Monday, August 13, 2007

The Blair Years

Browsing in a London book store the other day, I spotted, high on a shelf in lonely isolation, a copy of 'The Blair Years' by that master of the googly, Alastair Campbell.
It was marked “reduced,” which I assume referred to the price and not its page count since it looked a pretty hefty tome.
“Pray tell me,” I asked the girl at the register, “How many copies of The Blair Years have you sold?”
I gestured at the lonely volume up on high and she squinted at it vaguely.
“Oh, that,” she said. “We only ordered one – and that's it.”
She seemed hopeful that I might put it out of its misery but I merely patted her on the head and complimented their buyer on his perspicacity in only buying one copy.
I'm sure that when the publishers first signed him up to dish the dirt on the Blairs, they envisaged lines of Daily Mail readers stretching for blocks outside their local Waterstones, all eager to delve into the dirty underwear at Number Ten.
And then Alastair let them down. He took all the good bits out, leaving the potential readership somewhere hovering in the same range as that of Hansard, pocketed his advance cheque and scarpered.
In any event, there was bound to be a degree of scepticism concerning his revelations.
Winston Churchill said that in war, truth had to be protected by a bodyguard of lies, and Campbell had brought the philosophy into peacetime politics with a vengeance.
So who would believe him anyway?
Without much chance of it being a true and faithful account, The Blair Years would have about as much relevance to the period as Bridget Jones Diary.
And there are a good many who would prefer not to remember those years.
Political memoirs are tricky, I suspect, if the reader's attention is to be held. One of the best I can recall is the one by Jock Colville, for many years Churchill's private secretary.
His wartime diary, kept secretly and, incidentally, in defiance of the government regulations at the time, is an engaging insight into the follies, foibles and strengths of the wartime leader and should be read by anyone interested in Churchill and his times.
He had, however, the enormous advantage of a subject immeasurably more interesting than the Blairs who will, I suspect, be rapidly consigned to the dustbin of history.
The diaries of Samuel Pepys have provided us with a window into his seventeenth century world by being brutally honest. I suppose the only thing future historians will gain from accounts such as the Blair Years, along with those of David Blunkett, will be what a dreary old corrupt business politics has become.
Pepys spiced up his work by including all the naughty bits, merely writing them in code, and providing scholars with endless fun in decoding them.
Perhaps Campbell should have done the same, thereby providing us with another great mystery of life to puzzle over, along with that other unanswerable question; why so many people bought the Da Vinci Code, yet another fairy tale.


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