Tony Blair’s newly published memoir, A Journey, looks as though it will sell a few more copies than any of my efforts. One of the main themes of Blair’s book, inevitably, is his love-hate relationship with Gordon Brown (more hate than love, it would seem.) I’m utterly fascinated by that relationship, and have been for years, now not least because the nature of rivalry is a core theme of the book I’m currently writing.
The Blair-Brown rivalry is one of the all-time classics, because it is so closely allied with issues about power, idealism (or the lack of it) and personality. It involved great conflict, and so has great dramatic potential. To put it simplistically, one might say that Brown was, and is, intellectually superior to Blair, but was self-obsessed and lacked an ability to connect with people. Blair won elections, Brown either ran scared of them or lost them. To complicate matters, Blair had an almost messianic sense of what to do with his power ( whether one agrees with his view or loathes it), while Brown seems to have seethed with jealousy of his more telegenic colleague, and was more concerned with becoming top dog than deciding what to do once he became Prime Minister. Jealousy is another subject which fascinates me – it’s at the heart of The Serpent Pool.
Many commentators have described Brown as a sort of Shakespearean tragic hero, and there was something deeply moving about his (second) resignation speech after he lost the Election, when he finally dragged himself away from Downing Street and revealed himself as a husband and father (and no doubt, a very good one) rather than an economic wizard (almost certainly, a very bad one, unless you share his view that he saved the world during the credit crunch.) It’s a fair bet that, away from power, he will become happier and more fulfilled than he was when he achieved his political dream.
I once had lunch with Tony Blair, when he met up with a committee of which I was a member, about eighteen years ago. He was a very pleasant person to talk to, even though he was a lawyer who didn’t seem too interested in law. Of all the ministers and shadow ministers we met, Tory and Labour, he was by far the most charismatic. Yet, above all because of Iraq, many people revile him. This contrast between private and public images is yet another issue that offers enormous potential to the novelist. One day it’s a subject I’d like to tackle – perhaps through the medium of a thriller.