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, aka Rebekah Brooks] 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.

How Cherie Blair earns £1,000 an hour from the Kazakh taxpayer. Cherie Blair’s law firm is working for the Ministry of Justice in Astana, Kazakhstan, while her husband, Tony Blair is an adviser to president Nursultan Nazarbayev: here.

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

May will mark two decades since Blair won the general election and, despite ‘history’ spin, reality tells a different story, writes Keith Flett.

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45 thoughts on “How power corrupted Tony Blair, by his sister-in-law

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  42. Monday 3rd March 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    JOHN ELLISON looks back at the build-up to the 1997 general election and considers how clear New Labour’s neoliberal stance was, and how the left reacted to it

    TWENTY years ago today, the Labour Party issued its manifesto for a general election that would decide whether the Tories’ 18 years in power would roll on for any longer.

    The next day, with the election due in under a month, the Morning Star editorially backed a Labour victory, which would be “celebrated as a labour movement achievement, not a personal victory for any leader” — such as Tony Blair, already specialising in stand-up mendacity while touting for trust, and who was to evolve into a walking and talking portfolio of investments and wars.

    The British electorate was not just tired of Tories. Major economic depressions, the bomb site of our manufacturing industry and mass unemployment — plus large increases in indirect taxes — had made their presence starkly felt, while greater job and home insecurity for middle-class families, who had experienced sky-high mortgage interest rates and a crash in house values, had antagonised many former Tory voters.

    Signals that Labour would win were plentiful. At the end of February 1997 Labour won a by-election on the Wirral, enjoying a 17 per cent swing from the Tories.

    And support for Labour was coming from new directions. On March 18, a day after the election date of May 1 was announced, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship tabloid the Sun came out for Blair, who had been massaging the media mogul for two years past, as prime minister-to-be.

    The Blair-Brown-Blunkett-Mandelson-and-others group had, quietly, been undermining internal democracy in the Labour Party by interfering with parliamentary candidate selection, filtering out the independently minded and leftwingers in marginal seats, and pushing those with a cleaner New Labour look.

    Labour’s manifesto was issued on April 3. In contained no surprises and nothing worryingly controversial. Under the heading “Blair banks on ‘bond of trust’,” the Star reported the content of “a highly personalised Labour Party manifesto.”

    It announced that a Labour government would make education its top priority, would keep income tax rates as they were already and would penalise privatised utilities with a windfall tax on profits.

    In addition the NHS bureaucracy would be removed, and there would be toughness on crime plus a welfare shake-up. Devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales, and to the English regions, was another promise.

    No plans to reverse the damage done to the less well-off through selling off council housing or to the trade unions through repressive legislation. No reversal of Tory privatisations, among which the railways sell-off was already promising to be a brutally expensive botch-up.

    All the signs were that the increased disparity between the situations of the rich and the poor developed during the reigns of Thatcher and Major was set to stay.

    In his diary on April 3, Labour MP Chris Mullin described Blair as being on top form in a Today programme interview, writing: “There is no disguising the fact that every word he utters is designed to pander to the meaner elements of the meaner classes, the Sierra owners, as he calls them.”

    Tony Benn noted in his diary three days later that there was not a single mention in Labour’s manifesto of socialism. Paul Foot wrote in The Vote (2005) of the manifesto: “A party that in 1979 declared itself proud to be socialist now announced, in effect, that it was proud not to be socialist.”

    Days later the Star reported Blair’s signalling to a City audience that wholesale privatisation would come, plus Gordon Brown’s “sudden conversion to the privatisation creed” and his confirmation that the last Tory Budget’s spending plans would be hon

    oured. “These two individuals,” the Star commented, “are not all there is to Labour.”

    On April 10 Tony Benn recorded having heard a Labour political broadcast which, he said, “is really designed to alienate every trade unionist there is.”

    Blair’s spokesman and election campaign co-ordinator Alastair Campbell quoted Blair in his endless, and not always intriguing, diary on April 14 as privately declaring that the election, “when you boil it down, is all about me.” Four days later Campbell noted that Blair “was worrying about his hair.”

    The polls were heavily in Labour’s favour. On April 11 Benn recorded that Labour was 20 per cent ahead of the Tories. On April 22 one new poll gave Labour a 21 per cent lead, and another 9 per cent.

    So, while the Thatcher cabal had declared class war on the labour movement with the aim of crippling it, the New Labour cabal were pretending that the class war was over.

    But offering policies not much different from those of the Tories created its own problems. There was not much in them to captivate voters. Acutely conscious of this, during the run-up to May 1 New Labour was strangely unconfident of victory.

    Campbell told Blair and his diary on April 24 that “a row” with the Tories was needed, and that false allegations (which they termed “over-claiming”) were the way to get one. So Blair, lying not for the first or the last time, claimed publicly and untruthfully that the Tories intended, if again returned to power, to replace the state pension with a private one.

    In April 27’s Observer, Blair declared: “I’m going to be a lot more radical in government than many people think,” leaving it up to the reader to guess what he believed people thought and what sort of radicalism he was talking about.

    While Labour’s offerings seemed to socialists and trade unionists to be beer so diluted that it was confusable with purified water, the Star issued a polling day call to vote out the Tories. A piece by editor John Haylett cornered the central issue for what has proved to be the two decades which followed: “From tomorrow the fight will be on to ensure a real alternative to Tory policies.”

    The vote on May 1 transformed the parliamentary political balance. Labour increased its vote from 35 per cent to 43 per cent and its parliamentary presence to 419 MPs, producing a majority of 179, while the Tory vote dropped to 31 per cent and its presence to 165 MPs.

    New Labour’s first week featured Brown’s relinquishment of ministerial control of setting the bank interest rates to a “bank” of City “experts.” If that was for starters, it was followed by an announcement by the new social security minister Harriet Harman that single parent welfare benefit would be cut.

    On May 5 the Star commented on her assertions on Sunday TV that the welfare state “wasn’t for people who just didn’t want to work” or “simply about an alternative way of life.” She could have borrowed the words from Margaret Thatcher. Only the patronising vehemence was missing.

    So New Labour in power was set to ape the behaviour of the 18-year Tory governments. The seal was neatly set on its character by Blair’s visit to Thatcher, three weeks after his arrival in Downing Street, “for advice” about foreign policy. A few years later he was to top up such advice by taking orders, unholy orders, from US president George W Bush.

    New Labour under Blair was to prolong into madness the Tory railways privatisation project, and before long washed its hands of the publicly owned air-traffic control system.

    “No more boom and bust” chancellor Gordon Brown was to mastermind the instigation of the “bust-from-the-start” private finance initiative, which facilitated school-building and especially hospital-building at an insupportable cost to the taxpayer.

    Added to these, council-housing stock was transferred in massive quantities to housing associations, while very few new council homes were built.

    Then there was the withdrawal of schools from local authority control and, in time, the introduction of “top-up” tuition fees for university students. Plus partnership in US imperial wars.

    Was it surprising that in 1997 the election turnout was 71.5 per cent and then collapsed in 2001 to 59.1 per cent — the lowest since 1918?

    Or that the Labour vote plunged over the same period by almost three million? Certainly another Tory government would have been worse. But New Labour had been put in its place.

    Contrast today, when we have at last a socialist Labour Party leadership. Like New Labour, lacking a reverse gear, but earning our loud and enthusiastic support.

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-6d36-How-far-has-Labour-come-since-1997#.WOKUXmekIdU

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