Tony Blair’s Journey and Robert Harris’ Ghost
Robert Harris’ political thriller The Ghost is a thinly-veiled criticism of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Harris was formerly a generous donor to New Labour when Tony Blair was the party leader, but during the course of Blair’s premiership, Harris became increasingly disillusioned with Blair and the political party he had donated large sums to from his personal fortune. Above all, Harris found Blair’s partnership with President George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq unforgivable. Harris wrote The Ghost around the time that Blair stepped down from office in 2007. The novel takes the form of a lengthy memorandum of an unnamed ghost-writer drafting the memoirs of the fictional disgraced former PM Adam Lang. There are some striking parallels between events and characters in the novel and events and people of the Blair years. But what is even more striking are the prophetic elements of the novel, as well as the final irony that the recent publication of Blair’s autobiography The Journey, was not ghost-written. Here are a few parallels between the novel and events in real life:
The late Robin Cook is the model for the character of Richard Rycart, the former Foreign Secretary of Lang, who is determined to see Lang imprisoned for war crimes.
Lang’s wife Ruth is portrayed as manipulative and scheming, and is unflatteringly based on Cherie Blair.
In the novel Lang is having an affair with his personal assistant Amelia Bly. The character is based on Anji Hunter, who Blair describes as ‘sexy and exuberant’ in his memoirs.
The strongest parallel between novel and reality is clearly the similarities between Adam Lang and Tony Blair, and this is where events since the publication of The Ghost seem to be echoing the novel. In the novel, Lang is holed up in a millionaire’s paradise on Martha’s Vineyard, living the life of a recluse, as he is hated in almost every country outside the United States. Since leaving office, it is widely reported, although never confirmed, that Blair is a non-dom, and can only spend 90 days a year in the country he used to govern for tax purposes. His travels have become almost as dangerous as Lang’s, he was almost pelted with eggs at a Dublin bookstore during a signing for his memoirs, and a visit to a book signing in London had to be cancelled as a result. But the most interesting legacy of The Ghost is that Tony Blair refused to hire a ghost-writer to help him draft his memoirs, and the critical reaction to The Journey has been uniformly hostile. In his review of Blair’s memoirs in The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley describes the prose as ‘execrable’, and the chapters ‘are as badly planned as the invasion of Iraq.’ Not only did Blair refuse a ghost-writer, it seems the book was never even edited. Blair wrote his memoirs in longhand on hundreds of notepads which were then transplanted, word for word, into the finished book. I wonder if the scathing reviews for The Journey are making Robert Harris chuckle, because if it was the success of The Ghost that made Blair decide not to hire a professional ghost-writer, then it was Harris’ last act of revenge on the political leader he once revered.