Published by Little Brown, out now, hardback, 405 pages, £18.99.
In a nutshell…
Hardnosed, opinionated, cringeworthy – ghastly
What’s it all about?
Political autobiographies are always hotly anticipated. This one made the headlines last weekend because of its timing, coming alongside Lord Levy and John Prescott’s memoirs. They all have unpleasant things to say about the current prime minister, but Cherie Blair’s is by far the most significant because of her closeness to power. Cherie Blair’s autobiography brushes quickly past the early years and gets to the good stuff – this is the first opportunity to get a look into the lives of Britain’s most powerful family in the last ten years.
Who’s it by?
Cherie is no ordinary prime minister’s wife. She broke the mould by forging a successful career in law and managed to maintain that career during her time in Downing Street. Perhaps more impressively, as she makes clear in these pages, her contribution to the New Labour movement was a significant one. There is no doubting her political importance; and her newsworthiness, too. At times her memoirs feel like a list of rebuttals against the negative images, films and news stories which “hounded” Ms Blair. That’s exactly why people will be reading it.
As an example…
“I’d be chatting normally, then suddenly catch someone’s eye, and we would both burst into fits of spontaneous laughter. I felt like punching the sky! He had done it! My husband had done it!” – after the 1997 election win
“It wasn’t quite like that. I never swear and Tony is a good deal taller than Michael Sheen.” – on the Helen Mirren film The Queen
“With that [salary] increase, I decided, we could probably manage. Then Gordon threw a spanner in the works.” – on the chancellor’s decision to forego the 1997 ministerial pay rise
Likelihood of becoming a Hollywood blockbuster
It already has, sort of. Click here for details
What the others say
“As a Friesan weighing 1.37 tonnes applies to the Guinness Book of Records to be declared Britain’s biggest cow, there is fierce competition for the title from Cherie Blair.” – Gerald Butler QC
“Welcome to the twisted, delusional world of Cherie Blair as nauseatingly described in her memoirs. she is shameless, hypocritical, vain, arrogant and grasping.” – Libby Purves
So is it any good?
What does any politics fan want from Cherie Blair’s autobiography? A good dose of Gordon Brown-bashing? A no-holds-barred approach to her unpopularity with the press? Cherie doesn’t disappoint, telling her story in the pugnacious manner with which she drove her husband to power.
What any politics fan really wants from this memoir is a picture of her personality and how New Labour’s righteous smugness fits in with it. Fortunately her background, career, family and life in Downing Street are utterly interlinked. Her rows with Gordon Brown about domestic arrangements in Nos 10 and 11 – a longstanding source of conflict – illustrate this perfectly.
There is much to admire about Ms Blair. She came from a working class background to become a well-respected human rights lawyer, using the traits which make this autobiography so effective. She lacks self-consciousness and is utterly entrenched in her own, inalterable view of the world. She pours scorn on those who get in her way. She is like the woman in the library talking far too loudly on her mobile phone. It’s impossible to ignore and incredibly annoying.
Yet it is worth getting past such irritations, for Speaking for Myself is nevertheless fascinating reading. Her “ringside seat to history” provides insights into world leaders – the usual suspects, like the Clintons and Bushes, but also to other figures like Vladimir Putin. Nuclear bunkers in Downing Street sit alongside interior decoration and taking the children to school. And there are her insights into Tony Blair’s mood during his often turbulent premiership. Amid the revelations about sleepless nights, the self-doubt, the highs and lows is the subtext that she drove him on to a third term.
The Blairs make a good couple, however. “I am the abrasiveness against which he can spark,” she writes triumphantly on her relationship with the former prime minister at the end of the book. Her strengths may be shuddering, but she is also a woman riddled with weaknesses. Cherie wouldn’t be Cherie if she acknowledged them, and perhaps her contradictions offer the biggest insight of all. There is the tension between her ongoing enthusiasm for her husband’s political career and the frustrations, in terms of media attention, that brings. She is a career woman on one page and, the next, acknowledging the infamous bad hair day picture of her answering the door at Downing Street on May 3rd 1997.
“I remember leaning my forehead against the back of it, my eyes closed, thinking, Oh my God, Tony will kill me,” she writes. Thankfully he doesn’t have to worry about that sort of thing now. A shame Gordon still does.