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June 09, 2008

Harry Phibbs find it difficult to imagine a more charmless book: Speaking for Myself - Cherie Blair

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Speaking for Myself
by Cherie Blair
Little, Brown, 2008
Hardback, 18.99

I don't think I can remember a book being quite so ill received. Cherie Blair has plenty of critics - those who dislike her politics, those who have taken against her personally, or, like me, those firmly in both categories. Thus I declare I am not an impartial critics. But even those who defended her for all those years are dismayed. Those who felt she faced a barrage of unjustified media intrusion and abuse now acknowledge she has come down to the level of her enemies by telling us far more than we could possibly want to know about her sex life and hospital visits. Do we need page after page detailing her morning sickness when pregnant with Leo? The time she threw up on a train? The time she throw up in a car?

Then we have to put up with the endless moaning about being short of money. I'm all for rich people. Full of sympathy for them to be even richer. But there is something pretty insufferable about a rich person seeking sympathy over how impoverished they are - especially when an equally constant refrain is their commitment to Socialism.

Here is the poor victim having to pay for her own house to be redecorated. Her husband has just become Labour leader and she managed to work in a sly dig at his predecessor, John Smith. She says:

When John Smith took over as leader from Neil Kinnock in 1992, the Party paid 70,000 for his flat in the Barbican to be redecorated on the grounds that he needed somewhere suitable for official entertaining.
But Cherie stresses how much less greedy and more frugal she and her husband were when he took charge:
As for bringing Richmond Crescent up to scratch, neither of us felt we could take any more money from the Party which, only two years previously, had spent so much doing up John Smith's flat. Under these circumstances I had no choice but to get a bigger overdraft to give the house a facelift.
The hypocrisy about protecting children from invasion of privacy is excruciating. She even has the nerve to include the following sanctimonious passage about taking legal action to enforce a confidentiality agreement signed by a former family nanny called Ros. She writes of Ros's manuscript:
In many ways it was a very warm description, but quite unpublishable as a book. From Tony's and my point of view, it risked being at worst embarrassing, but in terms of our kids it was impossible. No matter who you are you cannot write about children in that way, their personal habits, tantrums, foibles, illnesses, their quirky ways, no matter how lovingly recounted. It was a total invasion of their privacy.
Er, hello. Has she considered for a moment that she has completely invaded her own children's privacy on every other page. Sounds like just another producer seeking to safeguard their monopoly to keep the price up.

When Michael Howard was Employment Secretary he invited his Labour Shadow Tony Blair and his wife over to dinner in Notting Hill. Cherie records in her memoirs:

It was a diplomatic disaster. It was the strangest dinner party I had ever been to, with people who, in the normal way of things, I would have nothing to do with at all.
An attempt to put Cherie at her ease by also inviting along Ann Mallalieu, a QC and later a Labour peer, did not seem to do the trick.
Most alarming, as far as I was concerned, was that Ann Mallalieu seemed more right-wing than the others,
laments Cherie who insisted on leaving early. But why go at all? Did she not suspect that a dinner party hosted by Michael Howard might include Tories? Fine to go along and be friendly. Fine to give it a miss with the excuse of looking after the children and let Tony go on his own. But to go along, refuse to say anything and then insist on leaving early...

A dreary repetitive theme is how unfair all the press coverage was. One imagines a dossier built up of all the time she wanted to respond to some story and she was advised by Alastair Campbell to keep quiet as her response would be so damning as to compound harm done by the original piece. All the complaints and letters to the editors that were never sent are copied and pasted and adapted here. A great unburdening for Cherie of responses to articles that are long forgotten if we had read them in the first place.

There is also plenty of opportunity taken to attack her comrades. Labour MP Nick Brown, who was Agriculture Minister under Tony Blair and is now Deputy Chief Whip, is credited by Cherie Blair in her memoirs with helping her husband on the path to power. During the 1980s, Nick Brown assisted Blair in such rites of passage as standing for the National Executive Committee. No good deed goes unpunished.

Here is Cherie's account:

He was basically a fixer, with fingers in all sorts of pies: he had been a legal officer for the GMB, and for a short time had been on Newcastle Council. He had future Chief Whip written on his forehead even then. He was unbelievably patronising, always calling me "love", and clearly felt that women should be seen and not heard in the Labour Party. I always saw him as a bit of a political thug.
When she tries to be poignant one almost yearns for her to get back to the money grubbing and the score settling. After her father, the actor Tony Booth, was seriously injured in a fire, Cherie records her understandable concern. But she does slightly spoil it:
My father's accident had one unforeseen advantage. No way, now, could he come to the wedding, so it was arranged that my uncle Bill would give me away.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist and a Conservative Councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham. The views expressed above are those of Harry Phibbs, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director. The Social Affairs Unit is not a party political organisation.

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