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July 18, 2007

Alastair Campbell performed an important public service for all of us - Harry Phibbs explains why: The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries

Posted by Harry Phibbs

The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries
by Alastair Campbell
Pp. 794. London: Hutchinson, 2007
Hardback, 25

Assorted former cabinet ministers have already written their memoirs but now we finally have an account of The Blair Years from someone who really knew what was going on.

There should be a heavy health warning, of course. Campbell has admitted that this account has been edited not to include the most interesting material but to keep it out. He has tried to avoid including material that might embarrass the Labour Party or his old boss Tony Blair. It would also be naive to suddenly expect Campbell to be transformed into an objective, or even truthful, source of record.

Yet there is enough cringe making awfulness that got through to publication that on is left wondering: If this is the sanitised version just how bad was the truth?

On the other hand there is something of an irony that the book has seen the light of day at all. When he was a spin doctor Campbell's job included rubbishing the memoirs that others produced. Campbell may be a workaholic bully but he also has an immensely childish streak and simply couldn't resist the chance to settle plenty of old scores.

Not having followed the soap opera aspect of Tony Blair's courtiers quite closely enough I had a vague idea that Campbell and Mandelson were friends. Yet the book records Mandelson hitting Campbell. A later encounter indicated little improvement in Mandelson's temperament towards his co-workers on the "project". Nothing is more embarrassing than flouncing out and then finding you have forgotten something and having to flounce back in again. So my sympathies to Peter Mandelson, or Lord Mandelson as he is about to become, for Campbell's diary entry of 9th May 1996.

After Gordon Brown announced he wanted to delay a campaign that Mandelson had been working on, Mandelson and Brown began shouting. Blair said:

For Heaven's sake keep this under control.
Campbell continues:
Peter then stood up and said, no I won't. I'm just not taking any of this crap any longer, and he stormed out....Peter came back later to collect his coat.
Perhaps the most hypocritical aspect of this volume is Campbell criticising colleagues for their enjoyment of publicity and the chance to mingle with the rich and famous. When Robin Cook's marriage breaks up Campbell detects that part of Cook likes the extent of the media attention as it is a measure of his enhanced status. When Peter Mandelson resigns over the mortgage scandal and Campbell visits his office there is dismay at the prominence given to a Christmas card from the Prince of Wales, and so on.

But Campbell has a huge ego, relishes the attention and the people he meets. There is no shortage of celebrity name dropping. Encounters with Diana Princess of Wales are gleefully recorded. Campbell records in his diary being impressed by the size of Bill Clinton's feet -

size 13 that looked even bigger. He said that once he and Boris Yeltsin swapped shoes to see who had the biggest feet and Clinton did.
These diaries also confirms Campbell's reputation for being enormously childish. Recording a visit to Japan with Tony Blair shortly before Blair's election as Prime Minister, Campbell writes:
A Japanese businessman said: "Ra whole of Japan is rookin fowad to your erection." I said we are hoping for a big one and TB spluttered while the Jap put his thumbs up and said "Big one, Big one".
A new Benny Hill is discovered. But I wonder what the Commission for Racial Equality will make of it?

When Robin Cook drove to Heathrow Airport due to head off on holiday with his wife Margaret, Alastair Campbell rang him to say he would have to choose between his wife or his mistress Gaynor as the News of the World had the story and "clarity" was needed. But in his diaries Campbell discloses that Tony Blair was looking for a third way. Campbell writes on 1st August 1997:

TB said it was ridiculous. He said maybe it is possible to love two people at the same time. Oh yeah, I said, and Cherie would accept that would she?
The next day Campbell went ahead with his family holiday in France but continued to direct everything via his mobile phone in his car. Campbell writes:
The kids in the back were following it like some kind of soap opera. Where's Gaynor, what's Margaret doing now, is Robin going to live with Gaynor? It all made the journey go a lot quicker than it would otherwise have done.
Delightful. But as a workaholic I suppose Campbell either involved the children in his work or would have had little time to see them.

One positive result of Alastair Campbell's ego, from Tony Blair's point of view, was that Campbell revelled in privately belittling and ridiculing Blair. He was the one fulfilling the role of telling the great leader, Remember you are mortal. Campbell's motive may have been atrocious - surly contempt for the British establishment of which swearing at the Prime Minister was as much part as was his disdain for the rules on civil service impartiality or his phoning to demand to use the Prince of Wales's swimming pool at Highgrove. But the reality check it gave to the man who was our Prime Minister for ten years and was besieged by flatters was surely a public service.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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Whatever Harry Phibbs is, he is not a journalist. What a load of old tendencious tosh.

Posted by: A Reader at July 24, 2007 01:39 AM
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