Tony Blair was Britain's finest showman prime minister since Macmillan, as I blogged after his last Labour conference speech in 2006. So it was little surprise that today's launch of Blair's autobiography, A Journey, was a theatrical event, dominating news bulletins.
But Labour's longest serving prime minister's attempt to restore his tarnished reputation seems doomed. Blair now admits he thought Gordon Brown was an impossible, deeply flawed character. Yet he made no attempt to move Brown from the Treasury, and lied to the British people about his chancellor's suitability for office when Brown took over in 2007.
Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, today apologised to readers of his blog for not telling the full story about the Blair-Brown feud. Yet we all knew of this poisonous schism - I read The Rivals, James Naughtie's book about the TB-GB storms, in 2003 with a growing sense of anger at this pathetic, juvenile relationship, and despairing of the lost hope of May 1997.
Yet despite this, and my contempt for the way Blair trashed Britain's reputation by involving us in the invasion of Iraq, I still half admire this extraordinary politician. (In the same way that some still worship Margaret Thatcher.) He won three elections in a row for Labour. He played a huge role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, building on earlier efforts by John Major, Bill Clinton, Bertie Ahern, John Hume and Gerry Adams. He delivered devolution to Wales and Scotland - despite not sharing predecessor John Smith's commitment to home rule. His government saw renewed investment in public services, even though many questioned how effectively the money had been used. Blair himself must wonder how high his reputation would stand if it hadn't been for Iraq, although we'd still be facing a ruinous deficit thanks to Labour's lax regulation of the banks' casino activities.
Blair claims that Labour could have won a fourth term had it not abandoned new Labour. That strikes me as a crazy claim. Gordon Brown didn't lose in 2010 because he became old Labour. He lost because the British people disliked him, because he and Blair created the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s - and because of their love of spin and sleaze. Ironically, Labour's late move to create a 50% tax rate was popular, belying the idea that old Labour tactics couldn't succeed. (A law to tax 100% of disgraced banker Fred Goodwin's income would have been acclaimed.)
I'll quote just one passage from Tony Blair's book, as it is sobering:
"On 2 May 1997, I walked into Downing Street as prime minister for the first time. I had never held office, not even as the most junor of junior ministers. it was my first and only job in government."
I've bought my copy of Blair's book from Amazon on the Kindle, to read on my iPad. It's an interesting insight into book publishing in 2010. The full price of A Journey is £25. Waterstone's is selling the hardback for £12.50, as is Amazon. Apple's iBooks store isn't selling it yet, but is likely to offer it for £12.99 if its offer for Peter Mandelson's The Third Man is a guide. Kindle is the best offer: A Journey is just £6.99. I prefer iBooks to the Kindle app on the iPad, but as I recently blogged about iBooks, it will never take off until it offers far more titles at far lower prices.