Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alistair Campbell Diaries

I had that Alistair Campbell in the back of my cab once. The thing is, it wasn't a cab. I was picking him up for radio sports show and I had to wait for ages for him. And he climbed in the back, which I thought was a bit strange. If I'd seen Curb Your Enthusiasm at that point, I'd have been tempted to pull a Ben Stiller on him. If he'd been slightly less terrifying.

In fact, he was perfectly polite and I'll be meeting him again soon - he's doing something for my new station - but for the big journalists at the time he was the devil incarnate. The real Malcolm Tucker. The real author of the dodgy dossier. The real killer of David Kelly! I've actually got a bit more sympathy for him now

He's intelligent, humane and a born communicator and his diaries are a great read (listen actually - and he reads it himself, but you get used to his drone.) A part time historian tells him at one point that he wishes there were similar accounts from centuries past (Thomas Cromwell's would've been nice.) All the characters are painted wonderfully, from the idealistic and infuriating TB to the ghastly Queen of the Harpies CB; from the accident prone popinjay PM (whom Campbell has a punch up with), to the brooding weirdo timebomb GB. I was only confused by the use of initials once - all the way through I couldn't believe how close to the centre of power John Prescott was, and how much his advice was listened to. It wasn't till the end that I realised JP was Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell.

These were only extracts, but it goes through the death of Diana (after a few bouts of shameless flirting between the two) the resignation of Robin Cook, the Millenium Dome, Gordon Brown being a dick, Peter Mandelson being a dick, Prince Charles being a dick, Cherie Blair being a fanny. All great stuff. But 911 only happens towards the end of the penultimate CD, so Iraq, Gilligan, Kelly, Hutton is all squeezed into the last CD.

So let's get into it. Kelly: at one point Philip Gould (New Labour's man behind the throne) makes the very good point that David Kelly killed himself because David Kelly killed himself. And of course he wasn't murdered - no-one benefitted, for a start. On the dodgy dossier, it's not so clear. Certainly not from these extracts, though he does deny putting pressure on the intelligence services to get the political outcome they wanted. But should've he been involved at all? The stuff about the Gilligan row with the BBC is very good, but murky. There are dangerous waters when the national broadcaster feels forced into becoming the official opposition when something as controversial as the Iraq War happens.

Strange days. This is only one side of the story of course, but an important and entertaining one. My big worry about Campbell's influence is shown early on - he thinks Blair's move on Clause 4 is bold. He thinks his approach to Northern Ireland is bold. His actions on Iraq were certainly bold. I think what he's done there is mixed up bold with wise. Ah well, their hearts were in the right place.

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