Our Guy

John Barnie

One aspect of Tony Blair’s memoir was under-celebrated when it was published last year: its remarkable handling of style.[*] For a 700-page book that was written in a hurry, A Journey’s register is very carefully judged. (Even the grammatical errors are impressively consistent: ‘The weeping and gnashing of teeth is pointless’; ‘The manifesto and the mandate was one for New Labour’; ‘I was reasonably settled in my mind that two terms was enough.’) Blair is concerned to show himself as an astute politician – a man of destiny – but also as an ordinary bloke, someone you might rub shoulders with in the pub as he bends your ear about politics over a game of ‘arrows’. He uses demotic conversational tags: ‘I kid you not’; ‘He was a lovely man, but really’; ‘Don’t get me wrong’; ‘Take my word for it’; ‘I said to Alastair, mark my words’; ‘didn’t matter a hoot to me’; ‘He conceded nothing, and I mean nothing’; ‘The whole business was barking.’ He uses the inclusive ‘your’: ‘what your Marxist would call …’, ‘your ordinary motorist’, ‘your average politico’. Anticipating the reader’s doubts, he emphasises sincerity with a verbal nudge of the elbow: ‘I felt genuinely sorry for him – no, I really did.’ Sympathy is expressed in the same pint-of-bitter-and-a-packet-of-crisps kind of way: ‘Jon Cunliffe … was doing his nut, poor bloke’; ‘I would have felt gutted in his place, really low – beyond low, actually.’

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[*] David Runciman reviewed Tony Blair’s A Journey in the LRB of 7 October 2010.