1 Sep 2010

Tony Blair: Brown became ‘impossible’

Tony Blair has admitted his relationship with Gordon Brown was “going on impossible” after describing his former rival as “maddening” in his new book.

Tony Blair has admitted his relationship with Gordon Brown was “very very difficult” and “going on impossible” after describing him as “maddening” in his memoirs, published today.

In The Tony Blair Interview with Andrew Marr, to be screened on BBC Two this evening, the former prime minister says he believes “for sure” that Labour could have won the election in May.

But he added: “The relationship with Gordon was very very difficult but it was also very close.

“Even though towards the end I think frankly it was hard going on impossible, for a large part of time we were in government he was an immense source of strength.”

Mr Blair also talks about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear strategy and says he would not shy away from considering military action if he were still in Downing Street.

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon has learned that Gordon Brown has consulted allies and told them “not to retaliate right now”.

It is understood he has warned them that hitting back could make “matters a whole lot worse” in the run-up to the Labour leadership contest.

Blair book: the aftermath
Click here to read Gary Gibbon's blog: How will Gordon Brown retaliate?

In his new book, Blair – who was in charge of the country for a decade from 1997 to 2007 – also blames Mr Brown’s abandonment of New Labour principles for the loss of the 2010 general election.

In his book, A Journey, he said of Brown: “Was he difficult, at times maddening? Yes. But he was also strong, capable and brilliant, and those were qualities for which I never lost respect.”

He added: “When it’s said that I should have sacked him, or demoted him, this takes no account of the fact that had I done so, the party and the government would have been severely and immediately destabilised and his ascent to the office of prime minister would probably have been even faster.”

He also said that preventing Mr Brown from making the move from No 11 to No 10 Downing Street would have been “well nigh impossible”.

“It is easy to say now, in the light of his tenure as prime minister, that I should have stopped it; at the time that would have been well nigh impossible.”

In the book Mr Blair also tackles head-on the controversial topics which have become his legacy, not least the Iraq war.

He also reveals that the pressures of his role led to concern over his alcohol intake.

How will history judge Tony Blair?
For some reason, our former dear leader has not seen fit to grant Channel 4 News an interview. This is a loss. I always found him a rewarding interview.

He was good at it, writes Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow.

I never found the small talk easy - publicly relaxed and personable, he was privately awkward, almost, and unexpectedly gauche. But definitely seemed a nice man.

So how will history judge him? One of his confessions is that he regrets the fox hunting ban - it is close to an apology, not to the fox, but to the country.

"I didn’t understand the issue", he is reported to have said. So that's OK, he understood the war on Iraq – it was "right" – but not the attempt to prevent acts of cruelty against our four-footed foes.

Doubtless, A Journey (THE Journey was reportedly pulped as too much) will infect our debate tonight live on Channel 4 News with all five Labour leadership candidates.
Read more on Jon Snow's blog

The book outlines that he used to drink a whisky or gin and tonic before his evening meal, and then several glasses of wine.

He said while the young would drink but then go without alcohol for days, “as time goes on, it easily becomes a daily habit that our body needs to relax. To compensate for pressure. To stimulate. To make a boring evening bearable.”

The memoirs cover events throughout his political life, from his election as Labour leader in 1994, to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and his famous “people’s princess” speech, the Northern Ireland peace talks, war in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, and the struggle against terrorism.

He writes of the “anguish” he feels about the conflict in Iraq, but reiterates his view that leaving Saddam Hussein in power would have been a “bigger risk” than removing him.

He said he hoped lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process could be used in the Middle East.

Mr Blair is out of the country today, as the memoirs hit the shelves of bookshops, attending the opening of Middle East peace talks at the White House in Washington in his role as envoy for the international Quartet.

The book also addresses Labour’s loss in the 2010 election, and the future of the party.

“The response, I fear, is obvious. It won as New Labour. It lost by ceasing to be that,” he said.

He also suggests that the Labour party should not swing to the left in selecting its new leader.

“If we take this path, the next defeat will be even more stinging,” he said.

Ballot papers go out today for the leadership contest, and Channel 4 News is tonight hosting a debate between the five candidates: David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott.

Mr Blair is donating all the profits from his book to the Royal British Legion. The report £4m plus will go to a new sports centre for injured troops.

Anti-war protesters are due to stage demonstrations today against the publication of what they branded “the memoirs of a war criminal”.

'What do you want him to apologise for?'
"What do you want him to apologise for?" asks Darren Murphy, former special adviser to Tony Blair, 2003-2005, and now managing director of global services to government at APCO Worldwide.

"He can be sorry for the loss of life in Iraq, both our troops and Iraqi troops, and civilians. But he can't be sorry for something he believed was the right thing to do.

"The most important aspect is the families of the members of the armed forces killed or injured in Iraq. Imagine if, because it was the easy thing to do or to court popularity, he decided to wash his hands of the responsibility. What comes across in the book is he accepts this, and as decision maker he has to have these deaths on his conscience.

Book is "insight" into Blair as a person
"I think the book is a very interesting insight into Tony Blair as a human being - his insecurity, his humour, his pathos.

"All prime ministers write memoirs; most draw conclusions about the past at the end. Isn't it interesting that Tony Blair is drawing conclusions about the future? I think he does still have a contribution to make to ideas, politics and British government that will be valuable."

"When I was in No 10 the word 'legacy' was virtually banned. I think that if you were writing a book to justify your time in government and articulate your legacy to politics and government, you would not have written a book like this, which is so personal.

"It is easy to say with hindsight that he should have known what would happen."