The (slightly boring) Blair interview
I was in the TLS office this afternoon, but rushed off smartish to catch the 5.45 and watch the Blair interview on telly at home. That's illogical I know -- as I could perfectly well have recorded it/watched it on iplayer or whatever -- but there is still something alluring in the idea of sitting at home and watching a television programme at the same time as millions of others, even if you are nowhere near them (it's a sort of 'virtual community').
Of course, I knew that it would feel like a book promotion exercise -- but two things had tickled my curiosity.
First, I had been intrigued by the "Blair and alcohol" stories from the book on the news this morning. I had always taken TB to be a Perrier water and rocket salad kind of guy -- but the idea that he was (like the rest of us over busy over-50s) a GandT plus half a bottle of wine made him seem much more interesting. (And remember what doctors are always told...or so I'm told ... take what they admit to and then double it...)
Second, there had been a curious item in the Sky tv guide about the interview:
"Questions like, "What did you have for breakfast this morning?" and "Do you think Mary Beard is the new Su-Bo?" won't feature in this tussle between the former Prime Minister and adorable political elf Andrew Marr."
For about 5 seconds, I managed to convince myself that this might just be flattering (if it really was referring to me, that is). You know ... Mary Beard will make ancient Pompeii as appealing to millions on the telly as Susan Boyle made... whatever it was she made apealing. Realism soon suggested, however, that the implication was much more likely along the lines of "how does a slightly weird over 50 year old think she can inflict herself on us", with more than a hint of allegations of social inadequacy!
But, anyway, it got me racing home for the interview, which was probably a mistake.
For a start, Andrew Marr (was he Blair's choice?) wasnt really all that good at it. Satisfying as it may seem, there really is not much point in quizzing Blair on Iraq any more. He's been quizzed so often on this that you couldn't trip him up. (To compare large with little, I have been quizzed so often on 9/11 (though less than one thousandth of the times that Blair has been quizzed on Iraq) that the discussion is not really much worth having. Whatever you think, you get a line and get practised in it...mine happens to be true, but how would anyone know?) It would have been much smarter to go in on Kosova or Sierra Leone, where the whole range of arguments are much more fluid.
That apart, I had two main reactions.
1) Blair was smart on conceding the little things (and so looking generous) and not giving an inch on the big. It does not honestly matter a jot to most of us whether he thinks the hunting ban an error. As it happens I am with him on that (and probably for different reasons), but suspicious that he uses that "mistake" as a nifty carapace for a lot of other bigger ones.
2) There is also his habit of somehow blaming the "outside" when it comes to serious problems. I dont just mean the "intelligence" about WMD again, though the idea that only the intelligence services made an error irritates me beyond measure. A couple of weeks before the final Iraq war decision, I was at a meeting in Cambridge (with the then local Labout MP present), at which a lot of Cambridge scientists (a good number of whom were far from left wing) said that the intelligence that they had heard, and that had been displayed (somewhat shamefacedly) by Colin Powell at the UN, did not add up. What we were being shown as mobile labs could not possibly have been. How did that kind of information not get back to Blair? The government's job is not to receive intelligence, but to interpret it. And so it went on this evening. The reason the the Iraq war had gone wrong he said was all those "outside forces".
So a bit of a waste of time rushing home. But by the time I left the TLS I had had a much better idea of why the Blair book was interesting from Peter, who was busy reviewing (and I'm not going to give away what he will say just yet, but read it when it comes out). And tonight I shall listen to Chris Mullin's next volume of diaries on Book of the Week (I declare an interest -- it's from the same publisher as my Pompeii etc). A smarter observation of the workings of power, I think.