Peter Hoskin

Tony Blair’s memoirs: the first extracts

Tony Blair's memoirs: the first extracts
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Even the literary critics have to wait until tomorrow for the Blair memoirs – but the book's contents are slowing spilling out onto the Internet this evening. A series of extracts has just been published on the official website, and the Guardian has extensive coverage, including an interview with the man himself. So far, there's nothing too surprising. Blair, for instance, lays into Brown – but adds that it would have been wrong to sack him as Chancellor. And he declines to endorse a candidate for the Labour leadership, beyond offering a handful of veiled criticisms of Ed Miliband. Coffee House will have more tomorrow. For now – and for those who can deal with the often cringeworthy prose – here are some extracts of the extracts:

The opening

"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."

On himself

“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.”

"Part of the whole thought process that had gone into creating New Labour was to redefine the nature of the state. Except on law and order, I am by instinct a liberal. That is one reason why I used to go out of my way to praise Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge; and why I always had respect as well as affection for the mind of Roy Jenkins."

On Gordon Brown and Labour's election defeat

"[Of Brown:] Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero."

"If I had decided he really was unfit to remain as Chancellor I would have dismissed him, even if it had hastened my own dismissal. My failure to do so was not a lack of courage. Nor was it simply about managing a complex situation. It was because I believed, despite it all, despite my own feelings at times, that he was the best Chancellor for the country."

"Later, when I ran through possible replacements, I still bumped up against the same uncomfortable but – I thought – incontrovertible – reality. He was head and shoulders above the others. Only towards the very end did the thoroughgoing New Labour people start to emerge who had sufficient seniority and experience to have taken his place."

"I came to the conclusion that having him inside and constrained was better than outside and let loose or, worse, becoming the figurehead of a far more damaging force well to the left."

"Had he pursued New Labour policy the personal issue would still have made victory tough, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. Departing from New Labour made it so. Just as the 2005 election was one we were never going to lose, 2010 was one we were never going to win — once the fateful strategic decision was taken to abandon the New Labour position."

"The problem, I would say error, was in buying a package which combined deficit spending, heavy regulation, identifying banks as the malfeasants and jettisoning the reinvention of government in favour of the rehabilitation of government. The public understands the difference between the state being forced to intervene to stabilise the market and government back in fashion as a major actor in the economy."

On Iraq

"I feel desperately sorry for [the fallen], sorry for the lives cut short, sorry for the families whose bereavement is made worse by the controversy over why their loved ones died, sorry for the utterly unfair selection that the loss should be theirs."

"I feel words of condolence and sympathy to be entirely inadequate. They have died and I, the decision-maker in the circumstances that led to their deaths, still live."

"Do they really suppose I don’t care, don’t feel, don’t regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died?"

"Tears, though there have been many, do not encompass it."

"It is also, of all the decisions I took, the one that even closest friends disagreed with; indeed, not so much simply disagreed with, but found hard to comprehend. My oldest political friend Geoff Gallop used to say not that he took a different view from me, but: ‘Just can’t understand why you did that,

Tony.’ Many supporters will acknowledge I did it for the correct motives, but still regard it as ‘the stain’ on an otherwise impressive record. And of course those who aren’t supporters regard it as final proof of villain."

"I understand entirely why people take this view. The stated purpose of the conflict was to enforce UN resolutions on Saddam’s WMD, and we found no WMD after taking control of the country. We thought there was an active WMD programme and there wasn’t"

"To the question ‘Is Iraq better now than in Saddam’s time?’, there is really only one sensible answer: of course."

"The truth is we did not anticipate the role of al-Qaeda or Iran. Whether we should have is another matter; and if we had anticipated, what we would have done about it is another matter again."

On welfare reform

"The debate on welfare was always going to be much tougher, but it was just as necessary and there were good and sound people on the progressive side of politics who could see the need to change. The raison d’être for reform was set out earlier: incapacity benefit was abused; too many people were in long-term benefit dependency; too little was done by way of active support to shift them into the labour market.

David Freud’s review of welfare spending, with emphasis on incapacity benefit, also produced a sensible report that was radical and would allow us in time to redesign the welfare budget.

Both the Turner proposals and those of Freud gave us a huge opportunity to characterise, define and implement reforms of a vital nature not just for the country but for the survival of the government. I kept saying to Gordon, Quite apart from the fact that both sets of proposals are manifestly right in themselves, if we don’t do them, a future Tory government will, but in a Tory way. So let us own them and do them. They will also give you a great platform to prove continuity and commitment to reform."

On Afghanistan and Trident

"[We should stay in Afghanistan for] as long as is necessary."

"I hesitated over [renewing Trident]. I did not think this was a 'tough on defence' versus a 'weak or pacifist' issue at all ... in the final analysis I thought giving it up too big a downgrading of our status as a nation."

On Northern Ireland

"Decommissioning was the real bugbear ... this was extraordinarily sensitive for the IRA. And at one level Unionists understood it was more symbolic than real. In truth, if the IRA destroyed their weapons, they could always buy new ones. In other words, peace didn’t ultimately depend on destroying weapons but on destroying a mindset."

"Then – and yes, it really does come to this – we had to negotiate not just the choreography of the actual meeting but its furniture. It came down to the shape of the table. The DUP wanted the sides to sit opposite each other to show they were still adversaries. Sinn Fein wanted everyone to sit next to each other to show they were partners and therefore now equals. Robert Hannigan, a great young official who had taken over as the main Number 10 person, then supplied the final piece of creativity: he suggested a diamond-shaped table so they could sit both opposite and with each other. The deal was done."

"We were very lucky in the quality of leadership we had. David Trimble was instrumental. He began it when it seemed impossible, kept at it when it was most difficult, and paid the ultimate political price (though I have no doubt that his reputation in history is fully secure). Then in the most unlikely of roles, Ian Paisley – for years the wrecker, the spoiler, the scourge of all in Unionism who sought accommodation – took over and completed the process."

"Once, near the end [of a meeting with Ian Paisley], he asked me whether I thought God wanted him to make the deal that would seal the peace process. I wanted to say yes, but I hesitated; though I was sure God would want peace, God is not a negotiator. I felt it would be wrong, manipulative, to say yes, and so I couldn't answer that question, that only he could and I hoped he would let God guide him."

"Over time I came to like both [Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness] greatly, probably more than I should have, if truth be told … They were supreme masters of the distinction between tactics and strategy. They knew the destination and they were determined to bring their followers with them, or at least the vast bulk of them."

"A peace process never stands still – it goes forward or back."

On, erm, Princess Diana

"Whatever New Labour had in part, she had in whole."

And his buddy Nelson Mandela...

"Mandela – or Madiba as he is also called (his clan name) – is a fascinating study, not because he’s a saint but because he isn’t. Or rather

he is, but not in the sense that he can’t be as fly as hell when the occasion demands. I bet Gandhi was the same.

I always got on well with Madiba, partly I think because I treated him as a political leader and not a saint. He knew exactly how he was used by people – including me – to boost their credibility at certain points, and provided he liked you, he was totally prepared to do it. The most fascinating thing about him was his shrewdness. He was wily, clever as in the French word habile, smart and completely capable of manipulating a situation when it suited his higher purpose."