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The Secret Life of Tony Blair

Simon Jenkins

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Lance Price, Blair's former aide, has just published his book, The Spin Doctor's Diary. His latest raspberry at Downing Street sets a new standard in political kiss-and-tell. Whitehall tried, halfheartedly, to get it suppressed. The cabinet secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, declared the whole book "completely unacceptable" and made a series of juicy cuts. Price was thus able to use them as an 18-certificate trailer in the Daily Mail, flagged the "Allegations They Tried to Ban". I suspect that Turnbull, no friend of Blair's "democracy", knew exactly what he was doing.

Price claims his revelations reflect his "passionate belief that unnecessary secrecy about how our government works is bad, not just for the people in whose name it operates but for government itself". This presumably refers to aides copulating on Blair's sofa, Blair abusing "the xxxxing Welsh" and his "relishing" sending troops into action.

The book is a savage money-spinner at Blair's expense. It is a diary of events in the last three years of the 1997 parliament, offering a first-person account of spinners at work. The portrait of the Blair-Campbell duumvirate is so breathtakingly cynical as to be near implausible. Every day is an exercise in trying to write the following morning's front pages. It convinces me that Campbell's talent lay not in using the power of Downing Street to corrupt the press (an easy task) but in using the power of the press to corrupt Downing Street. At this he was astonishingly successful.

Campbell is the diaries' evil genius. He clearly regards Blair as a fool - the word is more obscene - loathing the public sector and obsessed by his future income. Campbell dominates every decision, holding most ministers in contempt and using them as initiative factories to get Blair out of some new scrape, be it on drugs, asylum seekers, binge drinkers or whatever. Blair emerges "effing and blinding", vacillating, charming, opportunist, chaotic, above all thick.

Price is not the first so to describe Blair and his entourage. We can read similar material from Rentoul, Rawnsley, Naughtie, Seldon, Kampfner, Scott, Riddell, Oborne and others. But most rely on such devices as "an insider said" and can be taken with pinches of salt.

The new book is closer to Washington memoirs in flaunting oratio recta. The intimacy of Price's revelations is what gives them force. They intrude into the innermost sanctum of sofa government, the off-message exchanges of those present. No indiscretion is sacred - or so we must assume.

Blair is said to be upset by Price's disloyalty. But it was Blair who wanted to staff his office with media hangers-on, not civil servants. The latter may have shortcomings but are bound by oaths of secrecy and job security. A crony's loyalty is only to his boss. When that wanes, he has nothing to sell but his secrets. Since their price is in direct proportion to their sensationalism, the temptation to dish the dirt must be overwhelming.


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