I never thought I would, but I did. Reading Andrew Rawnsley's 'The End Of the Party,' I actually felt a great wave of sympathy for Tony Blair.
I'd put off reading it. 820 pages of New Labour seemed a chore.And the book came out almost a year ago. What's the point? However the Quango rule is one fiction novel, one non-fiction; and the other fiction was 'Cameron:The rise of the New conservatives,' which looked even less appealing. TEOTP looked the lesser of two evils.
I've only read about 50 pages but Rawnsley's book is magnificent. It captures the feeling of 9/11 far better than history book. Reading the words I was transported back to that day almost a decade ago. The absolubte horror. And then the realistation that the world was changed. Maybe not like for our Grandparents when Chamberlain announced war with Germany. But something similar.
George Bush had gone missing. The President, locked up in a bunker by the secret service who had conflicting reports about more attacks, hadn't said anything.
He was also George Bush. "I know they call me the Toxic Texan" he'd told Blair.
His presidency had been a poor one. He'd left the undeliverable Kyoto document unsigned, which was pretty brave, considering that for world leaders Green was the new Black. But instead of a compromise, or even a concession he'd offered nothing.
He was already the 'cowboy' president. "Gaffe" prone to an alarming degree. The left were outraged that their man Al Gore had had his election stolen. Labour had backed Gore. Even including Blair personally, so sure were new Labour that he would win. So far from being Bush's poodle, he was rooting for the Democrats.
Blair wasn't first to meet the new president. That was Chirac.
The first Blair/Bush conference ended with a ridiculous press conference after the summit. When asked what the two leaders had in common Bush said "We both use Colgate toothpaste."
Blair was already a world statesman. And good at that role. Bush looked like an idiot.
So with some justification when the Prime minister arrived at Whitehall on sept 11, he expressed his fears several times. "I hope the Americans don't something knee jerk."
On BBC radio the report of the falling towers ended with the chilling " .. another 10 airliners are in the air and are still unaccounted for."
That was the fear on the day and after. That's what I remember most. The fear that the Americans might declare war on Islam or something. As I drove past the American community school, which was covered with flowers, I really thought that they might. This was war. This might even be nuclear war..Why not? if there's one country on earth that could be hit by nuclear missiles and not made much worse its Afghanistan.
And Bush, whose British media image was the gun totin', sixshooter redneck was just the man to do it.
Blair was desperate to speak to Bush. To express sympathy and also to reassure. But also to try and head off any precipitate action. To try and exert a calming influence on a wounded ally.
Even after his first telephone conversation with the president, when Bush had said ' Don't worry. We're not going to pound sand,' Tony wasn't convinced.
"I need to look him in the eyes." Blair drafted a memo designed to 'steer Bush and keep him on the rails. We should try and get them to agree a measured response, focused on the Taliban, and keeping public support."
Blair could already see this as a world changing event. He was already telling ministers that he knew if this enemy.."had chemical or biological or nuclear weapons, they would use them Use them against our cities without a second thought."
That was the feeling in the country at the time too. That we would be next. That a mushroom cloud would soon float up over Canary Wharf. An Anthrax release at Heathrow. A cargo ship packed end to end with TNT and gas cannisters would detonate in the docks and destroy Liverpool.
And to be fair to Tony Blair, the fact that those things didn't happen is not because the threat didn't exist. Mumbai, Bali, London tube, Madrid train bombings, Moscow airport were successful. Many, many more weren't.. Shoe bomber. The underpants bomber. The liquids on airlines explosives. The bomb in Seattle a few weeks ago. The bombs in Soho. Glasgow airport...
Blair was right about intention. Just wrong about the terrorists capability.
If you think back ten years the west was suddenly under seemingly unprovoked attack. If the intelligence services were saying.. 'Iraq has the weapons the terrorists want..Iraq doesn't like us..It's a way for them to strike out..much like the Libyans in the 1980's. Iraq needs the cash..." then Blair was right to be very concerned.
So that's why I rediscovered sympathy for the former Prime Minster. He didn't know what was coming next and his job was to stop anything coming next at all.
But then he goes and blows it all on the plane to Washington on the very next page..
"The British Ambassador to the United States, Christopher Meyer, was having a screaming fit and threatening to resign . Tony Blair's special chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, had told him that he had been bumped from a seat at the Washington dinner with Bush to make way for Alistair Campbell."
Tony ! .....you spin obsessed monster.