Reviewing Tony Blair

July 7, 2016

Tony Blair returns to centre stage. His conduct over the war in Iraq is coldly and unequivocally criticised by Sir John Chilcot as he summarised his long-awaited review earlier this week

Some years ago I carried out a careful review of Tony Blair’s autobiography A Journey:

 I am beginning to see how TB presents himself as having unshakeable self-belief. It’s through a process which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. One colleague of mine would say he might have ‘a touch of the coggers’.

Human beings generally can deny the existence of unpleasant evidence which challenges self-esteem. Their reflective processes are curtailed, and this state of denial is a psychic protection mechanism. The example which suggested this possibility is the account [p 88 on] of TB’s decision to send his children the a ‘good’ school rather than a neighbourhood school. These sorts of decisions are seen as presenting dilemmas for socialists in the public eye. During his account of this, Tony Blair suggests that opposition to these views by traditional labour supporters as coming from beliefs (which, he adds in parentheses, might be called prejudices).

The book seeks to present the subject in the light he wishes to be seen in. Don’t we all?  Here felt his remorseless insistence being seen as someone in complete control to be of paramount importance.

Writing on the Anniversary of the World Trade Fair bombing, I wondered whether he had the same feelings of dislocation and disorientation that were widely shared by others:

To a degree [chapter 12], but his account is clumsily written for someone with his instinct for the impact of his words. He does briefly convey his emotions, but in preamble, he sets the context with his visit at the time to a highly forgettable visit to a Trades Union Conference which is described with misplaced assumption that readers share the author’s enthusiasm for what Tony did next. [‘The great thing about Brighton is that it is warm…’, followed by a brief paragraph in which I counted 11 uses of the first person singular pronoun.]

How did he feel on first learning of the attack? ‘I felt eerily calm despite being naturally horrified…Within a short space of time I ordered my thoughts ….it was for a battle for and about ideas ….it came with total clarity, and stays still.. as clear now as it was then.’

The chapter quickly turned into a justification for war in Afghanistan as a moral and strategic imperative. His speeches at the time convey what now seems to be an unshakeable belief in the rightness of his judgement.  Later in the review I commented more on Tony Blair’s attitude to reality:


After a close reading of the book, I concluded that Tony Blair does not believe that he is a liar in the way many believe to be the case.  He has a intuitive way of reaching conclusions, and finds it easy to back-rationalise from them.  In this respect he is in denial over contrary beliefs.  Having decided that Bill Clinton is a particularly ‘good guy’, he justifies the Monica Lewinski affair in a remarkable bit of special pleading which amounts to his observation that Bill was deeply interested in and curious about people. That might be compared with Clinton’s own piece of denial to the effect that he “never had sex with that woman”.

One explanation is that Blair and Clinton have beliefs that are filtered through a special way of seeing the world which some would say is misguided at times. Some would detect evidence of narcissism, and which in Blair’s case verges on megalomania.

Bertrand Russell observed that megalomania is found in lunatics and among many of those who achieve greatness. Alexander the great is often cited in this respect. There may be actual achievements but the mental condition becomes delusional.

My conclusions after reading the book carefully were as follows:

[1] Tony Blair believes himself one of the leaders of the world’s progressives

[2] He “gets it” on big issues: World Peace, The Broken Society, The Economy, The Future of the Labour Party, Leadership, Islamic fundamentalism

[3] He is deluded in his view that his training as a barrister has gifted him a keen analytical way of analysing of complex events. His arguments often are loosely constructed to arrive at the conclusion he wants to advocate

[4] The boundless self-confidence conceals deeper insecurities and a need to be loved and seen as someone very special in the eyes of the world

[5] The book suggests that Tony Blair’s Messianic beliefs have not entirely gone away.

Meanwhile, as the book was published, the inquiry launched by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and headed by Sir John Chilcot, was into the second year of its deliberations. It was to be a further six years before it reached the public.

“No transactional advantage…” What did Liam Fox mean by that?

October 16, 2011

The phraseology “no transactional advantage” was used by Defence secretary Liam Fox this week in his address to the House of Commons. It caused much debate and puzzlement among commentators. We look at it from the perspectives of motivation and leadership theories

The political story in the UK this month [Oct 2011] has been that of a relationship between Liam Fox and his close personal friend Adam Werritty. The media and opposition politicians sensed inappropriate behaviour and possibly financial malpractices.

Fox attempted to deal with his critics by a statement to the House of Commons of less than crystal clarity. Mr Werritty, he stated, was “not dependent on any transactional behaviour to maintain his income

Bill and Monica?

For want of a better explanation, some critics connected it with Bill Clinton’s wriggling over his relationship with Monica Lewinski, and whether he had ‘had sex with that woman’. Fox, it was presumed, was selecting his words so cautiously because he was unable to give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.

Or was it Business School speak?

Another reading is that Dr Fox had begun speaking in tongues, and particularly in Business School speak. As every MBA is taught, transactional behaviour is the posh term for a leadership style found when a leader operates mainly my simple arrangements involving economic expectations (“If you do that for me, I’ll do that for you”). A more popular term is carrot-and-stick leadership.

New leadership and its transformational style

A leader relying on transactional behaviour was found to severely limit the possibility for influencing others through motivating and inspiring them. That according to new leadership theory required a transformational style. So, Dr Fox might be interpreted as saying “Adam Werritty did what he did out of loyalty to me, influenced solely by my transformational leadership skills.

Transformational gambit or Lewinski defence?

So we have two ways of interpreting the mysterious statement made by Liam Fox. The one might be based the offering of the transformational gambit. The other is a variation on Bill Clinton’s Lewinski defence. “There were no financial exchanges between that man and me.”

Lewinski gambit accepted and refuted

A few days later, it was the Lewinski gambit which was accepted and refuted. The Telegraph account summarised what happened:

The Defence Secretary announced that he was resigning [15th Oct 2011] after disclosures showed Mr Werritty’s activities were funded by companies and individuals that potentially stood to benefit from Government decisions.
Within an hour of Dr Fox stepping down, the venture capitalist Jon Moulton, who provided money for Mr Werritty, said the Defence Secretary had asked him to give cash to his friend’s firm. It is understood that an investigation into Dr Fox’s dealings with Mr Werritty by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, had concluded that his position was untenable.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Fox repeated his belief that he had “mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my Government activities to become blurred”.