Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour
by Andrew Rawnsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A very readable account of Tony Blair's first term as British prime minister. Rawnsley does assume a certain level of political knowledge that might be reasonable for the typical British reader of this book. If you're not British, and things like "Clause Four" and "Ernest Bevin" don't ring even vague bells for you, you might want to keep Google handy at a few points.
Being an American who wasn't following British politics closely for much of Tony Blair's time in office, I was mostly aware of Blair when he did something that got substantial coverage in the American press. From this, I had two rather contradictory images of him. One was of a world leader who seemed to demonstrate much more focus and moral clarity during the war in Kosovo than President Clinton. The other was of a politician who made himself President Bush's willing accomplice in misleading the world about the case for war in Iraq. Rawnsley's book certainly makes it possible to square these two Blair's as the same man: it seems clear that Blair was capable of great energy and accomplishment when he was willing to wholeheartedly commit to something. However, it's also clear that he was obsessed with opinion polls and the idea of securing his future place in history, that he didn't actually have many strong political convictions of his own, and that he had a lot of difficulty dealing with conflict among the members of his cabinet.
Mostly, though, this is a book that is likely to make you want to read lots of other books. In particular, Rawnsley's account of the Northern Irish peace negotiations is riveting, but clearly highly compressed. I do hope some good books have been written dealing with that in more detail. I'm also quite eager to read The End of the Party
, Rawnsley's book that picks up where this one left off. View all my reviews