Broken Vows: Tony Blair The Tragedy of Power by Tom Bower

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Broken Vows: Tony Blair The Tragedy of Power by Tom Bower

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A well-researched if not entirely unbiased account of Blair's time as Prime Minister. It's an easy read if you want all your prejudices confirmed.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 688 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Faber and Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0571314201

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In May 1997 we went to vote gleefully, sure that there was going to be a change from the tired, sleaze-ridden Conservative government we'd been suffering. The Blairs' entry into Downing Street the following day - through crowds of well-wishers - was like a breath of fresh air and (perhaps fortunately) it would be years before I discovered that the 'well wishers' had been bussed in for the event. Looking back now it seems that our hopes for what the 'New Labour' government could achieve were unreasonably high and there's a special place in hell reserved for those who disappoint us in this way. I've often wondered quite how history will see Blair: Afghanistan and Iraq as well as his failure to deal with Gordon Brown would always sour his premiership for me, but to what extent could his achievements such as the Good Friday Agreement, the minimum wage and higher welfare payments be balanced against his failures?

Tony Blair was young, self-confident and obviously in tune with the mood of the moment. In 1997 he faced a weak opposition and had a landslide majority in Parliament: it seemed that there was little he could not achieve. Instead of pushing through important points in the honeymoon period his complete lack of interest in immigration and health meant that those departments were quickly out of control - and the price is still being paid today. Blair also failed to grasp the nettle of Gordon Brown - an 'unbalanced sociopath' with a tight and controlling grasp on the nation's purse strings. Given the weakness of the parliamentary opposition it's no exaggeration to say that Blair's energy was spent in fighting Brown from day one when his energies should have been directed elsewhere.

Not all of the problems can be laid at Brown's door though. Blair's preference for 'sofa government' meant that there was a failure to allow ministers to debate key issues in cabinet, with the most glaring example being Iraq. The opposition failed lamentably to hold the government to account and Civil Servants either failed to insist on due process or were circumvented. Special advisers were allowed far too much influence, whilst advice from experts was regularly ignored or misused. Ultimately, Blair seemed incapable of defining his objectives, so victory was equally hard to define and the excess of his self belief eventually came close to delusion.

Tom Bower is an investigative journalist - not a profession known for producing a balanced view of a subject - so it was undoubtedly a mistake to read Broken Vows in the hope that it would shine a light on how history would see Tony Blair. Little space is given to the considerable redistribution of wealth (and not just to Blair after his retirement) which occurred, the reduction of poverty amongst children and pensioners, the minimum wage and higher welfare payments, to say nothing of the Good Friday agreement. These are all passed over lightly, whilst relatively minor events which show Blair in a poor light are examined in detail. As with all Bower's books the research is impeccable and he's interviewed a wide range of insiders, and there are attributable quotes from people at or near the top of the food chain. I feel no better about Blair than I did before I read the book, but I don't feel that the book was a balanced look at his premiership.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Tom Bower doesn't mention Chris Mullin, who was a fan of Tony Blair, but a kinder light is shone on his premiership in A View from the Foothills. We were not impressed by D C Confidential by Christopher Meyer which looks, in part, at the period before the Iraq war. Greg Dyke looks at the war and its aftermath from the BBC angle in Inside Story. John Prescott's light-weight and ghost-written account of his time as deputy Prime Minister, fills in one or two gaps in Prezza: My Story: Pulling No Punches - he's not given a lot of space by Bower.

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