A novelist's revenge on Tony Blair
In 'The Ghost,' a (familiar) recently retired British PM is rumoured to be a CIA agent
MARK STEYN | March 6, 2008 |
If ever there was a solid Tony Blair voting bloc it was surely the massed ranks of British novelists. They loathed Thatcher ("Mrs. Torture," as the pre-fatwa Salman Rushdie used to call her), yet "old Labour," with its knuckle-dragging union bosses and old-school class warfare, wasn't entirely their bag, either. Solution: Tony Blair's Third Way. He was "New Labour," just like Bill Clinton was New Democrat. It was all the rage for a while: perhaps even now in some cave or other Mullah Omar is proposing to relaunch himself as New Taliban.
If you had to pick a day when it all went south for Blair's literary cheerleaders, it would be Sept. 11, 2001. That afternoon London time, as the twin towers were crumbling in New York, Jo Moore, a British civil servant, watched the TV and fired off an email to her colleagues in the Department of Transport: "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury." That was the New Labour way: the dark arts of spin, media manipulation and modish rebranding. (Mr. Blair inaugurated some international summit or other with a rock version of God Save The Queen.) But in the rubble of lower Manhattan the British prime minister found something that for once he didn't want to spin, and in the end he was the one who got buried.
Initially, Robert Harris was with him, as he had been since the early days. Twenty years ago Harris was a protean "new left" voice on Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times and a fresh-faced backbencher on the make called him up to propose lunch at L'Escargot. Very trendy, very metropolitan, and as Blair told Harris, "It's absurd the anti-metropolitan bias in the party. We've got to rethink all this." And so he did. On election night 1997, Harris covered New Labour's landslide victory from a seat across the aisle from the great man on the Blairs' private plane. When he wasn't counselling the young prince on the remaking of Britain, Harris was a bestselling author of historical fiction. His huge hit Fatherland is one of the great alternative-history novels: what if Hitler had won the war? (I mention it only because the Canadian Islamic Congress's dossier on Maclean's "flagrant Islamophobia" cites a ton of plot twists from my review of Robert Ferrigno's what-if? novel Prayers For The Assassin as if they were factual "assertions." So perhaps some litigious entrepreneur might like to take reviewers of Fatherland to the "human rights" commission on the grounds that they're flagrant neo-Nazis.) Anyway, having studied one great evil, Harris thought he saw another in the perpetrators of 9/11. And, for a while at least in the fall of 2001, his views on the enemy were so robust that The New Statesman and other leftie journals started nominating the poor chap as the runner-up to obvious psycho warmongers like yours truly for the Dangerous Idiot of the Week award.
And then came Iraq, and the millions of protesters in the streets of Europe, and the failure to find Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. And, like so many other former cheerleaders, Harris soured on Blair. Few of his artsy pals, however, have exacted as exquisite a revenge on the prime minister as The Ghost. A friend who pre-Iraq was rumoured by many to be Blair's choice for official biographer has instead written a roman à clef devoted to what the bien pensants regard as the "tragedy" of the Blair reign. The central figure is "Adam Lang," a recently retired British prime minister who came in like a lion and went out a-lyin'. The shelf of biographies in the Charing Cross bookstore begins with Adam Lang: Statesman For Our Time and works its way up to Would You Adam And Eve It? The Collected Lies Of Adam Lang ("Adam and Eve" being Cockney rhyming slang for "believe"). Both volumes are by the same author, who evidently has undergone the same process of lucrative disillusionment as Mr. Harris. When first we glimpse the former leader, he's on TV at a podium at the Waldorf-Astoria responding to news of another bombing. "You will all by now have heard the tragic news from London," he says, "where once again the forces of fanaticism and intolerance . . ." At which point the narrator interrupts:
"Nothing he uttered that night warrants reprinting. It was almost a parody of what a politician might say after a terrorist attack. Yet, watching him, you would have thought his own wife and children had been eviscerated in the blast. This was his genius: to refresh and elevate the clichés of politics by the sheer force of his performance."