About 19 years ago, my late father celebrated his 80th birthday in some style.He asked for all my cousins to bring their children and grand children to his house; he managed to spend the day with them telling them stories about his childhood and singing for them the songs that his mother and aunties sang for him as a toddler growing up in Accra and Cape Coast, He regaled them with the tales of his life in primary school at Cape Coast, Middle School in Accra, secondary school in Nigeria, University in Freetown, defending his Masters in Durham and his further studies in America. In the afternoon he threw a party for them and when their parents came to collect them he gave each one of them a present. i was told that he had up to around 50 children to deal with on that day, that was not much of problem for him because he had been a school teacher all his life and could engage children of all ages in meaningful conversation.
Tony Blair may not be everyone’s cup of tea but this memoir reminds us of the remarkable achievements of a leader which have sadly been undermined by a misjudgement over Iraq. When the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was once asked what he thought were the greatest challenges of the office, he responded thus: “events, dear boy events”; meaning there was no precise definition for the job but that one’s role as Prime Minister was determined in large part, and often on a day-to-day basis, by events beyond one’s control. In the absence of a precise role definition, the fortunes of most national leaders rest on how they manage crises and events as they arise. The experience of those who have done the job before must therefore be an invaluable guide to those that aspire to the office and others who currently occupy similar positions.
In the “The Journey”, Blair charts his unexpected rise to leadership of the Labour Party, his main political influencers who incidentally include a former Trotskyite, an Anglican vicar and one of African’s finest diplomats, the Ugandan, Olara Otunnu, all of whom he met while a student at St. John’s College, Oxford. Brought up in conservative household frequented then by Tory MPs and educated at Scotland’s most exclusive private school, Blair was an unlikely leader of the Labour Party. However, as a child of the 1960s he was a little more progressive than his parents and titled towards the prevailing left-wing politics of the student campus even if the beliefs that came to define him as a politician were not as doctrinal as the Marxists or Trotskyites of the time.
In the early 1970s, several years ago, I had the opportunity to work for one of the best companies in the world when it was at the height of its might as a marketing organisation introducing computer technology into the world. Its slogan was very simple – THINK. At sales school we were taught never to talk about the competition. We were taught to know our products and services in and out. We were also taught everything about what the competition offered; technical specification, prices, special services and offers and how our products compared with the competition then referred to as the BUNCH that stood for Borroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data and Honeywell. We were well taught that the more you disparage the competition, the more potential customers felt that you had something to hide.