Politics and publishing

As far as possible these days, I’m trying to keep politics out of this blog.

But I couldn’t let the following pass uncommented, as it does touch upon the subject of publishing. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has written his memoirs. They are released today. Today also sees the day that the party he used to lead, Labour, sends out ballot papers to party members for election of a new leader in the wake of Gordon Brown’s resignation following Labour’s defeat in the general election at May.

Up to speed so far? Right. The Guardian is one of the few centre-left/liberal papers left in the UK. One of its columnists, Polly Toynbee, is an odd sort. After spending the better part of the 1990s and 2000s telling us how good New Labour and Blair were, she rounded on Blair in his final days, lionised Brown, only to round on him following the election. Now in the run up to the leadership election she is telling us how monumentally bad New Labour was. So she blows hot and cold on most issues concerning Labour.

On Monday she published a column generally lambasting Blair & Mandelson, the architects of New Labour. So far, so Toynbee. But this comment has been picked out, and is being reported quite a lot:

At the same time he [leadership candidate David Milliband] should publicly rebuke him [Tony Blair] for the appalling timing of his book this week as an act of selfish disregard for the Labour party, to whom he owes everything.

Yes ladies and gentlemen. In Polly Toynbee’s mind Tony wrote his memoirs, found a publisher, got them published, publicised, serialised, and publicity tours set up, all within the past three months. This leadership election only happened because Gordon Brown resigned as Labour leader on 11 May. That only happened because Labour lost the election held on 6 May. An election only announced on 6 April.

When did Random House announce that they would be publishing Blair’s memoirs? Three years ago, on 26 October 2007.

It takes time to write memoirs, to gain legal clearance, to print, distribute and publicise them. Random House likely chose late 2010, as this summer was the latest that a general election could be held. That way, they would avoid clashing with it. Indeed, in the wake of Blair’s resignation it was expected that Brown would call a snap election and win it comfortably, given the lead Labour had over the Conservatives at that point. Brown would be comfortably in the middle of his term, and Blair’s memoirs would be neither here nor there.

But no, Random House clearly selfishly decided to disrupt a leadership contest nobody predicted, at a time nobody expected. Of course they did Polly.

Could they have moved it? Sure, at great expense and the logistical nightmare of rescheduling promotional appearances. Should they have? No. Random House are not the Labour party. They’re not any political party. They don’t owe favours to any political mechanism. The timing is unfortunate, but calling Blair “selfish” on this issue is grossly unfair.

And that’s about the one and only time you’ll hear me defend Tony Blair.

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2 thoughts on “Politics and publishing”

  1. I’m sorely tempted to do that at his book signing at the flagship Waterstone’s Bookstore on Wednesday, though from the sounds of it security is going to be insane.

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