Saturday, July 14, 2007

The First 80 Pages of Alastair Campbell

Having read the first 80 pages of Alastair Campbell's diaries I have two reactions. The first is that it's a brilliant read and I can't wait to read the rest of it on the plane to Rwanda on Thursday, but the second is that if it is an accurate reflection of the life of a newly opposition leader and his inner circle I a) feel very sorry for the people around David Cameron and b) feel very relieved DD didn't win!

I don't think anyone understand the pressures on political leaders and their advisers. Why should they? But it is clear that even after only a year in the job Campbell's relationship with his partner was at breaking point. She accused him of being obsessive and only concerned with 'TB'. The trouble is that if you're in a close knit political circle you do tend to have no life outside that circle. Those closest to you feel excluded and understandably react badly. Relationships which aren't strong do not always survive.

The picture Alastair Campbell paints of Tony Blair during his first year as leader is not a wholly positive one. He comes across as someone with an uncontrollable temper, prone to incoherant rants and not always clear on strategy. Campbell describes him as someone who treats his staff poretty badly, never says thank you to any of them and expects total devotion and loyalty. The thing is, he got it too. And that's part of what being a leader of people is about - commanding respect and loyalty even when you don't deserve it.

The two violent incidents which Campbell describes well involve Mandelson and Kinnock. Mandelson actually swung two punches at Campbell and Blair and to separate them - Mandelson goes up in my opinion. And then on a holiday in France Neil Kinnock launches into a violent tirade against Campbell accusing him and Blair of selling out, particualrly to Rupert Murdoch - "how do you think you'd fell if you had your head in a lightbulb?" - he rants. Campbell then thought he was about to get a kettle full of boiling water chucked at him. And this is the man who wanted to be Prime Minister.

As you can tell, I am thoroughly enjoying the book (which I can read in the happy knowledge that I didn't pay for it and therefore haven't contributed to the Alastair Campbell retirement fund)


BJ said...

I'm about half way through, and the Mandelson bits are hilarious, as are Campbell's pre-alertedness to scandals involving Robin Cook and Carole Caplin.

Funniest of all, though, is Alan Clark ringing up periodically and saying "We're f**ked!"

Anonymous said...

Just to be awkward, and I know you might not feel able to answer this, Iain how would old basher coped as opp leader?
Secondly, and more generally, is it something people even consider when voting for leaders - to be Managing Director of a major organsiation?

S said...

I too have just started reading it, today, about 50 pages in.

The thing that strikes me is that it seems to be one crisis to the next, especially considering in the early days it was supposed to be the honeymoon period. I'm wondering what happens later in the book when the crud really hits the fan.

Anonymous said...

Please forgive me if I spend my summer reading Harry Potter instead.

Anonymous said...

Campbell's (expurgated) diary is only the first of many political memoirs yet to come from the Westminster village and each one will leave Tony Blair a little more diminished.

He is going to finish up like Harold Wilson and Ramsay Macdonald: one of those Labour prime ministers they don't like to talk about.

Anonymous said...

to be honest most politicians have no idfea how to treat staff. they rarely say thanks, have no idea that people do it for the money too and as for shouting, yes when it goes wrong they all do that too.

Anonymous said...

"As you can tell, I am thoroughly enjoying the book (which I can read in the happy knowledge that I didn't pay for it and therefore haven't contributed to the Alastair Campbell retirement fund)"

Iain, are we to assume on the same basis, therefore, that you are not taking any money for the the advertisement placed by Foyles for Campbell's book, very prominently displayed at the top front page, i.e. most expensive position, of your blog?

Anonymous said...

As one contributor said - Stick with Harry Potter - it has a more believable plot, better characters and at least you know you're reading fiction

Anonymous said...

You disappoint me Iain. I have no intention of buying and reading this book because of the reviews I have read, and the fulsome acknowledgements from Campbell that he has excised anything about the Brown-Blair relationship that could possibly damage either men. So far as I can judge from what he has said and the reviews, he does not seem to come up with a single substantive issue on which he concedes any culpability or sincere regret (some clear, simple and contrite on the demise of David Kelly would have been welcome, for example)

Why should anyone believe a single word that is in a book produced on such a cynical, self-serving and amoral basis?

It is a PR part-political tract - as demonstrated by the facile and cringworthy three day adoration spread allowed by the BBC to Campbell on his book.

Fidothedog said...

Ker-ching! Send me the money.

Anonymous said...


Didn't you have an advert for a 'Meet Alastair' diary flogging event on your site last week? You are advertising his book, so the fact you didn't buy a copy is irrelevant.

I saw an interview with Campbell with Kirsty Wark the other day, and despite the fact she was asking him easy questions, he still came across to me as an arrogant and slightly creepy liar. Bless Kirsty, though, she did ask him how he thought his diaries could be considered as a serious account if he had left out vast chunks, including rows and disagreements at the heart of New Labour.

Campell replied that he didn't want to say anything that would damage Gordon or Tony politically, and that it was a 'partial account'. So that's alright then.

Anonymous said...

Why are people surprised that Alistair Campbell has made little or no mention of the strained Blair-Brown relationship?

All published political diaries omit topics which their authors do not wish to air in public. They are all 'partial accounts' because, of necessity, a great many of the entries are omitted. They would otherwise be very repetitious and boring.

Tony Benn's published diaries are comprehensive and very boring. In any case, they are of limited value because they were written with a view to publication (and hence self-edited).

Anonymous said...

The 'Meet Alastair' advert is back up.... Ker-ching!

Anonymous said...

"the man who wanted to be Prime Minister."

A bit of a prat, forsooth, but streets better than the self-absorbed dishonest nurd who we've endured for a decade.

Hywel said...

"The two violent incidents which Campbell describes well involve Mandelson and Kinnock."

Didn't Campbell land one on Michael White for his (MWs)comments after Robert Maxwell's death.

There have now been two diaries (Ashdown & Campbell) neither of which seem to portray Blair in a great light as a leader