The New Labour era has its share of bogeymen; the Prince of Darkness, Claire Shortbread, Punchy Prescott, Malcolm Tucker, and of course its figurehead – Christian fundamentalist and crusader, Anthony Sedgefield Blair. But amongst the cast of supporting characters was the former Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Booth QC – the successful barrister and bootstrap belle, whose lack of facial symmetry, charm or style, made her an easy target for bitchy hacks and bored commentators; politicos who, hollowed out by the banality of the era’s politics, fixated on the trivial.
Lloyd Evans’ one act play resolves to give the former first lawyer a right of reply. In the form of Mary Ryder, who holds the audience close with great gusto, and tongue planted firmly in cheek, Cherie’s given voice and agency as she tumbles through a timeline that begins, as most do, in childhood, and ends, as most don’t, in Gordon Brown.
Along the way she recalls highlights such as the abdication of her father and the Tony her husband replaced, Booth, her failed bid to turn Thanet into a Labour seat at Westminster (one can’t help think this suicide run was reserved for candidates the party liked but secretly thought were dead on arrival as far as the voters were concerned), the 1992 election that Blair read as his sword in the stone moment, through to power, Iraq, and the long goodbye to all that.
Cherie’s unreliable memories are more political memoir than juicy confessional. Libel’s a bitch, so even if Evans was inclined to think Booth outright resented the preferment of Tony in the Labour Party, suspected the PM was fucking her stylist Carol Kaplan, and knew – because Blair talks in his sleep – that the war was illegal and hubby perpetrated a conscious fraud on the people, he certainly can’t say so here.
Thus Cherie’s struggle isn’t with her imagined principles or her conscience, but paper tigers like gossip columnists and straw men; the likes of Campbell and Brown. Their crimes, in this self-centred history, are failing to spin the war effectively to protect no.10 from criticism (how, wonders Cherie, did Blair get all the blame? Why didn’t MPs, and Parliament, and everyone who didn’t offer Bush unconditional support for a conflict spun from an unconnected act of terrorism, get more shit?), and pushing the Blairs out of Downing Street and into a hated life of wealth and opulence.
There are a few interesting titbits in this engaging monologue, some of which may even be true. We’re tickled by the aside that Blair read the Tory supporting Spectator as a young barrister, or that he’d been marked as ideologically impure as early as 1980. Cherie’s Daddy issues, namely childhood memories of a local rag publishing news of Pa’s new family, provide a neat bit of psychological shorthand that explains her antipathy to the press (the loathing being mutual). Her RADA trained parent and Convent school elocution lessons, that obliterated her northern accent, suggest (without being overly judgemental) a certain inauthenticity – a foretaste of the political era she’d later embody by association.
Ultimately, the best joke in My Struggle, is the idea that – relative to the people New Labour failed; the underprivileged, the disaffected, libertarians, those that value diplomacy and the international rule of law, Cherie struggled at all.
Yes, it’s tough being a woman in politics, yes media scrutiny is ghastly if you’re in the public eye, and sure – no one likes the sexist lack of recognition for a lucrative and prestigious career in favour of whimsy and tittle-tattle. But – as the aforementioned millions who’ve subsequently suffered on account of New Labour’s failure to embed change, and the door that opened to David Cameron et al might say – those are nice problems to have.