The Hair-Raising Truth about That Strange Guy Gordon; LAST-MINUTE CHRISTMAS BOOKS POLITICS

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Byline: QUENTIN LETTS

FOR a movement with so little philosophical soul, New Labour generated an awful lot of books. That is nearly, but not quite, the same as a lot of awful books.

The Blair era books have included instant history, instant recrimination, instant self-justification. These added little to our wider understanding of Western power, simply reinforcing the suspicion that truthful appraisal of Prime Ministers is best done several decades after they have left office.

JOURNEY

By Tony Blair (Hutchinson [pounds sterling]25)

THE big daddy was Tony Blair's A Journey, a work of unexpected indiscretion but characteristic vanity.

He righteously assures us that he did what he felt was 'the right thing' over Iraq, just as he assures us that he feels sorry for families of the war dead, but the book is essentially a work of pleading, as subjective as a barrister's closing speech.

Proper judgment may not be possible until a mid-21st-century historian sifts the consequences and reads Intelligence briefings which are, at present, classified.

Was the invasion of Iraq wise? Desperate publishers think this question can be addressed intelligently now, but we surely need to wait a quarter of a century until attempting an answer.

Not that this stops Blair. here was a politician who detested the 'feral press' and patronised political journalists for reporting 'froth'. Yet the same creature, shown on the cover of his book like some balding Norma Desmond, has little compunction about blurting out his displeasure with former Cabinet colleagues.

'Gordon is a strange guy,' he writes about the man he tolerated as Chancellor of the exchequer for a decade. This is hardly news. Most of us long ago gathered that Mr Brown was a tortured character. To have the former Prime Minister say so does not really reflect badly on Mr Brown. All it does is cheapen the reputation of Blair.

There are petty betrayals of the hospitality of the Queen. Past premiers have afforded their encounters with the Monarch the privacy of the confessional. Not so the Roman Catholic convert Blair.

As was too often the case in his premiership, he was ravenous for attention and needed to justify the advance from publisher Gail Rebuck (aka Lady Gould, a title she owes to Blair). And so we are given accounts of the Royal Family deep in its grief after the death of Princess Diana. Yuck!

A Journey undoubtedly makes history as the most gossipy autobiography written by a British Prime Minister. But making history is not the same as writing history. Parts of this account -- not least a conversation with elizabeth II which seems to have been lifted word for word from the film The Queen -- should be filed under F for Fiction of the most selfish, trashy variety.

THE THIRD MAN

By Peter Mandelson (HarperCollins [pounds sterling]25)

PETER MANDELSON, often regarded as a venomous Rasputin, beat Blair into the bookshops. his The Third Man breasted the tape a few weeks before A Journey, but the book feels rushed.

In person, Mandelson can be hypnotic, combining malice with a peculiar air of piety.

What a marvellous medieval bishop he would have made. he can say more by a silence than he does with a sentence, but his feline poise has not made the transition to the printed page.

One day Lord Mandelson will perhaps write an incisive book, as bitchy and urbane and shrewd as he is in the flesh, but this is not it.

THE NEW MACHIAVELLI

By Jonathan Powell (Bodley Head [pounds sterling]14.99)

POWELL was Blair's 'chief of staff'. he does that old trick of trying to interpret recent politics through the prism of Niccolo Machiavelli, the 15th-century Florentine and government official. You rather gather that Powell fancied himself a modern Machiavelli.

The New Machiavelli is not short on self-satisfaction, but the efforts to apply Machiavelli to the 21st century soon run out of steam. …