Sir Christopher Meyer has written the first great British political autobiography of the century. DC Confidential is not published until tomorrow, so I base that claim solely on the extracts that have appeared this week in the Guardian, but what a cutlery drawer of knives in the back they contain.
As soon as I read the first extract I leapt to the computer to order a copy for my Mum, who in the very first rank of the abhorrers of the current Prime Minister. I can hear her chuckles already,
Meyer was the British Ambassador to Washington during the lead up to the Iraq war and in a piece headlined “The Pygmies in Tony Blair’s cabinet” he carefully skewers many of the British ministers who swanned through Washington and tried, usually unsuccessfully, to impress their counterparts in the "special relationship". Here he is on John Prescott, the “deputy prime minister”, a job with no constitutional significance that was created only to appease Prescott for not being given one of the great offices of state:
Prescott took his status as deputy prime minister very seriously, insisting always on seeing the vice-president and on discussing the full range of foreign policy issues of the moment. The problem with this was that he never appeared to be sufficiently up on these issues and he always seemed nervous. I would will him on as he sank lower in his chair and talked faster and faster. During the Kosovo campaign he got into a terrible tangle with a senator, to whom he talked about war in the "Balklands" and "Kovosa".
However it is Tony Blair’s lack of an appetite for bargaining (and the contrast Meyer draws between Blair and Thatcher in this regard) that is particularly damning:
Tony Blair chose to take his stand against Saddam and alongside President Bush from the highest of high moral ground. It is the definitive riposte to Blair the Poodle, seduced though he and his team always appeared to be by the proximity and glamour of American power.
But the high moral ground, and the pure white flame of unconditional support to an ally in service of an idea, have their disadvantages. They place your destiny in the hands of an ally. They fly above the tangled history of Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Turkomen and Assyrian. They discourage descent into the dull detail of tough and necessary bargaining: meat and drink to Margaret Thatcher but, so it seemed, uncongenial to Tony Blair.
That certainly has the ring of truth to it.
I also liked his description of Slick Willy’s handshake:
The handshake and its variations occupy a minor but interesting niche in the rituals of American politics. After I had spent a while in Washington, President Clinton would greet me with a firm handshake and a grip on the elbow. The elbow manoeuvre, which betokened a degree of familiarity, showed that I had made modest progress up the ladder of presidential salutations.
Before Clinton left office, I graduated to the upper-arm rub. This involved having your hand vigorously shaken, then dropped, to be replaced by a rubbing of the upper right arm, while a conversation took place. This signalled a greater intimacy than the elbow grip.
I mentioned this to a friend in the White House, saying that I was touched by this gesture of friendship. My friend, disillusioned by the Monica Lewinsky business, commented sardonically: "Friendship, hell! He was just wiping his hand."