and yet he and colleagues like Peter Mandelson were able to strike a Faustian pact with a demoralised Labour party. This was essentially a trade-off between the abandonment of core values against the delivery and maintenance of power. In "A Journey" Blair recognises that one of his key skills is as a "manipulator", but even he was surprised at the total victory he achieved and its political success. Thus, the history books do not lie when they point to him as Labour's most successful Prime Minister and master politician. But he is one whose legacy is as historically problematic as some of his troublesome forebears and hence the reluctance of the current labour leadership contenders to embrace his legacy. Even more so the poison of the Iraq war flows throw his veins.
It may well be that living in a world conditioned by the Freedom of Information Act (which Blair now bitterly regrets "I quake at the imbecility of it") that we are seeing the internal machinations of government properly exposed. And yet for the ordinary voter one of the bitter after tastes left from the early promise of New Labour is that we all were subjected to some of the worse excesses of truth bending, spin, media manipulation and outright falsification. For example, the deception over Iraq is explained away by Blair's continuing contention that "there was no big lie about WMD... because joint intelligence reports over many years had all assumed an active chemical and biological programme". The statement in the book provides its own premise, and therefore because of the fundamentally wrong psychology underpinning the decision-making process we built a policy edifice around it which led to war and some 500,000 deaths. Blair, of course, contests this figure and argues that it is more "accurately in the region of 112,000" which of course "is far too many".
But worse than this is his attempt to justify his complete submission to neo-conservatism and the vice-like embrace of the worse American President of the past 100 years (the embarrassment of the "Yo Blair" incident is, for example, explained away as a sign of "total intimacy" between the two men). Indeed, the fault lies in his painful judgement that Bush "had immense simplicity in how he saw the world, right or wrong. But it led to decisive leadership" p394. This feature could have also been working descriptions of some of the 20th century worse dictators. It is an astounding and naive statement to make, namely that decisive leadership is better characteristic than proper analysis/understanding of problems which have a Byzantine complexity and which are essentially contested. It is all the more regrettable since Blair learned none of the lessons from his own sophisticated strategy in Northern Ireland, based on tortuous moving forward of the agenda through painful incremental agreement which accepts "one step forward two steps back" (Northern Ireland was by any standards a huge achievement and success for Tony Blair). Instead somehow the two most important military powers in the West got themselves embroiled in puerile and crude notions about "the forces of good and evil" and "kaleidoscopes being shaken" as if the world is ever that simple or straightforward.
The Iraq untruths, however, pale in comparisons to falsehoods perpetrated throughout the course of the Brown-Blair relationship. It was only last April that the journalist Andrew Rawnsley was vilified by the New Labour camp for what was described as his totally inaccurate and false book "The End of the Party". It appears however that Rawnsley may have actually underplayed the scale of visceral contempt between the two men and in terms of the language used by Blair about Brown it uncannily echoes the earlier critique of Charles Clarke who saw Brown as a "control freak" "deluded" and "uncollegiate". Blair's view of Brown as not having "zero emotional intelligence" will now enter the political lexicon. But more than this he goes further to claim that key decisions like granting independence to the Bank of England was essentially his idea, not Browns. With Brown it is clear that Blair's hellishly difficult dilemma was in holding "the proverbial tiger by the tail" but he fully concedes that his failure to act upon his brooding yet popular Chancellor was his undoing. Whereas for Brown, a man patently unsuited for the top job, the maxim "be careful what you wish for" will continue to haunt him through the years.
"A Journey" is a not an average political book. It has pace, is sometimes humorous and does give real insight into the overbearing pressure of modern politics in the of 24-hour media. That said in parts it reads like one of those modern management books on "Leadership" packed full of awful clichés that only resonate with the most gullible first year MBA student. The text combines on occasions with a cringingly personal style so characteristic of this age of celebrity and yet perversely this does add to its readability. Blair's final chapter is one which restates a new labour vision but in aligning this to the new coalition's priorities shows in the words of Polly Toynbee a "travelling man on a journey rightward". Certainly his critique of Labour's current blockheaded approach of slamming any deficit reduction measures is pretty devastating. But for someone who subjected all parts of public policy to an huge architecture of endless targets, stilted bureaucracy and perverse incentives now to tell us that "we need the power of the people to liberate politics" rings about as true as Wolfie's opening chant in Citizen Smith. Certainly Tony Blair has succeeded in making "A Journey" into a fascinating and chatty memoir which is "must read" for those interested in political history. But this in turn does not make it into either a great book or one which properly answers some very awkward ongoing questions of poor judgements and choices.'
on 30 January 2011
A Journey is the autobiographical account of his time in office by Tony Blair. It's difficult to be objective about a review without your political persuasion getting in the way, but I will try.
For the purposes of transparency, I should state that I didn't vote Labour but I will try, as I said, to be objective.
Firstly, I would recommend this book. I think it gives a valuable insight into the trappings of power, the workings of parliament, the numerous (and diverse) challenges that challenge today's modern politician and indeed, Prime Minister.
The book itself is lengthy, and gives fairly detailed accounts of the key issues that challenged Mr. Blair during his presidency leadership of both the Labour Party and the country. Iraq, Afghanistan, New Labour, Gordon Brown, Fuel Crisis, Irish Peace Talks, the odd scandal, Europe, September 11th, Diana, etc. It's all there and reads like a very modern history, and serves as a good reminder about how much occurred during his leadership.
His writing style is almost conversational, as you might expect if he was recounting verbally to you, which I quite enjoyed and found accessible. It certainly help through some of the longer winded (and to me) less interesting phases of the book.
This review is meant to be a quick review so I am going to cut to the quick with my summation.
In my view he never really answers the Iraq question. His reasons for invading still don't appear to justify it (from a "legal" perspective) but what is clear and I believe is sincere, is the toll the losses from conflict have taken on him mentally. I truly do.
The Tony Blair / Gordon Brown piece, well this is his side. You could say his view in the book has been justified by Gordon Brown's subsequent leadership disaster, but I think I'll withhold my conclusion until I read Mr Brown's memoirs.
His position on Labour is interesting. Basically he says that Labour will go back to being an occasional government if it goes back to it's left roots and gives up on the New Labour program. Time I guess will tell on that conclusion.
Really interesting was his often bitter attack on the press. I'm intrigued by this since New Labour (in my humble opinion) were the first real example of a "spun" party and government. True, the reforms (when you are reminded of them) are impressive on the face of it, but I can't help recalling the spin that Alistair Campbell and co used to masquerade at the height of their power, fully supported by the media. When the media turned their back, clearly Mr Blair thought it unreasonable and unjustifiable, which of course is laughable. Being in office and being PM ends in only 1 way. Just like a football manager. He should be big enough to acknowledge that.
And therein lies the ultimate end point for me. I still get the impression that Mr Blair feels that he was abandoned by party he reformed and got into power for their longest serving period ever, and is still very bitter about that. He never really acknowledges some of the bigger issues he perhaps didn't manage as well as he could have, even in hindsight, which leaves him accepting odd little mistakes that would have made no difference here or there. At times the account therefore seems a little disingenuous. Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect him to turn around and say he was wildly wrong in so many areas, but not accepting fault or blame for certain things, I believe could undermine the sincerity he places on the more important elements of his account.
Nevertheless, I would recommend reading this book and trying to read it as objectively as possible. It's a fairly riveting read (although there are passages on foreign policy and religion that do go on a bit) and a great insight into the world of modern "presidential" politics.
on 15 May 2012
The very first thing I want to make clear about this review is that it's not party political or a judgement on Blair himself. Reading other one-star reviews I can see people are bringing that to the table. I am not. I was never a great fan of Blair or the new Labour project, then again I was a dedicated detractor either. Which leads me on to the CD itself...
Once a month I have to make a long drive and in recent years have found a decent audio book makes the journey pass faster. Whatever you think of Blair he's certainly the most fascinating and influential politician of recent years so I was intrigued to hear his story. Alas after just two CDs I had to give up.
The prose is turgid, what should be a compelling story utterly dull. Worst of all though is Blair's delivery. Monotone doesn't adequately describe it. How such a gifted orator, a man who could capture huge crowds has managed to make his voice so dull, so unappealing is a mystery. More than once I felt myself drifting off - not a good idea on the M1!
Perhaps in book form it's better but as a CD this bored me to tears. Those looking for a more engaging account of the Labour Years, might try The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour, a much more satisfying and entertaining listen.
on 3 September 2010
It's clear that many will review this book as if they are simply reviewing Tony Blair himself, whilst others will try painstakingly to review the book as an autobiography of any other politician or notable figure.
Both these approaches are foolish - not only are the connotations and controversies of Blair an intricate part of this book, but also the book itself really shouldn't be treated as a typical autobiography. If I might hazard a description of this book, it perhaps could be said to be commentary on choice parts of Blair's premiership - it embellishes what we know with anecdotes whilst trying to provide the reader with an understanding of the mindset of the author.
With this in mind, I happily give the book 4 Stars. I found it to be very readable, and (contrary to other reviewers on this page) thought the level of intimacy offered by Blair revealed an emotional dimension to his political decisions which many may find surprising and refreshing. In fact, the frankness of the author marks this political book out as both unique and long overdue. I particular enjoyed the way Blair has structured the whole book - you can read it linearly or easily dip into the parts you are most interested in (Iraq perhaps...) without finding yourself lost in cross-referencing or running jokes. Furthermore, I found the writing style relaxed enough to make the book accessible without it being corny, and slight tangents did not detract from overall themes or sub-themes within each chapter.
I would have given Blair book 5 Stars however at times the writing did feel a little strained - the artificial injection of similes at certain points seemed to correlate with those sections in which the events being described were clearly not the most interesting, and the need to mention so many people at certain points could have been handled in a less monotonous way. Blair's choice of photos in the picture sections also felt at odds with the book's content - why so many childhood and family photos when this is such a small part of the book? Whilst political photos may be routine affairs, I wonder if this book would have been an ideal opportunity to place some quite unique photos into the public consciousness.
Overall - I would strongly recommend A Journey. Blair is an iconic political figure (though of what remains controversial to this day), and this book offers the reader a very honest and open account of 1997-2007. Many of the revelations have, of course, been printed in the newspapers already, but perhaps one of the greatest revelations which they cannot summarise through choice snippets is the character of Blair you will find from page one onwards.
on 7 October 2010
This is more a work of self-indulgence than a literary masterpiece. Parts were interesting and the prose flowed well in places but it did not contribute much tho the genre of political [auto]biographies. I thought the author came across as well-meaning but gullible. Howevr, the style of writing would be one which may encourage those who wouldn't normally choose a serious biography to read this, and therefore others. His handling of the war in Iraq and the influence of USA was deplorable, especially when there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and his inability to admit to being weak or wrong condemns him.
on 2 October 2010
This is a very poor book. 691 pages long and barely a word that we have not heard from Tony Blair before. Written in the style of a first year undergraduate and packed with self-deprecating anecdotes, it seeks to preserve for future historians the combination of personal certainty and smiley charm which served him so well over two decades in the front of British politics and of course in office.
The book is divided into sections and we are invited to select any section rather than read from end to end: as though even the author doubts that many will have the stamina to do that.
Perhaps the most revealing and engaging section is the first one in which Blair sets out to colonise the British Labour Party. Almost alone, it would appear, he sees that if only the party can be `modernized' it can sweep him to power. If envisaging such a thing is perhaps not difficult, it is hard not to admire the determination, energy and single-minded vision with which it was accomplished. There's a good story from the early days of a party meeting in his constituency at which, having put the case for modernisation, he thought, rather well, he was savaged for even daring to think some of the ideas he'd proposed. `Don't worry,' said his agent as they crept out, `What you said was right; you just have to learn how to say it better....'
But such nuggets are rare. His account of millennium night at the Dome is hilarious and there is a memorable Prescott anecdote from the early days in power. But as we trudge on and Blair's sense of personal certainty clouds his judgement more and more, the endless rationalisation of what he did and the continued dogged assertions that `you may not agree with me but at least this is what I believe' become very tedious.
Having saved Sierra Leone single-handed (the Officer commanding there, Sir David Richards, having apparently had nothing to with it), and successfully pressurised Clinton to intervene in Kosovo, Blair really began to throw his weight around on the world stage with his speech in Chicago setting out what he called a `Doctrine of the International Community': a very simple notion, he says. Intervention to bring down a dictatorial regime could be justified on the nature of the regime, not simply of its immediate threat to British national interests. And so the final hubristic downward swing begins: Bush and Cheney arrive, 9/11 occurs, and Blair, still protesting his certainty, is dragged into the invasion of Iraq and the huge damage to British armed forces which continues today nearly a decade on.
Of the other head of the current crisis with which we now live - the banking crash and recession he has little or nothing to say that I recall: although somewhere there is a line which says `I left all that to Gordon.' `But of course I kept a close eye on him'.
In 691 pages, there's plenty more, of course. But the certainty of his own rectitude never deserts Tony Blair. We shall live with the damage it caused for a long time.