Robert Salisbury

At the court of King Tony

Robert Salisbury reviews Lord Levy's memoirs

The commentariat has at last realised that in practice, if not in theory, the Labour Party believes in the hereditary principle. This is a phenomenon that those of us who, for one reason or another, have innate antennae for such things have long recognised. Homo sapiens in settled societies is more likely to follow anthropology than ideology and therefore successful politics has been more acutely analysed by Mary Douglas than by Marx.

What perhaps, however, has been forgotten in the rush to dump on Gordon Brown is quite how weird the Blair régime was. Michael Levy’s book provides us with a reminder. (In accordance with New Labour practice, he calls himself ‘Lord Michael Levy’ although the son of neither a duke nor a marquess.) Blair was an actor who only felt real when exposed to the roar of the greasepaint or, as Levy puts it, ‘a strongly religious man’s sincere faith in his own probity . . . and a frustrated actor’s instinct for tone and presentation’.

Blair was in a sense rootless. He did not spring from the Labour tribe. He craved approval and found confrontation difficult. As a result, when he could not avoid a row, especially with the incredible sulk next door, he made a hash of it. He much preferred either to be all things to all men or to use intermediaries to do his dirty work for him. Levy gives several examples of the latter expedient, but the most striking is the way Blair asked Levy to warn Robin Cook that he was about to be moved from the Foreign Office, reversing a promise Blair had made via Levy only weeks before the 2001 election.

Blair’s rootlessness encouraged him to rely overmuch on courtiers. All prime ministers, like successful generals, need a ‘family’: competent praetorians of unimpeachable loyalty.

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