Today we learnt that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown didn’t always get on. I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked to the core. All that time in Downing Street, with everyone believing they loved each other so much that they probably shared a twin room whenever Cherie and Sarah weren’t looking, and actually they were secretly briefing against each other behind their backs, unleashing an arsenal of apparatchiks, loyalists, and those who have been described as “cultists” to slag each other off! Unbelievable! Next you’ll be telling me that the Pakistan cricket team is capable of corruption, or that Cheryl Cole is autotuned.
While the former Prime Minister’s autobiography, “A Journey”, seems to contain few surprising revelations beyond arch-rival Brown’s hamfisted blackmail attempt to prevent pensions reform, and Blair’s penchant for a nice couple of glasses of red after work, it has nevertheless sent the Labour party and the media at large into the kind of spin-frenzy that makes washing machines resolve to train harder next season. We had the Labour leadership candidates saying that it’s THE FUTURE THAT MATTERS while… er… digging the boot into their rivals about their roles in the New Labour project and past events; former allies and spin-doctors of both Blair and Brown taking opposing positions and firing broadsides at each other; every newspaper political commentator worth their salt nailing predictable ideological colours to the mast; and the BBC’s Nick Robinson admitting mistakes in how he portrayed the Blair/Brown relationship, probably because he didn’t superimpose their severed heads onto the screen and CGI a nuclear explosion around them every time he talked about their personal dynamic.
For me, though, the most interesting contributions came from those who have brazenly lied multiple times in the past when they said there were no problems between Blair and Brown – usually claiming that the very notion was a media invention. When challenged over why they pulled an Arsene Wenger and “didn’t see ze incidents”, they – including several MPs and spin doctors – pretty much all said that sometimes in Government you have to lie, and they couldn’t exactly tell the truth over this or it would have caused serious trouble for the party. Blair, meanwhile, said that he couldn’t get rid of Brown as Chancellor because the resulting disruption would probably have accelerated his rise to power. “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” basically. I find the politics within the politics of politics to be endlessly fascinating. The Thick Of It often seems like it’s pulling its punches (unlike Prescott, eh!) when you hear about what really goes on behind the scenes.
Despite all the sound and fury today, nobody’s position on Blair or his record has moved even one iota because of the book, as I predicted a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure that Blair didn’t write his memoirs in order to change anyone’s mind, though – they’re simply an opportunity for him to reinforce his own arguments and explain things from his own point of view. Hopefully the Royal British Legion will get a lot of money out of it, which will make the exercise worthwhile. In any event, Brown’s eventual riposte should be interesting.