British Political Biography: The shredding of Tony Blair

  • 2016-03-15
  • The Economist

Broken Vows: Tony Blair: The Tragedy of Power. By Tom Bower. Faber & Faber; 653 pages; £20.

IT IS a measure of how far Tony Blair’s stock has fallen that he has attracted the unwelcome attention of Tom Bower. Usually Mr Bower takes aim at controversial businessmen, such as Robert Maxwell, Mohamed al-Fayed, Conrad Black, Bernie Ecclestone, Simon Cowell and (twice) Richard Branson. A diligent cuttings job and interviews with anyone with dirt to dish or an axe to grind provide the material to shred a chap’s reputation.

The charge sheet against the former prime minister is predictably devastating. He was a fraud whose communications skills obscured a paucity of accomplishment during a decade in office. He deceived voters: over Britain’s involvement in two wars and by presiding over an undeclared open-door immigration policy. Distrustful of the competence of cabinet colleagues, unwilling to resolve the dysfunctional relationship with Gordon Brown and sceptical of the “modernising” commitment of senior civil servants, his approach to the exercise of power became destructive of the very fabric of government. His second career as a highly remunerated globe-trotting political consultant, often to some pretty dodgy regimes, has done nothing for his reputation.

The attack is relentless. Much of the evidence supporting Mr Bower’s narrative of a gifted but shallow politician who over-promised and under-delivered appears, at first sight, compelling. However, there is early on a warning about just how unbalanced this account is. Few would disagree that one of Mr Blair’s signal achievements was the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. Yet it merits only one rather barbed paragraph.

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