Friday, 10 September 2010

Me, myself, I

There are, according to a crude count done on my bootleg ebook, 5,843 uses of the word ‘I’ in Tony Blair’s account of his years in office, A Journey. If you include his 1,172 uses of the word ‘my’, 992 uses of ‘me’ and the many hundreds more instances when he refers to himself in the third person, it works out at about one mention of the author in every other sentence. And that’s not counting the 2,478 times he talks about ‘we’, often royally.

That’s some going, even for an inevitably self-serving political memoir – or, as Blair himself cringeworthily prefers, ‘letter (extended!) to the country I love’. (His use of exclamation marks, incidentally, isn’t quite as extensive as some reviewers, such as Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer, have suggested: a mere 50 all told, well short of 21st-century textspeak standards.)

Three of Blair’s first-person references appear in one telling sentence – the one you fancy he would pick as his epitaph if forced to make a choice. ‘All I know is that I did what I thought was right.’

Blair’s repeated return to this simple refrain suggests that Labour’s most successful ever leader (‘I won three general elections. Up to then, Labour had never even won two successive full terms’ – note who did the winning) still doesn’t understand what most of us learn at primary school: that doing what you think is right is not actually good enough if you happen to be wrong. ‘Please miss, I really did think it was right to set fire to the classroom when that nasty bully wouldn’t go outside.’

I don’t suppose there is a leader in history who consciously did what he thought was wrong. There’s invariably some form of philosophical contortionism that will provide apologias for the gravest of crimes. Tony Blair’s – and the world’s – tragedy is that a little less emphasis on the ‘I’ and a little more listening to others could have led to him doing what was right and not just what he thought was right.

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