Thursday, 2 September 2010

Blair’s Journey: We need thirty years and an independent biographer

Apparently, the major revelations from the release of Tony Blair’s biography yesterday are that Gordon was difficult to work with (quelle surprise!) and that sometimes the only way he could unwind at the end of another head-banging session with his Chancellor was a large glass of wine or a gin and tonic (I know the feeling!)

I am being facetious, but there is a wider point here. This is the settling of old scores, the wider history of New Labour is yet to be written. What we need now is not Blair book or a Mandelson memoir, but thirty years and an independent biographer.

Why thirty years? Because the passage of time provides perspective. Even Nixon, the most disgraced of modern Presidents, became am elder statesman by the time of his death. Although criticised at the time, much of his foreign policy, rapprochement with China, détente with Russia, now looks positively enlightened compared to Bush 2.

Secondly, time provides the opportunity for the individuals themselves to think again. Robert McNamara in his book, In Retrospect published in 1995, took responsibility for the grave errors of the Vietnam War admitting, “we were wrong, terribly wrong”.

Time also loosens tongues. Robert A Caro, during the course of his research for his mammoth four volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, was desperate to speak to George Brown, co-founder with his brother Herman of Brown & Root Engineering Company, who did so much to bankroll Johnson’s political career. Brown refused, until almost his dying breath when he agreed to meet with Caro, giving him much dynamite information, including what Johnson aides like John Connelly actually did with the “brown paper bags stuffed with money” during the disputed 1948 Senate Primary.

Finally, it is often the case that the lesser-lights rather than the ‘big beasts’ cast the most interesting light on the inner workings of Government. Richard Crossman’s diaries, for example, are rightly regarded as the definitive insider’s account of the Wilson Government and, crucially, the workings of the Civil Service. I, for one, would be very interested to hear what Jack Straw has to say about his role in trying to get the second Iraqi resolution through the United Nations Security Council and his removal as Foreign Secretary, but only once he is well out of Government and in his dotage.

I think there is a great book to be written about New Labour, but I very much doubt whether it has been written yet.


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