In his memoirs, the former British prime minister settles some old scores with his successor, Gordon Brown, but also justifies his support for invasion of Iraq.
More than a simple act of revenge by Blair
It has been an interval of three years, two months and three days between the resignation of Tony Blair as prime minister of Britain and the publication of A Journey, his volume of memoirs.
As the saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold. While Fleet Street's finest picked through their review copies, looking for choice titbits, the headlines the next morning left no doubt that an old score had been more than settled. "Tony Blair's revenge on Gordon Brown puts Labour on brink of civil war" proclaimed the Daily Telegraph, generally regarded as the house newspaper of the Conservative party.
The equally right-wing Daily Mail also predicted civil war, under the headline: "The love affair that soured: How mistrust and betrayal tore Blair and Brown apart." For the tabloid Sun, which once supported Blair's reformist vision of New Labour but now backs the Conservatives, the book was "a vicious attack on Mr Brown's record as PM." Even The Guardian, generally supportive of Labour, devoted large sections of its website and print edition to the book, pegged to an exclusive interview with Blair. "I've got something to say and I've got something to explain," he told the paper.
And what did he have to say? Without exception, the media homed in on a few phrases about his relationship with Gordon Brown, and the manner of Brown's succession as both prime minister and Labour Party leader. Brown, he wrote, was both a "strange guy" and "maddening". He accused his former chancellor of the exchequer of attempting to blackmail him by threatening to publicly call for an inquiry into donations given to Labour by supporters who subsequently received state honours unless Blair backed down over pension reforms.
Above all, though, there is the phrase that effectively writes Brown's political obituary. "Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero." The sense of betrayal stems in part from the belief by Blair, and some of his closest supporters, that Gordon Brown lost the 2010 election and ended an unprecedented 13 years of Labour rule because he abandoned the principles of New Labour, the reformist movement that moved the party away from some its most cherished left-wing principles in the middle part of the 1990s.
But the growing rift between the two men - who dominated British politics for more than a decade - is much older. According to Blair, in the earlier stages of their relationship they were "like lovers desperate to get to lovemaking." They were later, he continued, "to become a bickering married couple, and finally ended as bitter rivals." The signs that the two factions are ready to commence open hostilities have been there for some weeks, beginning with the publication last month of the political autobiography of Peter Mandelson, the Labour spin doctor who arguably did more than anyone (and certainly in his own mind) to create the new Labour party and take it to high office.
Mandelson's account was widely seen as a political take-down of Brown and his cronies, whom he blamed for briefing against him during his own time in office and playing a significant role in the scandals that twice forced Mandelson from government office. What seems more likely after this week is that the Mandelson volume was no more than a softening-up exercise before the hammer blow of A Journey. It is not just the dwindling band of Brown loyalists who are suspicious at the timing - on the eve of the election of a new Labour leader, with David Milliband, a Blair favourite, in pole position.
But A Journey is rather more than a simple act of revenge. Like anything involving Tony Blair, it is a complex thing designed to achieve a number of different goals. Like any politician bruised from years in office, it is an attempt to justify his actions, particularly concerning the damaging decision to involve Britain as a full-blooded participant in the war in Iraq. In this matter, Blair is entirely predictable. Iraq is defended as entirely necessary. There is no remorse about the decision to go to war, although he regrets "with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died." And even though weapons of mass destruction - the official raison d'être for combat operations - were never found, he still believes "that leaving Saddam in power was a bigger risk to our security than removing him, and that, terrible though the aftermath was, the reality of Saddam and his sons in charge of Iraq would arguably be much worse."
But there is also something more subtle at work. This is Tony Blair after all, the most complex and controversial politician in modern British history . The book is peppered with tantalising insights into both his life and psyche. We learn, for example, that he warned the late Diana, Princess of Wales, about her relationship with Dodi Al Fayed (this has been disputed) and writes: "We were both in our ways manipulative people, perceiving quickly the emotions of others and able instinctively to play with them."
Along with the revelation that the Queen puts on rubber gloves to do the washing up after family gatherings is his admission that politics (or at least dealing with Gordon Brown) drove him to drink (or at least a stiff gin and tonic at the end of the day). George W Bush is predictably praised, although with a somewhat backhanded compliment: "One of the most ludicrous caricatures of George is that he was a dumb idiot who stumbled into the presidency. No one stumbles into that job."
More likely to raise eyebrows is his candid assessment of why the pressure of politics led to several of his ministers committing adultery: "Suddenly you are transported out of your world of intrigue and issues and endless machinations and the serious piled on the serious, and just put on a remote desert island of pleasure, out of it all, released, carefree." All these passages have been picked out in publications across the world. After just a few days, it is clear that A Journey is no dry, self-serving tome (well, it might be the latter) destined for the remainder pile by the New Year.
According to one of Britain's biggest booksellers, Waterstones, the autobiography is a "stupendous" and "unprecedented" success. "We've never seen a book like this sell so quickly in one day," a spokesman said. "Dan Brown and JK Rowling are the competition here." It would be a mistake, though, to believe that Tony Blair: A Journey (to give the book its full title) is nothing but a highly profitable attempt to cash out on a life in politics. As it turns out, all the profits, including the £4.6 million (Dh26 million) advance, are to be donated to the Royal British Legion, a charity that helps injured servicemen.
Rather, the book is a place-marker, an assessment of what Tony Blair believes he has achieved. You might even call it a CV. For many politicians - Bill Clinton comes to mind - the last page of a political autobiography signals the effective end of their political lives. But Clinton is 64, Blair is just 57. A Journey says something else. That Tony Blair is back. True, he has his role in the Middle East Quartet and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to keep him busy, but the suspicion is that he wants something more. The question is: what?