12 September 2010

Robert Harris on Blair

When I returned to Britain in 1999 after 20 years away, Blair still walked on water as far as the media and a host of celebs, including the novelist Robert Harris, were concerned. I could not account for it. It was obvious to me that he was a mendacious little shyster with an eye to the main chance.

It reminded me of the exaggerated hopes that were vested in Harold Wilson when he won the 1964 general election. Both came to power in the wake of tired and scandal-wracked Conservative governments, and although I had been abroad throughout the whole Thatcher-Major period, eighteen years was far too long for one party to be in office. If I had been in Britain in 1997, I'm sure I would have voted for change. So I can relate to the chagrin expressed by Robert Harris in his review of Blair's auto-bio in today's Sunday Times (£):
The colossal joke history has played on those of us who supported Blair back in 1994 was that he appeared to us at that time to be the quintessential normal guy - refreshingly sensible, modest, non-ideological, sympathetic, pragmatic. That was why he was elected so overwhelmingly [actually, with exactly the same share of the popular vote as Thatcher in 1979], first by the party and then the country: because his instincts and ambitions seemed so in tune with what might loosely be called middle England.
What I could not understand was how press and public had given him a pass in the matter of lifting the ban on cigarette advertising for Formula 1 in exchange for a £1 million donation to the Labour party, and that he was allowed to get away with saying that people knew he was "a pretty straight sort of guy". Il que s'excuse, s'accuse. Nixon damned himself when he said "I am not a crook" - why were the rules different for Blair?

There was another such moment when the millennium celebrations proved to be an ill-organized, embarrassing flop. "Well," pouted Blair, "I'm not going to apologize for trying to do something special for the millennium". Nobody was asking him to - what they wanted to hear was how a vastly expensive event organized by his right-hand man Peter Mandelson had turned out to be so cringingly naff.

I was also astonished that no Brit seemed to have noticed that the "Third Way" touted by Blair's tame academic Anthony Giddens was simply warmed-over corporativism, a Roman Catholic concept that had been around for a century and which was, in fact, the guiding philosophy of the founders of the European Community. Nobody seemed to notice that European leaders were ho-hum about Blair's supposed political philosophy, and that he stopped talking about it not long after.

So, although Harris was enthusiastically on board the New Labour express and I regarded the whole thing with sardonic puzzlement, I share Harris's surprise at what Blair's memoir reveals:
. . . a reckless feeling of invincibility, arising out of a solipsistic sense of personal destiny; an almost ludicrous penchant for self-dramatisation; a deluded detachment from the advice of colleagues and officials; and above all, an oversimplistic view of the world as place of good versus evil.
My surprise, however, is that Harris believes what I regard as an alibi. I don't think Blair had any other desire than to ensure himself the big bucks after leaving Downing Street. That he may have convinced himself that he had higher motives - indeed a higher calling - is no surprise: the most convincing liars believe what they want to believe, and it is that conviction which enables them to deceive others.

Harris has to find some excuse for his past credulousness; but I never bought into Blair's bull-shit in the first place, so I do not need to believe a word of his memoir. He is still a mendacious little shyster, but that was good enough to take his case to the country three times, and to win all three.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times and I'm a gullible imbecile who deserves whatever you may, with merited contempt, do to me.


  1. Blair's amazing over-confidence is nowhere more apparent than in his trust in his good friend, G.W.Bush. G.W. mocked, belittled, and laughed at Blair to his face and Tony took it all in good part, convinced that this 'good ol' boy' type of ragging showed that he was a trusted member of the team. Hoo Ha, wakey, wakey? Not yet apparently. The enchanted sleep of political privilege is so enticing.

  2. I can only repeat that the simplest explanation for almost everything Blair did was to ensure himself a more interesting and much better-paid job after leaving 10 Downing Street. I suspect the influence of his wife has been seriously underestimated: it was she who converted him to Catholicism, and her shameless avarice must have been equally influential.