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Robert Harris: 'The Ghost' of Tony Blair

Oct 31, 2007 (Morning Edition)

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Robert Harris' new novel features a once-popular former British prime minister who becomes fiercely criticized for collaborating with the United States in the war on terror. The character's name is Adam Lang, not Tony Blair, but otherwise the similarities are unmistakable.

In The Ghost, Harris tells the story of a ghostwriter called in to help a former prime minister finish his multi-million-dollar memoir.

"I just really was interested in this phenomenon of the ghostwriter," Harris tells Steve Inskeep. "It implies a slight failure as a writer that you are reduced to being a ghostwriter for the money."

Harris says he was inspired in part by a report that Blair could face war crimes trials and might have to seek asylum in the United States to avoid extradition.

Harris, a former columnist for Sunday Times of London, has known Blair since 1992. "We had our ups and downs, but we didn't really fall out until the invasion of Iraq, which made no sense to me," Harris says.

The book is filled with "a sort of disillusion and a sort of anger that Britain went along with something which seemed so, even at the time, to be a bridge too far and rather illogical," he says.

Harris also explores the isolation and distance from reality faced by people in power.

"I think it's very, very hard not to go slightly crazy if you're in the top in politics — especially if you're there for a long time," he says.

"I don't think a lot of world leaders these days are very well-read. I don't think Mr. Blair knew very much about the Middle East. I think that he assumed that invading Iraq would be a walkover, or at least that the Americans would sort it all out.

"It's that kind of isolation and shallowness that's bred by the modern media age where we seem to have lost depth in our politicians."

Blair did have his successes, including remaking the Labour Party, Harris acknowledges.

"Well he is ... he was a very smart guy," the author says. "There's no doubt about that. And he was a very clever lawyer" — one who made a better case for war in Iraq than President Bush did.

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