Tag Archives: Tony Blair

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East


Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East
By Azriel Bermant
Cambridge University Press – £22.95

Throughout my political life I have usually sought to avoid compromise, because it more often than not turns out to involve an abdication of principle. In international affairs, it is often also symptomatic of muddle and weakness. But over the years I have been forced to conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is an exception. Here a historic compromise is, indeed, necessary.

                                                                                    Margaret Thatcher

It does make one wonder where former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the all round architect of so-called Broken Britain, had the vivacious vim of audacity to think, let alone actually utter the word, ‘compromise.’

She is nevertheless, completely correct to use the word in relation to the appalling, on-going stalemate of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although so far as eradicating great swathes of the United Kingdom, by way of the unlawful/soul-destroying Miners Strike of 1984-5 is concerned, she remains the most unscrupulous of political vermin, to have ever traipsed the steps of Downing Street.

Suffice to say, said Miner’s Strike has very little to do with Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East, but just as Tony Blair has become increasingly tarnished over his handling of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War; for me personally, I cannot help but forever equate Thatcher with said strike and the total, total annihilation of (Britain’s) moral society.

With this in mind, let it be said that there was a most pronounced prism of cynicism which needed to be reigned in as I made my way through these twelve chapters of predominantly linear, literary diplomacy. Twelve chapters of coherent and very considered analysis of that which the title purports: an examination of the ‘Iron Lady’s Middle East policy throughout her tenure in office.

Something which, all things considered – her relationship with America and Ronald Reagan especially – wasn’t always quite as verbatim as expected. Her London constituency of Finchley may well have been predominantly Jewish, but Thatcher wasn’t always in agreement with Reagan’s foreign policy towards Israel.

A questionable modus operandi that Azriel Bermant touches on on numerous occasions throughout these 217 pages (excluding Figures, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index), not least in the book’s Introduction itself: ”Thatcher was instinctively sympathetic towards Israel, and she did attempt briefly to counter the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) position on the Middle East. However, there were also numerous occasions when she took the lead in supporting policies that caused considerable difficulties for the Israeli political leadership […]. This book therefore, challenges the exaggerated emphasis that has been placed on the differences between the FCO and 10 Downing Street on Middle East policy, and also questions the impact of partisan pressures on Thatcher’s policy towards the conflict.”

With an inexorable spotlight on her rather brazen approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book fundamentally questions claims that Thatcher sought to counter Foreign Office policy, by maintaining she was in (relative) close agreement with Whitehall on the unsurprisingly, on-going dissension.

As such, a little dry perhaps, but on the whole, Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East is concise and very much to the point.

David Marx


Orwell’s Faded Lion


Orwell’s Faded Lion
The Moral Atmosphere of Britain 1945 – 2015
By Anthony James
Imprint Academic £14.95/$29.90

The later consequences of the Bush and Blair invasion of Iraq became clear in June 2014. The extreme group ISIS had conquered and occupied large swathes of Iraq, showing themselves to be considerably more ferocious, murderous and ruthless towards many Iraqis than Saddam Hussein had ever been, as well as a potentially far greater danger to the West. Tony Blair’s own self-justifying comments on this development were puerile and detached from reality. The one thing that Blair could never admit is how much the original American-British invasion had fuelled support for ISIS.

(‘Who Controls The Past Controls The Future’).

Having reviewed a number of books on Tony Blair over the years, I’ve always found myself being inadvertently confined to his way of thinking. To be sure, I’ve always found the tentacles of his varying in depth arguments and interviews inherently far reaching. Not to mention plausible, believable and down-right influential.

No wonder he made for such a superlative politician.

Lest it be said that to certain a degree, the former Prime Minister still knows how to cajole and hold-court; which is just one of the many, many reasons, why I really cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Orwell’s Faded Lion – The Moral Atmosphere of Britain 1945-2015 by Anthony James, is a tough, gritty, honest and at times, bleak overview of Britain’s political morass since the end of the Second World War. Although what accounts for its most readable quality (I couldn’t help but read the entire book in the best part of two sittings), is its clear and concise, rightful apprehension of the truth.

There’s no woolly, flim-flam, thank-you-mam approach to that of it’s political endeavour. Like George Orwell himself, hence the title, these 148 pages pack a super-suave punch, right into the smug and superfluous face of spin and impeccable lies.

For where else in this soulless day and overtly jaded age of social implosion, would you read: ”[..] with adult memories of Britain before 1979, I find it difficult as a parent to convey fully to my daughter […] the depth and scale of the changes in British society, many of which have turned out to be permanent and irreversible […] Britain after Mrs. Thatcher has been radically different and considerably worse and has not shown any sign yet that it can escape from the mould she imposed upon it […]. Her revolution, like all revolutions, was driven by an idea: you run the affairs of a country (it is not appropriate to say ‘society,’ the existence of which she denied) like a business, according to the instincts of businessmen and businesswomen […]. Although Mrs Thatcher lacked any understanding of the Marxism she hated, Karl Marx had given an enduring description of the spirit of her revolution in The Communist Manifesto, almost a century and a half earlier.

[Capitalism] has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. ‘It has resolved personal worth into exchange value… In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”

(‘Who Controls The Past Controls The Future’).

Each of this books five chapters are grounded in such unwavering writing(s) as that above, which, regardless of political persuasion, makes for a thunder-bolt of an awakening call.

One of the most compact and satisfying of reads so far this year (I can’t wait for the sequel).

David Marx

International Relations Theories

International Relations Theories – Discipline and Diversity
By Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki and Steve Smith
Oxford University Press – £30.99

[…] as I prepare the fourth edition of this book, the reasons for Russian actions in Crimea and Russia’s role in activities of Donetsk rebels continue to be discussed. How should Western states and their defence organizations interpret the ongoing conflict and how should they respond to it?

Tough question. Good question; which isn’t at all surprising, as in this best selling-text, International Relations Theories – Discipline and Diversity, Tim Dunnem, Milja Kurki and Steve Smith explore the full spectrum of theoretical perspectives and its many debates. A plethora of acute analysis that ranges from the historically dominant traditions of realism, liberalism and Marxism, right through to those of post-colonialism and green theory.

Indeed, these 320 pages (excluding a Guided Tour of Learning Features, a Guided Tour of the Online Resource Centre, Bibliography, Glossary and Index) and sixteen chapters that traverse such differing titles as ‘International Relations and Social Science,’ ‘Classical Realism,’ Structural Realism,’ ‘Critical Theory,’ ‘International Relations Theory and Globalization’ and the rather alluding title, ‘Still a Discipline After All; These Debates?,’ are, if nothing else, a socio-politico tour-de-force.

Apart from the above opening quote, just one aspect that backs this up is the unfortunate fact that we continue to live in a world where history cantankerously continues to repeat itself – which the three authors acknowledge throughout.

In relation to the Russian question, they continue: ”Various narratives exploring the motivations for and the conditioning factors leading to the conflict are put forward […]. One narrative postulates hostile expansionist intentions on the part of Putin-led Russia; others point to the fact that Russia’s role in the region should be read in light of a defensive strategy.”

Surely not?
Surely yes?
Surely the fact that ”Russia’s role in the region should be read in light of a defensive strategy,” would be reason enough to wholeheartedly substantiate this more than in-depth book’s mighty existence and publication alone?

But wait, there’s more – oodles of substantiation: ”This book is explicitly aimed at helping you think through […] questions concerning the causes of war and wider emerging questions in world politics […]. The fundamental problem in taking the views of actors at face value is that the world is rarely so simple that people can be completely aware of why they are acting in certain ways. Perhaps George W. Bush or Tony Blair, when deciding to go to war in Iraq, were looking for evidence of a clear and present danger to justify a feeling about what was ‘right.’ Perhaps those advocating decisive military action against Colonel Gaddafi genuinely thought their motivations were strictly humanitarian.”

Suffice to say, there are many aspects of this overtly compelling yet provocative book, that has a (slight) tendency to lean towards a rather large, political cat, being hurled amid an assortment of Orwellian induced pigeons.

Thus providing for dense deliberation.

For example, in the third chapter, ‘Structural Realism’ under the sub-heading ‘How much power is enough?,’ John J. Mearsheimer sheds interesting, perhaps detonatory light upon the balance of power: ”Offensive realists also take issue with the claim that the defender has a significant advantage over the attacker, and thus offence hardly ever pays. Indeed, the historical record shows that the side that initiates war wins more often than not.”

How about Germany in World War II?
Iraq in Kuwait?
America in Vietnam?

He continues: ”And while it may be difficult to gain hegemony, the USA did accomplish this feat in the western hemisphere during the nineteenth century. Also, imperial Germany came close to achieving hegemony in Europe during the First World War […]. While nationalism surely has the potential to make occupation a nasty undertaking, occupied states are sometimes relatively easy to govern, as was the case in France under the Nazis (1940-4). Moreover, a victorious state need not occupy a defeated state to gain an advantage over it. The victor might annex a slice of the defeated state’s territory, break it into two or more smaller states, or simply disarm it and prevent it from rearming.”

Hmm., the Nazi occupation of France was everything but ”relatively easy.” Admittedly, compared to the occupation of Russia, it undoubtedly was, but countless books are still being written about Vichy and the German occupation of France. Just one of the (many) reasons being: it wasn’t easy at all…

It might be easy to take mighty umbrage with such argument(s), but isn’t that what propels such books as these unto a plateau of considered (dis)satisfaction and political, if not Machiavellian debate?

There again, according to Professor Nicola Phillips of Sheffield University: ”There can be no better place to start for any student of International Relations than here. This remains the gold-standard textbook on IR theory, packed to bursting with knowledge, insight and fresh perspectives from a group of the most renowned scholars in IR. As an introduction to the endlessly fascinating world of IR theory it can’t be beaten.”

One further interesting aspect of the book is the (blue) colour coded section at the end of each chapter which not only asks questions – a new addition to this edition – but provides a Further Reading list and Notes; thus enabling the reader to fully home-in on certain sections of what is clearly an involved and intrinsically academic study.

Finally, also, new to this fourth edition is a chapter on post-colonialism by Shampa Biswas, along with updated chapters and case studies that reflect new developments in world politics.

In all, International Relations Theories is an in-depth, colossal read that usurps all kinds of argument, thesis and deliberation. In fact, the more one reads, the more one wants to investigate further – which might explain the Further Reading section towards the back of the book.

David Marx

Power & Responsibility (1999-2001) The Alistair Campbell Diaries – Volume Three

Power & Responsibility 1999 – 2001
The Alastair Campbell Diaries – Volume Three
Edited by Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty
Hutchinson – £25.00

Power & Resposibility  is the third Volume of Alastair Campbell’s full-throttle, high-octane, power-diaries, which, for all intents and political purposes, are the isotonic, literary equivalent of listening to John Coltrane for hours on end whilst downing a svelte and craquelure collection of oysters, Mars Bars and espressos. Not particularly in that order mind, but there you go. Just as those cheeky-chirpy likely lads had pronounced back in the day (Coldplay nonetheless, who’d have thought it?), a sudden rush of somewhat calculated blood to the head, isn’t something to be taken lightly.

The same equates to these 695 pages, where life in the fraught fast lane of Downing Street is very much brought to bear in no uncertain terms. Beginning with the tragedy of the Kosovo crisis on May 1st 1999 and ending with 9/11 – a date that immediately wrote itself into (unforgettable) living memory as well as countless history books by altering the course of both the Bush presidency and the Blair premiership – this chronological dissertation of sorts, goes way beyond that of most factual accounts of life in government.

The emphasis of the latter being in government, for as Tony Blair’s patron saint of political strategy and this book’s author, Alastair Campbell, was to prove, New Labour really was simply riddled with the residue of controlled chaos. The fuel crisis and the foot-and-mouth epidemic leap forth here, as does the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott delivering a swift left-hook into the kloof like face of a complete knobhead. An act that in and of itself, surely warranted an elongated role of several resounding drums.

Still does in fact – and lest it be said one gets the impression that Campbell is of a similar persuasion, particularly when he writes: ‘’I felt instinctively there would be a lot of support of JP (John Prescott), but also that he should say he wished he hadn’t responded like that. He was not up for it one bit, said the guy was a total twat and ‘Anyway,’ you never apologised when you hit Michael White.’ I pointed out that I was then a Mirror hack. He is the deputy prime minister, but he wasn’t having any of it. He said it was bloody ridiculous that we had to take all this shit from people just because we were politicians and he would not be apologising. I admired him for it, but I knew TB (Tony Blair) would want something to defuse things.’’

It’s such straight and totally non-gullible shooting from the hip, which essentially accounts for Power & Responsibility being such a worthwhile, although at times, totally wacked’n’wired read. Indeed, were the diaries not liberally peppered with occasional viperseque vitriol (‘’[…] the French were demanding we clear all scripts through the French Embassy. I had to tell them, as politely as possible, to fuck off.’’), they might well have proved really hard-going.

As is, we are able to dip into the cataclysmic relationship betwixt Tony Blair and his then Chancellor Gordon Brown, the second Mandelson resignation, the eventual and amazing culmination of the Northern Ireland Peace Deal (‘’To see Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein as Deputy First Minister alongside First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP, once sworn enemies, is confirmation of the remarkable journey they have made, and the remarkable success so far of the peace process itself.’’), not to mention the (uncalled for) trajectory of Campbell’s ill-considered quip with regards the ‘’bog-standard comprehensive’ (‘’It still regularly appears in print, probably beaten only by ‘we don’t do God’ and ‘People’s Princess’ as the most quoted mini sound bites of the era’’).

Suffice to say, there’s so much more to mull and muse over.

It’s all here, everything from Bill Clinton and the BBC to those wretched brothers in arms Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe; from he who enjoyed a tipple or two Boris Yeltsin to Golden Balls Beckham; not forgetting ye aforementioned pasty king himself, John Prescott, the Millibands, John Major and ghastly Mail On Sunday. There’s so much in fact, one cannot help but wonder how the sultan of so-called spin, actually found the time to keep a diary.

I’m really pleased he did though; as it’s the closest I’ll ever get to Number Ten.

David Marx

Tony Blair – A Journey

A Journey

By Tony Blair

Hutchinson – £25.00

From the initial rumblings of New Labour to the death of Princess Diana, from the war in Kosovo to the war in Iraq, Tony Blair – A Journey, really is akin to reading a collection of parliamentarian soliloquies in bloom.

Clocking in at just under seven hundred pages, it’s immediately evident right from the outset, that one is neither able to argue against, nor fundamentally arouse anything other than what has already herein been crucially considered. Considered that is, by a former Prime Minister who let’s face, almost knew what he was doing before he himself found himself doing it.

Substantiation of the latter can be found on numerous occasions throughout the recently released first volume of the Alastair Campbell Diaries: Prelude To Power; although said book (which I have also reviewed) bestows a different form of political mythologizing altogether. Where Campbell’s equally dense writings are shot straight from the literary hip, Blair’s penmanship is of a far more politically porcelain, and philosophical persuasion.

In fact, much of the writing throughout A Journey could be construed as being drenched in a cataclysmic form of self-induced, esoteric tunnel vision; bordering perhaps, on the mildly arrogant. Arrogant, not in a robust, off putting way, but in a far more refined and dare I say it, almost incontestable manner.

A mere few sentences into the following analysis in the third chapter, ‘New Labour’ – there being many such sentences replete with oodles of such analysis – irrefutably hits the aforesaid on the head: ‘’For example, are you in favour of a tough approach on law and order or not? Do you support the war in Afghanistan fully or not? Are you for reform or status quo in public services? Do we need less, more or the same amount of public spending? Are you in favour of tax cuts, and if so, for whom […]?

Politicians, in one way rightly mistrusting the crudity of such simple positioning, don’t like this […]. The holy grail is to have everyone onside; and I’m not saying I didn’t pursue it fairly vigorously and, at points, more successfully than most.’

However, you have to be able to answer those questions plainly and clearly. There can be qualifications and ‘get-outs,’ but the answers must remain comprehensible, because they define you.’’

And wasn’t it always such clear-cut definition, which ultimately defined the Blair Years as whole?

Come rain or shine, make or bust; New Labour, as vaingloriously defined by Messrs. Blair and Campbell, was, if nothing else, a reflexive custodian and confluence of both Sun and Guardian readers simultaneously, forever monitored and adhered to by four of the most brazen political minds (Blair and Campbell, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson), ever to traipse across the threshold of Downing Street.

That said, to openly acknowledge one’s own strong points and success is one thing. To blatantly write about it on numerous occasions in ones’ own book, is altogether another. To do so, and still be regarded as an okay sort of chap whom one would still want to share a couple of pints with down the pub, is indeed special – if not bordering on genius. And it is this quality, this normality, this bordering on genius, which surely accounted for a great deal of Tony Blair’s mighty successful tenure at the helm of British politics.

Similar in tonality and content to that of Barack Obama’s Dreams Of My Father – who too, isn’t shy of espousing his political charm, charisma and credentials in public – this is the sort of (tomb like) book that bequeaths readers with either hope or inspiration, or, should the pendulum fall within earshot of council house wrecks and former Etonians, a fraudulent feeling of dismissive frustration.

Either way, Tony Blair – A Journey is an interesting and compelling read. The kind of which, is nigh guaranteed to beguile the chattering classes into many a late night orgy of discursive deliberation and design.

David Marx

The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Volume One: Prelude To Power

The Alastair Campbell Diaries
Volume One: Prelude To Power 1994 – 1997
By Alastair Campbell
Hutchinson – £25.00

At seven hundred and forty-four pages, this book could well be described as an elongated trawl through the back pages of Alastair Campbell’s self-imposed, worst nightmare. Self imposed, because he himself chose to be at the vanguard of Tony Blair’s media campaign; and worst nightmare, because during said tenure, Campbell experienced countless bouts of depression, family-upset, heavy drinking and social frustration. But as former Labour Leader, Neil Kinnock made perfectly clear during the protagonist’s deliberation of the position: ‘’[…] it’s good for Tony, bad for you and the family, and I’m totally opposed. You’ll hate the crap, the detail, the wankers you have to be nice to.’’

So there you have it, The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Volume One: Prelude To Power is a political, literary grenade of sorts, which, although not quite as explosive as it pertains to be, is still nevertheless as tempestuously revealing as anything you’re likely to read this side of Alan Clarke.  Albeit less canny, less colourful and less contagious: ‘’’’Mo had fucked up talking to John Patten [Conservative Education Secretary] on the train to Eastleigh. She had said something about TB being worried about bringing up the children in the Number 10 flat. Silly woman, just can’t resist gabbing.’’

One has to bear in mind that both diarists are writing from completely different angles. Where Clarke shoots straight from the hedonistic hip of both flagrant and fragrant opportunism (several puns intended), Campbell neither shoots nor shares. Rather, the former political columnist for the Daily Mirror merely regales us with what it was like to be at the helm of New Labour circa ninety four – ninety seven: awkward and arduous, dense and difficult, historical, nullifying and at times, thankless.

The petty pugilist spats between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were, during the campaign, kept hidden beneath a menagerie of smiles, purple prose and diversion. Regardless of much probing from the media and the likes of the ever brilliant Jeremy Paxman, ‘twas Campbell’s job (and perhaps mission) to smokescreen the turbulent truth from being gleaned by the public.

No wonder Blair: ‘’turned on the full Bunsen burner smile, thanked me for all the help I’d given on his leadership acceptance speech and […] got to the point rather more quickly than I’d anticipated […]. He needed a really good press secretary […]. He said it had to be somebody tough, and confident, someone who could make decisions and stick to them. Historically, the Labour Party has not been blessed with really talented people in this area of politics and political strategy but I think we can be different. Gordon is exceptional, so is Peter (Mandelson), so are you, and I really want you to do the job. It’s called press secretary but it’s much more than that.’’

Indeed, it was much more than that, as in a way, Campbell evolved into that of a walking laryngotomy betwixt a rabid and insatiable media on the one hand, and the equally rabid and (politically) insatiable dorksome foursome: Blair, Brown Mendelson and (John) Prescott on the other.  And were one to include Robin Cooke – who had aspirations and an agenda of his own – it’s no wonder Campbell had a rather hard time of it. He even took a considerable pay cut too – although I’m sure this sacrifice has now been rectified numerous times over. As not only did he publish The Blair Years in 2007 (which attracted widespread critical acclaim around the world), but this book is actually the first of four instalments.

Four instalments? Yikes – talk about keeny keen…

The Times’ Matthew Paris has said: ‘’these diaries will be gasped at, and relied upon, for decades to come.’’ This may well be the case. Although considering the length of this first book, one cannot help but wonder if a set of diaries the length and breadth of War and Peace, will actually manage to sustain the interest of even the most gung-ho of sceptical and political, armchair analysts.

We shall see.

David Marx