A few interesting observations from tonight’s Channel 4 programme, The Rise And Fall Of Tony Blair:
- At 6am on the morning after Labour’s 1997 General Election victory, Peter Mandelson called an emergency meeting to discuss how to deal with the unexpectedly large number of Labour MPs who had been elected. He wanted to identify the troublemakers.
- Two-thirds of his Cabinet in a tour-de-table said ‘no’ to the Millennium Dome but Tony Blair had held a secret meeting with Michael Heseltine before the General Election in which he had promised to continue with the Dome folly. This wasn’t the only early example of Blair’s cavalier attitude to Cabinet Government. Cabinet Secretary Robin Butler protested that the Bank of England independence announcement should be approved by Cabinet. After some disagreement Blair agreed to ‘phone Cabinet ministers with the news. Estelle Morris says that the Cabinet became a place to "put down a marker" but never to make a decision.
- The TB-GBs began from the beginning according to Frank Field with the Chancellor defying Blair from 1997 – bringing certain people to meetings, for example, in direct contradiction of instructions from Tony Blair.
- Such was the loathing between Brown and Mandelson that the Brownites leaked details of the Geoffrey Robinson home loan to the then Trade Secretary.
- Peter Stothard, former Editor of The Times, said that a meeting with Tony Blair on his own was flat but when Alastair Campbell was there the meeting had "a crackle" and things seemed to get done. Blair adviser Peter Hyman said that Campbell made the Number Ten team feel like winners – reassuring the team that nothing that the press or opposition threw at them would damage Labour (at least in the first term).
- Baroness Jay gave a revealing insight into Tony Blair’s difficulty with detail. She described ‘The Garden Look’ that Tony Blair adopted whenever a discussion of the machinery/ nitty-gritty of government, as she called it, began. He would start looking towards the Number Ten garden – away from his notes – when she or other ministers focused on the complexity of an issue.
- Numerous sources confirmed that the Bush White House would not have gone to the UN for a second resolution on the Iraq war if Tony Blair hadn’t demanded it (and the critics say Blair has never influenced Bush).
- According to Peter Stothard, Gordon Brown came very close to opposing at least the timing of the Iraq war – asking hard and persistent questions about why Britain and America had to go to war when they did. ‘Why couldn’t we wait?’ he kept asking.
All in all a fascinating two hours of telly. Congratulations to Andrew Rawnsley and his team. The two-part documentary concludes on Monday at 8pm.