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Review: A Journey by Tony Blair

Tony Blair’s autobiography gives a real and detailed insight into what it’s like to be Prime Minister: the stresses and how he coped with them, the challenges and how he tried to overcome them, the successes, the failures, the balancing of family life with political life and statesmanship. It really is quite fascinating.

Politically, there’s little in here that we haven’t heard before, but the detail and explanation of how and why decisions were reached seemed interesting to me. The “behind the scenes” detail of the huge events that occurred under Tony Blair’s leadership provided genuine insight, if not new information – Diana’s death, 9/11, 7/7, the Hutton Inquiry, and Iraq to name just a few.

Yet, it’s taken me the best part of two years to plough through this tome. That’s mainly due to what Ben MacIntire of The Times described as a “congenial style peppered with slang and gossipy asides”. I’d describe it as a style resembling transcribed speech, and it frequently becomes very thick and frustrating.

Let me pepper this review with some examples. When talking about the themes underpinning his leadership (something he does frequently, citing different themes each time), the following sentence appears: “Perhaps above all, an emphasis bordering on the religious on what counts to be what works.”

It’s not a crime against humanity, but it is a verbless sentence that doesn’t really scan very well. It’s the sort of sentence you have to re-read a couple of times to get the message. In a paragraph of prose, it’s a frustrating sentence that should have been edited. And these are little throughout the book.

Here’s another example. Read this sentence aloud: “I wondered – as did some of the newer and more radical faces in my Policy Unit, although this was still heresy in the party, not least among most of my ministers – whether we had been right to dismantle wholesale GP commissioning in the NHS and grant-maintained schools in education, instead of adapting these concepts of local self-govenment to spread decentralised management across the state health and education systems, but without the inequity inherent in the underfunded Tory reforms we inherited.”

Again, the message is clear, but it isn’t an easy read. A decent editor would surely have added some more punctuation, or cut this down into several sentences.

And, since we’re on a roll, let’s play “count the subclauses” in this example: “Precisely because the roots of this wider struggle were deep, precisely because it was a visceral life-or-death battle between modernisers and reactionaries, precisely because what was – and is – at stake was no less than the whole future of Islam – the nature of its faith, its narrative about itself, and its sense of its place in the twenty-first century – precisely because of all this, there was no way the forces opposed to modernisation, and therefore to us, were going to relinquish their territory easily.”

I think these examples demonstrate the message that this book is not an easy bedtime read. Yet, within a few sentences of passages like those above, Blair tells us about Alistair Campbell’s “clanking great balls”, describes Iraq as “a basket case”, PMQs as “a girls’ school playground” and relates that “I like to have time and comfort in the loo.”

And then, occasionally, Blair becomes suddenly coy: he didn’t want to discuss his son’s vaccination status “for private reasons the family was sensitive about issues to do with.” Note, again, that this hardly scans well.

The constant juxtaposition of long badly written passages of political prose and puerile descriptions of characters and situations wore me out. I couldn’t read more than a couple of chapters of this at once.

I think this demonstrates that I found this book a difficult read, which makes it difficult to rate. On the one hand, much of the content is five-star – well worth reading, whichever side of the political fence one occupies. On the other, the form of expression is risible, bordering at times on unreadable. This is a book that badly needs a revised and edited edition under the guidance of a decent editor! Until then, I can’t in good conscience give it more than three stars.

A Journey is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

This 1,795th post was filed under: Book Reviews, Politics, , .

We’re all in this together… whether with Blair or Cameron

He tries to convince us that ‘we’re all in this together’, and doesn’t realise how disingenuous it makes him sound.

It’s not original to say that Cameron’s the heir to Blair, but it was a little arresting to find this sentence in a post I wrote almost seven years ago about Tony Blair – certainly not the Prime Minister most associated with that particular phrase these days.

This 1,636th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Quotes, , .

Quote of the day

The royals cook, and serve the guests. They do the washing-up. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. They put the gloves on and stick their hands in the sink.

Tony Blair, writing about Prince Philip’s traditional barbecues, in A Journey.

This 1,457th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Quotes, , , , .

A sincere apology from me to all of Britain

I’ve been nostalgically browsing the site’s archives today, and flicking through the digital version of Instant Opinion.

If you remember the last general election, in which Tony Blair secured an historic third term of government for the Labour Party, you may remember that I blogged about the campaign fairly intensely. And, looking back to my post about the Budget of that year, I came across this embarrassing paragraph:

The main message that I took away from today’s events was how much better Mr Brown would be as Labour’s leader: Tony Blair’s fake emotion and anger versus Mr Brown’s real commandeering and forceful delivery, appearing to actually believe what he says? I know who I’d choose.

Jeepers, how wrong can you be?

So apologies for that. I’ll try not to write anything so crap this time around. But it may be difficult to judge the crappiness until four years hence.

Still: I guess it’s a bit reassuring to know that it’s not only ‘new media’ writers like me that mess these things up – the dead-tree press are at it too. My favourite U-turn of this year has to be Michael White’s:

A hung parliament is not going to happen – And a good thing too
– Michael White, The Guardian, 23rd November 2009

Make ready the smokeless rooms: a hung parliament is on the cards
– Michael White, The Guardian, 24th November 2009

Fabulous.

This 1,402nd post was filed under: Politics, , , , , .


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