Tony Blair – A Journey. An Extract. (Try before you buy!)

Tony Blair, A Journey, 2010

Introduction

I wanted this book to be different from the traditional political memoir. Most such memoirs are, I have found, rather easy to put down. So what you will read here is not a conventional description of who I met or what I did. There is a range of events, dates, other politicians absent from it, not because they don’t matter, but because my aim was to write not as a historian, but rather as a leader. There have been plenty of accounts – and no doubt will be more – of the history of my ten years as prime minister, and many people could write them. There is only one person who can write an account of what it is like to be the human being at the centre of that history, and that’s me.

So this is a personal account; a description of a journey through a certain period of history in which my political, and maybe to a certain degree my personal character evolves and changes. I begin as one type of leader; I end as another. That’s why I call it a journey. I describe, of course, the major events of my time, but I do so through the eyes of the person taking the decisions in relation to them. It is not an objective account; it doesn’t pretend to be, though I hope it is fair.

I have also written it thematically, rather than following a precise chronology. It is true that my themes essentially start in 1997 and end in 2007; but within that framework I deal with individual subjects: for example, the coming to power; or Northern Ireland; or Princess Diana; or 9/11; or Iraq; or reform in public services; or the Olympics; or July 2005. You can, as a reader, take a subject and pretty much view it in isolation if you wish to, though of course there are a multitude of cross-references. Some things, like my relationship with Gordon Brown and with American presidents, flow through it all. Because I have read autobiographies or memoirs that begin enthusiastically and then tail off in desperation and haste as the publisher’s deadline approaches, I also took the unusual step of writing the chapters out of sequence, tackling some of the hardest first, and the easiest last. I wanted to keep the same pace and energy throughout. I took three years to write it.

This book is above all, however, not simply retrospective. Naturally, since it deals with past events, it examines those events as they were at the time. But I’m not really a retrospective person. I look forward. I still have much to do and a great amount of purpose in my life. I’m working as hard as I have ever worked. I am still learning.

So as well as using the past to illuminate issues that are still present, A Journey often projects into the future. Particularly in respect of foreign affairs after 9/11, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in respect of major reforms to health, education, welfare, and law and order which preoccupy current governments, I seek to set out a view of the world both as it is and as it may become, not simply as I found it while in office. The last chapter deals specifically with 2007–10 and, since it disagrees with much conventional wisdom about the financial crisis and continuing challenges of security, it is very much engaged with today’s debate about today’s issues.

Finally, the book is something of a letter (extended!) to the country I love. I won three general elections. Up to then, Labour had never even won two successive full terms. The longest Labour government had lasted six years. This lasted thirteen. It could have, as I say in the final chapter, gone on longer, had it not abandoned New Labour.

Those victories came about because there was a group of people who felt the same as I do about Britain. That it is a great country. That the British people are, at their best, brave, determined and adventurous. But that we need a vision, a concept, a sense of our place in the world today and in our future, as well as a strong regard for our past. That is why I was and remain first and foremost not so much a politician of traditional left or right, but a moderniser. I wanted to modernise the Labour Party so it was capable, not intermittently but continuously, of offering a progressive alternative to Conservative rule. I wanted to modernise Britain so that, while retaining pride in having worn the mantle of the world’s most powerful nation as the twentieth century began, it didn’t feel bereft and in decline as the twenty-first century arrived, because that mantle would no longer fit. I wanted us to be a nation proud of being today a land of many cultures and faiths, breaking new ground against prejudice of any sort, paying more attention to merit than to class, and being at ease with an open society and global economy.

I wanted us to realise a new set of ambitions at home and abroad. We would reform our public services and welfare state so as to make them consonant with the world of 2005, not 1945. We would use our membership of Europe and our alliance with the United States to influence the decisions of the world, even as our power relative to the emerging nations diminished. We would play a new role in continents such as Africa, as partners in development. We would forge a new politics, in which successful enterprise and ambition lived comfortably alongside a society of equal opportunity and compassion. The book sets out the attempts to achieve such a vision – in parts successful, in parts not, and therefore what it describes is a work in progress. It gives my opinion as to why powerful forces, left and right, disagree with such a vision and tried hard to inhibit it, but why I still believe it is the only hope for Britain’s future.

Though my politics consciously and deliberately reached beyond traditional left or right, it shouldn’t be thought from this that I was or am disdainful of party politics. In particular, as I always used to say, I owe the Labour Party, its members, supporters and activists, a huge debt of gratitude. I put them through a lot! They took it, most of the time, with quite extraordinary dignity and loyalty. It is true that my head can sometimes think conservatively especially on economics and security; but my heart always beats progressive, and my soul is and always will be that of a rebel.

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About A Journey

Tony Blair is the politician who defines our times. His emergence as Labour leader in 1994 marked a seismic shift in British politics. Within a few short years, he had transformed his party and rallied the country behind him, becoming prime minister in 1997 with the biggest victory in Labour’s history, and bringing to an end eighteen years of Conservative government. He took Labour to a historic three terms in office, as the dominant political figure of the last two decades.

A Journey is Tony Blair’s first-hand account of his years in office and beyond. Here he describes for the first time his role in shaping our recent history, from the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death to the war on terror. He reveals the leadership decisions that were necessary to reinvent his party, the relationships with colleagues such as Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, the gruelling negotiations for peace in Northern Ireland, the battles over education and health, the implementation of the biggest reforms to public services since 1945, and his relationships with leaders on the world stage, from Mandela and Clinton to Putin and Bush. He analyses the belief in ethical intervention that led to his decisions to go to war, in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan and, most controversially of all, in Iraq.

A Journey is a book about the nature and uses of political power. In frank, unflinching, often wry detail, Tony Blair charts the ups and downs of his career to provide insight into the man, as well as the politician and statesman. He explores the challenges of leadership, and explains why he took on public opinion to stand up for what he believed in. He also looks forwards, to emerging power relationships and economies, and to Britain’s changing role, addressing the vital issues and complexities of our global world.

Few British prime ministers have shaped the nation’s course as profoundly as Tony Blair, and his achievements and his legacy will be debated for years to come. Amid the millions of words written about him, this book is unique: his own journey, in his own words.

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