Broken Promises is one of the themes in Michael Levy’s fascinating account of his life and fortunes as a friend and fundraiser for Tony Blair. A kind holiday present from my brother, who managed to make a contribution to my expanding collection of political biographies, I have to say that I am glad that I didn’t have to buy it! The book has its fascinations – not least – insights into north London Jewish family life and how some people manage to make a fortune almost out of nothing!
What is conveyed is a complicated, insecure and egotistical man desperate for power and influence who portrays himself as a hapless victim of New Labour. There is on the front cover, a bold picture of Lord Michael Levy with Blair in the background. The title explains the core of the narrative – A Question of Honour: Inside New Labour and true story of the cash for peerages scandal (Simon Schuster, 2008).
Ta one level these pages are an extraordinary exercise in self-justification. Understandable given the deep sense of hurt and offence levy’s arrest and humiliation gave rise to. All of us need to put the record straight when we are misrepresented and misunderstood. One is left with some sympathy for Levy and concern about how much public money was spent on the police investigation.
The book is revealing about Blair and the way the political machinery works. Further information is offered about the already well-documented relationship between Brown and Blair. Blair tells Levy the obvious (we are told) – that he believes that Brown is unlikely to beat Cameron at the next election. It is depressing that these judgements are made solely on the basis of style, rather than the substance policy.
In the end, like many books in this genre, this text could have afforded to dig deeper. What might any of us be prepared to do for power – or to be close to power? The male ego is an extraordinary force that can create and destroy; that lives by both fact and fantasy! And what are we to make of party funding – hardly invented by Blair – a complex set of arrangements that has gathered momentum with all political parties. Surely the time has come to limit such funding and make a break with politics and those who fund with dubious motivations? And honours such as Knighthoods and Peerages – a lottery that demands an overhaul with more transparency. Levy fails to seize the opportunity to engage in a wiser place or obvious questions.
Another volume to be added to my ever expanding collection of political biographies. Sadly, it adds little to the picture of the Blair years! It will enforce the impression that politics is a grim business of self-serving and self-justifying egos…. and little cynical and not the complete the picture, but a significant part of modern democracy. What hope for change? What kind of politician would you make? And if offered – what would you like your Knighthood or Peerage to be given for?