How power corrupted Tony Blair, by his sister-in-law


Blair, Bush, and the Iraq war, cartoon by Steve Bell

By Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of British Prime Minister Tony Blair:

‘How power turned the Blairs cold’ by Cherie‘s sister

As the Blairs prepare to leave, Cherie’s sister gives a devastating account of how a decade of power has made “a warm couple” cold and calculating. …

There had already been mutterings about Tony Blair’s credentials as Labour leader.

Socialist stalwarts such as Bob Marshall Andrews questioned Tony’s interest in the “working class”, accusing him of being “in it for himself and his cronies”.

But back then I fiercely rebuked such notions.

I was so thrilled at Tony and Cherie’s success and so convinced that they were all the good things they seemed. After all, they were family. …

Two of my favourite people in the world set to become two of the most famous.

What a difference a decade makes.

Recently, in an interview, Tony said: “I’m not a different human being from ten years ago, but I am a different politician.”

Well, he’s 50 per cent accurate.

Today, the Blairs are vastly different people from the amazed young couple who crossed the No10 threshold.

Over the years I have watched them change and harden – and something of the idealist in me has fractured in the process.

Perhaps the first hint of the changes that would take place came that May afternoon.

After a brisk tea with close family, Tony was led away “backstage” by keen civil servants.

A relative told me he had called out, “See you later, Tony,” as the man of the moment was taken away for his first briefing. A man in a suit was instantly by his side.

“We refer to him as Prime Minister now,” he said.

The relative looked amused. “He’s Tony to me…” “Oh no,’ the Sir Humphrey pressed. “He’s the Prime Minister now.”

It was clear that Alastair Campbell, Tony’s communications chief, was not pleased to see me.

His office mantra, “You’re either with us or against us,” was, even then, permeating both the Blairs’ political and personal lives.

Friends from the old North London days complained about being frozen out and Tony and Cherie’s diaries were ruthlessly managed by their own teams. Tony’s life was dominated by red boxes, meetings, briefings and Alastair, the hardman thug.

I remember wondering what effect it would have on Tony’s sense of humour and was nervous about how he might react when he saw me.

I needn’t have worried. He grinned: “Lauren. Saw you on the telly the other day. You did really well. And you look great! Keep it up!”

I was thrilled. For all the talk of bullying and sleaze at the heart of Government, here was Tony as nice as ever. My relief was short-lived.

Moments later, Cherie hoved into view. She was not happy. She took me by the elbow and marched me towards Fiona Millar, Alastair’s other half, in charge of Cherie’s PR.

The task of giving me a dressing-down fell to Fiona, who enjoyed it rather too much.

The day before I had given a five-minute fringe presentation at a meeting held by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). This, I was told, was not acceptable.

I was shocked. One of New Labour’s pledges had been to ban foxhunting in the first term.

Surely this was a “safe” issue? Millar made it clear I was no longer free to voice my support of such causes.

Like Cherie, I was related to the Prime Minister for better or for worse.

To my immortal shame, I became tearful in front of these two angry women.

“Sorry,” I blubbed. “I just thought… what about freedom of speech…?’

“What about it?” was the response. What mattered was that Tony’s publicity machine could operate unhindered ‘by the likes of me”.

Charming.

With an air kiss and a promise to “call”, Cherie wafted off to chat to Ross Kemp and [his wife] Rebekah Wade, who is now the editor of The Sun.

That moment struck me as out of character.

Yet, looking back, I have to admit such “aberrations” became increasingly common. …

Still, I was reluctant to accept that these flaws could be found in Tony or Cherie.

Then 9/11 changed everything. The Blairs’ friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton [see also here] had always been politically and socially comfortable.

Cherie Blair and BushBut Tony’s union with Bush was more complex, less palatable and increasingly dominant. He and Cherie embraced Bush both publicly and in private.

Cherie showed herself able, if not always willing, to stifle her own views for the sake of her husband’s, and her status.

She smiled through gritted teeth and listened to the jumbled words of a spoilt billionaire who had been given the keys to the White House.

The woman who wouldn’t curtsey for the Queen shut up for Bush.

I think this personal volte face began to eat her up. Certainly, it changed my view of her.

Meanwhile, with every back- slapping mention of the “war on terror” the British public turned on Tony. And so did I.

When the British Army went into Iraq in 2003 I went to Downing Street but this time as one of the million who marched that February to stop the war.

Cherie Blair attacks her husband’s government: here.

Cherie’s ex-assistant Fiona Millar attacks her after Blair stepped down as PM: here.

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