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Speaking for Myself
Book Review by John Newsinger, July/August 2008
Cherie Blair, Little, Brown, £18.99
The relentless harrying of Neil Kinnock by the Murdoch press at the time of the 1992 general election outraged Labour Party people, among them Cherie Blair. This was when the Sun proudly boasted that its continual ridicule and abuse of the Labour leader had won the election for the Tories. Indeed, Cherie's anger was such that the Murdoch papers were banned from the Blair household.
How does her autobiography remember the 1992 general election? There is no mention of the disgraceful Murdoch press. To dwell on such an unsavoury episode would only call into question her husband's subsequent courting of Murdoch, pledging New Labour's allegiance to his business interests and of course precluded serialisation of the book in the very same Sun.
Cherie has sanitised her past. While we must be careful not to exaggerate how leftwing she was, the fact remains that for her New Labour involved a journey to the right, whereas for her husband there was no such journey, he was already there to begin with. How does she remember the great class battles taking place when Tony Blair first became an MP? The 1984-85 Miners' Strike gets one paragraph out of 405 pages of text. Even her personal hairdresser, Andre, gets more, indeed considerably more, attention than the Miners' Strike. This is all the more remarkable considering that Blair's Sedgefield constituency was home to many miners and that one of the men who secured Blair the nomination for the seat was Gary Kirby, a miner, who was to be arrested during the strike.
Even more disgraceful is her brief mention of the 1986 printers' strike over Wapping which is, in a roundabout way, blamed on the print workers' 'corruption', which she was familiar with she tells us through her 'employment law work'. This is a complete travesty. The strike was deliberately provoked by Murdoch with the full support of the Thatcher government in order to deny the workers their redundancy payments. Moreover, the way the strike was policed was such a scandal that it provoked a report, 'A Case To Answer', by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. Any mention of this would be just too Old Labour.
Blair presents herself very much as a domestic person, mother and wife. Indeed, the book is actually described as being about 'a family on a journey'. On the Iraq War, for example, supporting Tony's stand was, she writes, 'my job as his wife'. On another occasion, she makes an astonishing attack on Alastair Campbell's partner, Fiona Millar, who was strongly opposed to the war. Fiona carried on a 'non-stop tirade'. In the end, Cherie had to tell her that 'if Tony tells me, as he does, that if we don't stop Hussein the world will be a more dangerous place, then I believe him. And in my view, you and I should be supporting our men in their difficult decisions, not making it worse by nagging them'.
In the real world, Cherie found compensation for her lost beliefs and principles in greed, the very New Labour pursuit of personal enrichment. Despite her huge income, she developed a taste for freebies: while Blair was prime minister, the family enjoyed free holidays worth £775,000. On one notorious occasion in Australia she was invited to pick out a few gifts for herself when visiting a clothes store and then to the astonishment of the staff helped herself to 68 items worth £2,000. This has less to do with her poor childhood than with sublimating her lost principles.
Speaking for Myself is an attempt to present as a domestic odyssey what in reality has been a tale of blood, greed and betrayed hopes.
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