Cherie who? On way to top, Tony Blair's closest companion was Gordon Brown.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Once, there was the oddest of couples.
Then they broke up.
Tony and Gordon. Blair and Brown. The bubbly one and the gruff one.
Much happened, and is still happening, in the life of Tony Blair -- he transformed Britain's Labor Party, befriended and went to war alongside two American presidents, massaged peace plans in the Middle East, graduated to political-afterlife rock star status. But one constant in Blair's extraordinary political adventure -- a source of inspiration and irritation, harmony and discord -- remained his high-stakes dancing and dueling with Brown, eventually his successor at No. 10 Downing Street.
Blair titled his memoirs, a sprawling 700-page tome released Wednesday in the United Kingdom and Thursday in the United States, "A Journey: My Political Life." But at times the work, which he clearly wrote himself, feels more like it should have been called "Gordon and Me: A Story of Political Love and Betrayal."
As young members of Parliament, Tony and Gordon became close friends and harbored big dreams. Their conversations animated Blair, making dialogue with others seem lacking.
"When others were present, we felt the pace and power diminish, until, a bit like lovers desperate to get to lovemaking but disturbed by old friends dropping round, we would try to bustle them out, steering them doorwards with a hearty slap on the back," Blair writes.
In an interview at his sumptuous suite in the St. Regis Hotel, a spread large enough to swallow a Dupont Circle apartment, Blair says he remains friends with Brown and speaks with him occasionally. He did not show Brown a copy of the book, which has set London atwitter over Blair describing Brown as "strange" and as having "zero" emotional intelligence.
"It was difficult because you wanted to be true to what you thought and true to what happened, but also fair to him," Blair says. Three years removed from his resignation as prime minister, Blair is a bit grayer, but looks trim and fit in a blue suit with a white shirt and no tie. He laughs easily, poking fun of himself as a "touchy-feely" politician, making small talk about my Panama hat -- "That's an English hat, isn't it? The kind Graham Greene wore" -- and pouring out coffee and cream for me.
Blair is in town for the Middle East peace talks, but out of office he's relaxed and breezy even about that sobering subject. "I am optimistic," says Blair, the special envoy for the Quartet of peacekeeping entities: the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union. "But whether this is my character or there is any objective reality that justifies this optimism, I couldn't say." Turning more serious, he says he wouldn't rule out military intervention if Iran develops a nuclear weapons program.
Blair rose to prominence in British politics alongside Brown, who he says was once his "political twin." The two became central figures in British politics of the past decade and a half; their alliance and eventual split erupted in headlines, gossip and angst in the years before Blair's historic 1997 victory. When they met and became the closest of political allies in the 1980s, they were just young members of Parliament, slogging along in the opposition for a Labor Party mired in also-ran status. Blair, the buoyant, optimistic neophyte; Brown, the brooding, but brilliant, party stalwart.
Brown would become the heir apparent to lead the Labor Party and someday make a run for prime minister. He could dazzle Blair with his intellect. They used to travel to New York together and stayed at the swanky Carlyle Hotel, just "to get away and think," Blair writes. It was on one of those jaunts in late 1992 that Blair tried to articulate his vision for a New Labor Party, stressing the need to improve social conditions, but also taking a tough stance on crime. Brown, in a "streak of genius," crystallized his friend's thinking into a single sentence that became Blair's catchphrase: "You mean: 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,' " Blair recalls Brown telling him.