Friday, March 20, 2009

REVIEW: Alastair Campbell's New Statesman

I have just finished reading this week's issue of the New Statesman, edited by one Alastair Campbell. It was a curious mix of the entertaining and the pedestrian. Undoubtedly the highlight was the disappearance of Kevin Maguire's diary column, which has of late become even more incomprehensible than usual. I wonder whether Campbell made this a condition of his editorship.

The lowlight was the transformation of political correspondent James Macintyre from interviewer to polemicist. My advice is that he needs to return to interviewing forthwith. His essay on the apparent willingness of the media to give David Cameron a soft ride might have made the cut at Bexley Grammar School sixth form, but it was so full of holes that a more experienced editor would have spiked it or told him to start again. I'm tempted to give it a line by line fisk, but it's so poor as to hardly warrant the effort. It's odd because I have been rather impressed by Macintyre's articles in his first few months in the job. Some of his interviews have been first class.

Sarah Brown's Diary
was possibly the dullest diary column in the history of the genre. "I had not seen Cherie for a while." No kidding. "But was pleased to find myself by chance on the same plane to the US last week so we could catch up." As they say on the interweb, LMAO or ROFL. They hate each other.

And I wonder if Alastair Campbell could explain his rationale for publishing an article by Alina Palimaru, a student in Washington. Apparently he/she thinks the Tories are a joke in Washington. Well, hey, thanks for the remarkable insight. This wasn't Bexley Grammar School standard. It was Bexley Year 6.

And then came the fourth page long article (hint: a bit of variety of length always works better - a tip I picked up behind the bikesheds at school) comes from Tony Blair who uses his 900 words to bore us to death about why he does God.

The fifth page long article in a row is headlined "A convention of cant". I can't help thinking there's a typo in that somewhere.

The sixth page long article in a row comes from James Macintyre's Dad, Donald, in a Letter from Jerusalem. Boy is he missed in the political lobby. It's the best written article in the whole mag.

There then follows a double page spread of one line suggestions for inclusion in a Labour manifesto submitted via Campbell's own (increasingly unmissable) blog, LabourHome and DraperList. Some of them are unintentionally hilarious. Take this one...
Put people first and business second - because that's the only way business will survive.
Next up is Alastair Campbell's love in interview with Sir Alex Ferguson. It's all good stuff, and quite entertaining, but at the end of it I wasn't sure I had learned anything I didn't know before about either of them. My problem with the interview was that I was never quite sure who was the interviewer and who was the interviewee. Perhaps I am comparing Campbell's interviewing style with my own when I do similar interviews for Total Politics. I think it is a mistake for the the interviewer to impose themselves too heavily. Perhaps it was inevitable in this case.

The final extended feature is perhaps the most interesting and informative. It's a six page piece (including a vicious cartoon by Martin Rowson depicting Paul Dacre) on how the "truth" about state schools is twisted by journalists who send their kids to private schools. It's written by Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, who by happy coincidence is Alastair Campbell's partner. Hmmm.

I may have been a bit more critical in this blogpost than I intended when I started writing it, but actually, the issue did hang together quite well. I suspect sales will be up substantially on a normal week, and it was an innovative thing for the NS to do. When you work with Alastair Campbell, you'll never be short of a headline.

So that set me thinking, perhaps we should have a guest editor for a future issue of Total Politics. I'm sure Sarah Mackinlay would fancy a month off! Any suggestions?!

UPDATE: The student from Washington, Alina Palimaru has responded via Facebook. He clearly doesn't like it up him.

A while ago, someone brought to my attention the fact that I shouldn't waste my time reading your blog, because you are a single-digit IQ amoeba. I dismissed their warning, because I don't like to make such assumptions about people, especially when it comes to underestimating them. I always welcome a good challenge, but when all I have to work with are ad hominem attacks... you don't leave me much choice, do you?

Now I understand that you are in the business of insulting people, throwing labels left and right, without much to corroborate your statements.

Besides the "grammar school" comparison that demonstrates what a half-baked brain you have, is there anything of substance that you are capable of adding to my article?

Am I automatically disqualified to advance an argument, simply because I'm a Master's student, or because my last name is not famous?

Get over yourself, mofo!
All fair points, apart from the fact that I didn't insult him. I gave my opinion on his pisspoor article. Not being down wiv da kidz, I am not sure what 'mofo' means. I responded...

No, I am not in the business of insulting people. I am in the business of pointing out badly written, uninformative articles which should never have been published in a magazine like the New Statesman. I didn't insult you, I just wondered on what basis the article had been published. I read it twice and still couldn't work out what your point was. Perhaps it's my IQ that's the problem...


The Grim Reaper said...

Let Devil's Kitchen edit it. It'll be the best-selling issue ever, even if it also the most foul-mouthed.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster said...

The New Statesman is the mouthpiece of tyrants and liars. Bin it.


Span Ows said...

That Alina comment that you mention as year 6 Bexley etc...wrong: I seriously believe he/she is from another planet, either way, certainly a banal and ill-informed article.

Unknown said...

Kevin Maguire should be guest editor of 'Total Politics'.

Unknown said...



We're a good Tory Borough now, even one of the last Labour Councillors has gone independent, and they only had 9 to start with!

Plato said...

Ditto Grim Reaper - be hilarious with all the **** if nothing else ;)

Jess The Dog said...

Was it as dodgy as the infamous dossiers?

It strikes me as a load of tribalist rubbish, put together by an obsessive and deceitful psychopath. The tribe is also getting smaller week by week.

I read this and laughed:

[i]"The Tories are not that far ahead. More importantly, they are not that good. What talents do they have? David Cameron who is good at pictures, William Hague who is good at jokes, Ken Clarke who is good at being blokeish and lazy. What else? Chris Grayling? Oliver Letwin? George Osborne and Andrew Lansley? Running a country?

Even if this was true (which it isn't) they would still be far better than anything Labour could offer - a bunker-bonkers Prime Minister, plotters whose backstabbing attempts are more banana than stiletto, and an entire Cabinet of nonentities.

Read Cameron's article in the Speccie today.

Cameron talks about using technological innovation to devolve power - the citizen as informed decision-maker, the citizen with the same information as the man at the Ministry. This is the direct opposite to Labour's approach of enslaving us with bar codes.

There is a clear choice in the forthcoming UK general election - vote Labour for information slavery and personal slavery, vote Conservative for information freedom and personal freedom.

Far better than Campbell's reheated soup.

Jon said...

Who cares what any of these losers have to say any more?

They're toast.

Bill Quango MP said...

"A convention of cant".I can't help thinking there's a typo in that somewhere.

The lowlight was the transformation of political correspondent James Macintyre

(hint: a bit of variety of length always works better - a tip I picked up behind the bikesheds at school)

Mr Dale.. I enjoyed your witty summary so much I didn't bother with paper.

Did hear Alistair Campbell arguing about the state school thing on the radio. He dismissed a caller who spoke against his ideas with "Well we are never going to agree are we "
Turns out she was a teacher. A very angry teacher.

Plenty said...

How about giving a real person the opportunity to see what goes on in the world of print media and then the so called journalists might learn something from it?

It seems to me there are a lot of clowns in both politics and journalism who dont sometimes live in the real world?

Your comments please.....

Kevin Rendall said...

What a crying shame Alastair Campbell's 1986 (was it?) "pyscholgical" episode at the Scottish Labour Party Conference wasn't permanent. What has the UK political world done to deserve this man? Surely nothing so awful!

Unknown said...

"I'm tempted to give it a line by line fisk"

God, no. In general you come across as interesting and engaging. Surely you must know that the line-by-line fisk is the most wrist-slittingly boring thing in the world to read? Thank you for resisting.

Chucklenuts said...

"....submitted via Campbell's own (increasingly unmissable) blog,..."

You're 'avin a laugh.

subrosa said...

"....submitted via Campbell's own (increasingly unmissable) blog,..."

Is Alistair your new best friend Iain?

Martin S said...

Bloody Hell, Iain! I have just read the, well, I can't use the word article, the damp squib by Alina Palimaru.

In my day job I deal with copy submitted by freelancer journalists. If anyone had submitted a piece of work of the same woefully poor standard of that provided by Alina Palimaru, I would not have used my red pen (quaint publisher I work for. The output from the Macs is printed out as old-fashioned galley proofs for real red pen editing) I would have thrown the whole article in the bin.

Poorly constructed, specious arguments, over-written. Vapid, Dull. Deadly, deadly dull. And that's only the first paragraph.

Alina Palimaru is a student in advanced public policy analysis at American University in Washington, DC

What a waste of an education.

Others agree

Steve H said...

Hilarious reply from Alina-writing-style-would-have-been-preferable Palimaru.

He clearly imagines it to be a devastating putdown. Comes across as the sort of elegant barb I remember from the debating society we had in our primary school playground:

"Well your Mum smells of poo so there".

Martin S said...

This might be a little childish but, well, I am relaxing after a hard day's work with a glass or Jack Daniel's finest...

An anagram of Alina Palimaru is

"I am a Urinal, Pal!"

Louis Barfe said...

You know perfectly well what 'mofo' means. It's the street abbreviation for what Oedipus was. The Staggers hasn't been worth a light since it stopped printing my radio column.

Martin S said...

By the way, I think that Alina might be a female. And perhaps her parents should have words with it regarding the dreadful lack of manners that she showed.

Houdini said...

The article was written by Campbell as a Party Political Broadcast, on behalf of Labour of course.

I'm amazed that this is offered as some form of article as you say and reads like a plagiarised Labour conference speech, literally.

The character fawns over Campbell in the Gofourth site comments BTW.

Given the language and style of the response to you, it is obvious that this is an immature child that would probably be more at home as a sixth year school student, but hey, he/she is a Yank too don't forget.

Jess The Dog said...

Alina - what a gimp!

Advanced public policy research - what a load of public sectore cobblers, and the only sort of person who follows Neu Arbeit nowadays!

Just the sort of person who will be best advised to find a proper job following 2010. The days of the political apparachik class are gone in the era of mass individual communication...

Weygand said...

You can always tell somebody is a pompous idiot when he/she responds to criticism by listing his/her academic credentials (even more so, when these only culminate in a Masters) rather than with a well constructed argument.

Furthermore, only supreme arrogance can have prevented AP from realising that his/her burblings will have seemed superficial and ill informed to UK readers, who have experienced at first hand the 12 years of the present government, rather than merely regarding them from afar.

Indeed, AP gives himself/herself away in the opening paragraph with the metaphor of a team "inexplicably slowing down". Even those Labour die-hards who may consider the decline of their party's fortunes "regrettable", understand very clearly how and why it has come about.

Dr Evil said...

The only insult was his, calling you a mofo. For both words just watch any Die Hard film and listen to Bruse Willis insulting the bad guys.

I think you touched a nerve or wiggled a shoulder chip.

Dr Evil said...

The only New Statesman of any consequence was Alan B'Stard.

Jess The Dog said...

I posted a scathing comment on the NS website after the Campbell drivel. It hasn't appeared. No surprise there!

Shame, I thougfht the NS was very good around the time of the Iraq War. I even bought it in print then!

Pip said...

LF Barfe
Surely if that is the origin - it should be mofu.
Or is that the US version ?
Bloody rude whichever way.

Palash Davé said...

Alina Palimaru is indeed a chick not a chap. See web passim, but particklee

tory boys never grow up said...

So glad you are not in the business of insulting people - at least AC's New Stateman was better than the edition of Total Politics I saw which reads like the outpourings of a country bumpkin from an Essex comprehensive.

Iain Dale said...

That would be difficult seeing as I don't even write for it. Prat.

Pip said...

"which reads like the outpourings of a country bumpkin from an Essex comprehensive" - a Labour spokesperson - this says it all. Must be Campbell using the pseudonymn "Tory boys never grow up". Well - how about your "bog-standard" comprehensives - avoided like the plague by your lot - just left for us lucky bumpkins hey ?

tory boys never grow up said...

So who was that having a conversation with Ken Livingstone?? I presume someone else wrote your comments.

Perhaps Pip and Mr Dale don't understand irony when they are on the receiving end?

Iain Dale said...

Tory Boys, I don't write for the magazine. I conduct interviews in which I ask questions. Get your facts right.

That was irony? Oh dear.

tory boys never grow up said...

Well AC writes far better questions than you do - though he can be just as bitchy when it comes to throwing around insults; but I suspect he wouldn't deny it.

Funny you don't see interviews as writing - this is not a universal view.

I am perfectly capable of understanding what you do in your magazine. My problem with it is that it doesn't actually offer much more than what is readily available in blogs and the main stream press - too many soundbites and not much depth.

Jess The Dog said...

Tory boys at least allow critical commentary on their blogs.

Over 24hrs ago I put the boot into the Campbell drivel on the NS website.

Or I thought I did.

24hrs later it has not appeared.

Vintage ZaNu Labour. Media as Pravda. It's why Labour are dead in the blog world and the Tories are winning by miles.

Martin S said...

...In which Tory Boys Never Grow Up attacks the Labour Comprehensive Education system.

Yes. What Iain said.

tory boys never grow up said...


Funny how you missed Tory Dale's attack on Grammar Schools (and Bexley for that matter) - because of course he doesn't do insults!

Alan Smart said...

Thanks for the review

It will remind me not to buy it

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend routinely calls me mofo (she's hip, dude) to which I now respond by calling her mofoho.

Louis Barfe said...

Aye, Pip, it should be mofu, but the people who came up with the slang aren't that hot on spelling. Also, it would be too close to tofu.

Tory Boys Never Grow Up - Alastair Campbell might come up with good questions, but he's not too keen to be on the receiving end of them, is he?

Unknown said...

Dear Alina,
All very worthy stuff, although whether Londoners would agree with your analysis on crime is debatable. If you really wish to appreciate British politics I suggest you do the following. Look at some Gillray and Cruikshank cartoons whilst taking in the Rakes Progress by Hogarth. Then start on Boudicca and work your way through history taking in the Roman Conquest, the Saxon Invasion, Alfred, Harold, the Norman Conquest, Edward III, the Black Death, the Peasants Revolt, the third Poll Tax, the Lollards, Henry V, Henry VIII, Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Walsingham, Richard Topcliffe, the Douai Priests, Dr John Dee, James I (James VI of Scotland), Guy Fawkes et al, Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, the first three English Civil Wars, the Levellers, the Diggers, the Ranters, the Quakers, George III, the fourth English Civil War commonly called the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Richard Cobden, Nelson, Wellington, Victoria, the Chartists, Palmeston, Disraeli, Gladstone, Daniel O’Connell, Churchill, Atlee, Thatcher, the fourth Poll Tax (see the third Poll Tax). Or you can read 1066 and All That by Sellar and Yeatman. Not forgetting to take in Chaucer (see Ezra Pound on glossary), Piers Ploughman, Shakespeare, Milton, Pilgrims Progress, John Locke, Adam Smith, the authorized Bible, Isaac Newton, Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, Cobbett’s Rural Rides, John Stuart Mill, Samuel Pepys, Dr Johnson, William Blake, Dickens, the Bab Ballads, Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, A Child of the Jago, The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith, Three Men on the Bummel (chapter 14), England Their England by A G Macdonell, George Orwell, P G Wodehouse, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, the Rainbow, the Boys Own Paper, the Magnet, the Beano, the Dandy, the Wizard and the Eagle. After all that, you may concur with George Bernard Shaw that “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.” Well, you would be right. We have spent the last two thousand years trying to kill each other in the most horrible ways possible. Although we have done for an awful lot of foreigners on the way, we reserve our most vicious bile and malice for our own. British politics is about settling old scores real or imagined and we can hardly wait to put the boot in. However, not being a cynic I am more inclined to the view propagated by Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. “L—d! said my mother, what is this story all about? —A Cock and a Bull said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.”

Display Name said...

The Alina person is of the female persuasion if this Twitter profile is to be believed. Oh, and s/he is following 2 twitters, one of whom is Cambell and the other has had no updates. A Campbell stalker perhaps? Except that I don't suppose you'd gift a stalker an article...

Laurence Penney said...

My favourite part of the Alina Palimaru article is:

“It seems to me that during more than a decade of leadership, Labour has delivered Britain into the 21st century.”

loz said...

Bexley is badly maligned in this article; that "American" article was a joke.