3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"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 attempted to turn 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 shiny 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 rash acceptance that as a quality 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 a stifling 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.
173 of 197 people found the following review helpful
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.
46 of 58 people found the following review helpful
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2013
Blair was a major disappointment as a labour leader. He tries to justify the unjustifiable-Iraq invasion. Egotistical writing, historical interest
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2014
Tony Blair fan. But it feels like an attempt to justify his record rather than a biography.
End of party by Andrew rawnsly is better
213 of 275 people found the following review helpful
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.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2011
What you get from this book will depend greatly on your opinion of its author. I will state my own position: I was a strong admirer of Tony Blair's leadership. I admired his work on reforming the public sector; and I thought the decision to invade Iraq was controversial, but not necessarily wrong.
The book itself portrays Blair in ways that are good, bad, and indifferent.
The good: I found Blair's account of Iraq well worth reading. I also found very interesting his depiction of the politics of implementing (with great conviction), a social democratic reform programme. Other valuable insights are his informative observations about the difficulties of European politics, and his pessimism over the future of the left, `after' social democracy. On all these matters I felt Blair came over as authentic and plausible.
The indifferent: Notable of course is his relationship with Gordon Brown , slightly to his left. This was initially demanding, then dysfunctional, and finally broken down. Blair describes how towards the end he became distinctly (I would say over-)confident, and virtually stopped listening or attempting to negotiate a consensus. Also noteworthy is his depiction of how he effectively drifted to the right in the later stages, while becoming at the same time less liberal.
The bad: The first lay in the descriptions of peoples' motivations. Blair recurrently reveals a lack of depth and sophistication in his understanding of human psychology. For example, he repeatedly describes a like of `passionate' people - IMHO naively overrating overassertiveness, seemingly oblivious to its cost.
Secondly, for all his capacity to thoroughly understand situations, Blair's described motivations often seem somewhat hot headed. This takes various forms, from moral fervour and over-certainty ('I just wanted to know: what is the right thing?')to powerlust. This leads him in turn to justify some instances of dishonesty He reveals how he expected, but did not disclose this to allies, the use of ground troops in Kosovo; at one point he refers to the concept of sticking to a manifesto pledge as `absurd'; he still fails to give a convincing account of the Bernie Eccleston saga.) He portrays himself as more aggressive and less likeable than the image he conveyed while in post. He scathingly synonimises `liberal' with `wet' ; arrogantly dimisses in retrospect the pandemic flu scare as hype; he even manages to sound racist and sexist at times.
Lastly, for such a brilliant and polished political performer, it's a real shock that he has written the book so badly . It's as though, once he'd decided to donate the royalties to charity, he de-prioritised the project, writing it at night, and then skimping on the use of an editor.
Read the book - it has to be a key part of anyone's retrospective on the Blair decade. You'll learn more about both his strengths and his weaknesses.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2012
I am a fan of Tony Blair and still consider him to be one of the most outstanding politicians this Country has produced since the Second World War,- noiwithstanding that his reputation has been blighted by the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know that there will be many who do not agree with me, and I understand why.Neverthless this book is his justification for what went on in an important period of the political history of this Country and deserves to be read by his fans and critics alike.It ought to become an essential read for students of the History of the Labour Party which owes Mr Blair far more than perhaps it likes to admit.
on 22 September 2013
I really enjoy the way Mister Blair writes. His bank of vocabulary is beyond anyone I have ever known. He clearly loves Britian and sincerely wanted to have a change for the better. He is a straightforward kind of guy who knows exactly what he wants. It is rare to find such a person in politics of these qualities in today's era. Despite what people may say about him, he did what was right, rather than what's popular.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2010
I am surprised at the number of negative reviews this book has got. I am by no means a Labour supporter, but I am finding it a fascinating read. I can only assume that a lot of reviewers either haven't read the book or are just taking an opportunity to air their personal prejudices about Tony Blair. For people to say that it is badly written or written by an unintelligent man is just utter nonsense. Tony Blair was one of the most articulate politicans of recent times and the book shows this. I thought the chapter on the Northern Ireland peace process was excellent and his final summing up of the points needed to make such a process work, were very perceptive. He also summed up the Lib Dems in half a page! How true, how true!! If the rest of the book is as good as the first 5 chapters, I am going to be well satisfied. You also can't take away the fact that "New Labour" is what made them electable for 13 years, Ed Miliband would be well advised to remember that.