‘Who is this guy?’ Blair claims confused Bush asked about Belgian PM
“George had immense simplicity in how he saw the world,” Blair writes
British newspapers Thursday called the memoirs of former prime minister Tony Blair a good read but said they risk re-opening old wounds in his Labour party just as it struggles to fight back from electoral defeat.
Blair’s memoirs concern more than just affairs of state — Britain’s ex-premier also gives intimate details about his wife and describes the sexual shenanigans of other politicians.
A Telegraph article notes that Blair’s book claims former US President George W. Bush “was confused by the presence of Guy Verhofstadt at the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know or recognise Guy, whose advice he listened to with considerable astonishment,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr Blair writes. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He then turned to me and whispered, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWho is this guy?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬ËœHe is the prime minister of Belgium,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Belgium? George said, clearly aghast at the possible full extent of his stupidity. Ã¢â‚¬ËœBelgium is not part of the G8Ã¢â‚¬â„¢.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Mr Blair explained to Mr Bush that Mr Verhofstadt was there as Ã¢â‚¬Å“president of EuropeÃ¢â‚¬Â. Belgium held the presidency of the EU council at the time.
Mr Bush responded: Ã¢â‚¬Å“You got the Belgians running Europe?Ã¢â‚¬Â before shaking his head, Ã¢â‚¬Å“now aghast at our stupidityÃ¢â‚¬Â, Mr Blair writes.
“George had immense simplicity in how he saw the world. Right or wrong it led to decisive leadership.”
The Telegraph also notes that Blair claims he often warned Bush about how the GOP had allowed the “ridiculous notion of ‘neoconservatives’ to take hold.”
In “A Journey”, Blair writes candidly of his “animal” feelings for his wife Cherie one night when he was on the brink of going for the leadership of the Labour party after the death of incumbent John Brown in 1994.
“That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me; made me feel that what I was about to do was right,” Blair writes of Cherie, with whom he now has four children.
“On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength, I was an animal following my instinct, knowing I would need every ounce of emotional power and resilience to cope with what lay ahead.”
The personal details and indiscreet remarks contained in “A Journey” — including Blair’s admission that he used alcohol as a “prop” and details of his sex life — raised eyebrows among commentators after its publication Wednesday.
The Guardian newspaper was not alone in calling the book “extraordinary”, and publishers have predicted that it will be a sell-out.
But observers warned that in laying bare the enmity between Blair and his long-serving finance minister, one-time friend and successor Gordon Brown, the former prime minister did his party a disservice.
The Times said the book sets a major challenge for those currently vying to succeed Brown as the new leader of the Labour party, which was ousted in May elections after 13 years in power.
“The philosophical difference that emerged between Blair and Brown — essentially a dispute about the size and role of the state — traces the lineaments of the battle between Old and New Labour that brought both of them to public attention,” the centre-right newspaper said in an editorial.
“This is a question that the Labour Party has yet to settle.”
The Labour-supporting Daily Mirror paper also accused Blair of “reopening old wounds”, saying: “Tony Blair gave the Labour party many things to be greateful for — but his memoirs aren’t one of them.”
The main contenders for the Labour leadership swiftly distanced themselves from the former prime minister, insisting he no longer dictated their future.
A chief criticism in the newspapers Thursday was that while Blair attacked Brown throughout the book, he never really explained why he allowed his chancellor of the exchequer to stay in his job.
The Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph said the book represents “Mr. Blair’s belated revenge for the manner in which his chancellor thwarted much that he would like to have achieved, before destroying his residual legacy”.
Blair was Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007, and was replaced by Brown, who lost power in May’s election.
Later in the book Blair waxes lyrical on his thoughts about the relationship between politics and sex, saying that, while wrong, affairs seem to represent a “desert island of pleasure” for stressed-out lawmakers.
“It’s a strange thing, politics and sex,” Blair writes in a section dealing with an affair that then-deputy prime minister John Prescott had with his diary secretary, a relationship which emerged in 2006.
“Politicians live with pressure. They have to be immensely controlled to get anywhere, watch what they say and do, and behave. And your free-bird instincts want to spring you from that prison of self-control,” he writes.
But he insisted that such behaviour was still “stupid… and irresponsible.”
(with additional reporting by RAW STORY)