Sunday 19 November 2017

Princess Diana was a manipulator just like me, admits 'rebel soul' Blair

Brown: Tony Blair opens the book by blaming Gordon Brown for Labour's general election defeat.

"I won three general elections," he writes. "The longest Labour government had lasted six years. This lasted 13.

"It could have gone on longer, had it not abandoned New Labour."

He describes his memoir, which took three years to write, as "a letter to the country I love" and admits that the book is not an objective account of history.

"There is only one person who can write an account of what it is like to be the human being at the centre of that history, and that's me," writes Blair.

Addressing accusations that he was a closet Tory, he says it is true that he can sometimes think conservatively, especially on economics and security.

But, he added, "my heart always beats progressive, and my soul is and always will be that of a rebel".

Diana: Diana was a manipulator like me ... but the Queen (of England) was haughty.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was down to earth, charming and intelligent, but also stubborn and prone to be over-emotional, says Blair.

"We were both, in our own way, manipulators" -- good at grasping the feelings of others and instinctively playing on them.

Giving his first account of what happened on the night she died, Blair says he was woken at 2am on August 31, 1997, by a police officer, who told him that the princess had been badly injured.

He knew from the beginning that her chances of survival were poor, and was told of her death at 4am. Mr Blair says that, without wishing to sound callous, he wanted to manage the situation and shape the public grief that would follow.

It was difficult because there were no conventions for the death of a person with the princess's stature. He prepared his now famous 'People's Princess' speech on the back of an envelope with the help of Alastair Campbell.

He felt the royal family's lack of response was dangerous for them in the face of a massive outpouring of public grief and felt a duty to protect the monarchy from itself. He says he did his best, even though some members of the establishment did not like who he was and what he represented.

Blair felt he could not be direct with the queen about the gravity of the situation so he spoke to the Prince of Wales, who agreed with him and said he would tell the queen that Blair thought that she should make a public statement. She agreed.

After the funeral, Blair spent the weekend at Balmoral, where he felt a little uncomfortable, and could not have got through it without the stiff drink that was served up before dinner.

A year later he spent a weekend at Balmoral with Cherie, who wanted to bring the children, but he told her this was out of the question. They had a barbecue where the royal family served the food and did the dishes. "You think I'm joking? You're sitting in front of your empty plate and suddenly, the queen clears it away for you."

Blair says he spoke to Prince William who was still angry about his mother's death. He believes he felt burdened by the "prison of hereditary tradition".

September 11: The September 11 attacks represented the declaration of war by a new type of enemy, Blair says.

He claims that he quickly realised the implications of the suicide bombers crashing aircraft into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, having heard the news while preparing to deliver a speech to the Trades Union Congress in Brighton.

Blair says he understood the new war was ideological, but admits that at the time he did not fully understand the history of Islam. He admits he underestimated the hold of extremism. Only the future will tell if it would have been better to fight the war using military intervention or 'soft power'.

But he insists he followed his instinct and convictions, and would not have changed his decisions on Iraq or Afghanistan even if he had known the length of the campaign. "To try to escape conflict would have been a grave mistake, political cowardice."

Blair also discloses that he once came close to authorising the shooting down of a commercial flight heading to London, after it lost radio contact. But after the deadline passed he decided to hold fire, and once the pilot re-established contact he had to sit down and thank the heavens.

Bill Clinton: Bill Clinton's relationships with women were similar to those enjoyed by most men, and if he lied about affairs it was only to protect his family, Blair writes.

He recalls working closely with the US president during the military action in Kosovo in 1998. Earlier that year, allegations surfaced that Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. Blair says he felt duty-bound to support his friend through the disclosures, which eventually prompted an attempt to impeach the president.

All the world was talking about Ms Lewinsky, but Clinton was announcing healthcare reforms. Blair also describes meeting Hillary Clinton shortly after the Lewinsky disclosure, saying she was furious but determined not to let the affair "destroy what she, as much as he, had built".

He says Clinton had a curiosity in people.

With men this would result in friendship, he says, while with women there was a sexual dimension. "Im very different."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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