- A dispassionate and full account of the Kelly affair by Richard Webster. Read an excerpt from Webster below
- The Independent surprisingly humble on the humility of Campbell
- FT lunch with Campbell – and the bill (for some reason best known to the FT!)
Comment at end
28th October, 2008
CAMPBELL (momentarily suicidal thoughts) AFTER KELLY
“You feel your mind is like a plate of glass, and you’re desperately trying to hold it together. You’re conscious of something being wrong. Everything that you do to try to get it back onto what you imagine is an even keel is just making it worse, and then it just sort of cracks, it just shatters and inside your head you feel this … kind of just … explosion goes off.”
On the Andrew Marr Show (video), Alastair Campbell talked of his novel “All in the Mind”, mental health issues in general, and, as an extension, the stresses he and others were under after David Kelly committed suicide. Also, his thoughts on Brown, Mandelson, the Tories and the Labour party’s prospects.
Tony Blair’s former press spokesman admitted to occasional bouts of depression, alcoholism and psychotic breakdown. To that extent he said his novel is “autobiographical”. He knew about the thought processes and the therapies his characters experienced, so his recently published fiction on mental health was assisted, largely, by his own personal experiences.
He said in his Marr interview, “There is still a huge taboo out there about mental health issues.”
Campbell went on, “One if four people will have some form of mental health problem directly … and I do think sometimes that the pressures of public life and not just in politics … I think sometimes they could be a little bit more understanding of the pressures they are under … “.
Referring to a Norwegian Prime Minister who once stepped aside because he was suffering from chronic depression he said, “his poll rates kind of went went stratospheric because there was a basic understanding. I’m not sure you’d get that basic understanding if a top flight politician were to do that here.”
SO RIGHT! Aided and abetted by our feral press you’d get, “Told you he was nuts!”
Marr spent the second half of the 12 minute interview on Campbell’s thoughts on Brown and the present government, as was to be expected.
But I found Blair’s former press secretary’s references to his personal ‘momentary’ thoughts on suicide by far the most revelatory (almost 4 minutes into the interview).
(Ed: On a personal note, lest you wonder, the thought has never crossed my mind. Murder, perhaps, occasionally, but never suicide!)
The fact that Campbell, if only for a moment, contemplated at a deeply personal level how people were driven to suicide, was intriguing. If it had been anyone else admitting to that train of thought, the deeply affected individual would have been treated sympathetically by the press. (Unless it was the former PM, of course, in which case he’d have been helped on his miserable way by the scurrilous press.)
But instead the incredulous and uniquely cruel British press following their agenda of guilty until proven innocent, revelled in Campbell’s disclosure and it could be argued, encouraged this self-destructive leaning. By any measure of human generosity, the response of some of them was completely unforgivable. Towards a man who was clinically depressed, susceptible to breakdown and suffered regular crises of confidence I found it shameful.
“Ahah!”, screamed the press worthies, “He wasn’t suggesting that politicians and those around them are people too? With human frailties and weaknesses, even liable to despair at times, like the rest of us? Who’s he kidding?”
INTERVIEW CLIP TRANSCRIPT
Marr (referring to Campbell’s diaries (written almost daily as it happened) – “The Blair Years”:“You said that … I have to ask you about this … when David Kelly killed himself you thought about topping yourself. Is that true?”
Campbell: “It is true in that there was a … I mean it was when I was …”
Marr: “You thought about suicide …”
Campbell: “Well, you see I think this thing about … look I didn’t … I think everybody in their lives at some point thinks, ‘God, would life be better, would the world be better if you just kind of disappeared?’ – because at the time the stress that everybody was under – somebody had taken their life – the inquiry was proceeding in a way that frankly if it had gone in a different direction, not just I was finished but Tony Blair and the government was finished. And that sort of sense of pressure and the responsibility that you feel upon you – and what I wrote in the diary – I was driving down to Marseilles airport to collect my diaries having been told I had to submit them to the judge, and I just, you know, it was a momentary thought. At no point did I think actually about killing myself, but I kind of at that moment knew what a suicidal thought was – put it that way.”
I recall The Daily Mail responding to this Diary extract, in its incessant hunt for political blood on 8th October, 2006.
Alastair Campbell was denounced as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘shabby’ after the former No 10 spindoctor described how the death of Dr David Kelly sent him spiralling into depression.
Mr Campbell, who had a drink-fuelled mental breakdown a decade before Tony Blair came to power, admitted that his depression continued in government.
The interview shows that his concern for Dr Kelly’s fate was tempered by the effect on himself and Mr Blair as they waited to hear whether Lord Hutton would condemn the Government’s behaviour.
Mr Campbell said: ‘I did feel if the inquiry had gone against us that it would have been grim, really bad. Part of me was thinking about that a lot. Again it was one of those episodes where things spiralled out of control.
‘Let’s be brutally frank: if it had gone against us, it wasn’t just me who was out of a job, it was Tony. It was a phenomenal pressure. The blood they smelled was mine.
‘During the whole period it was a nightmare. And also you are thinking, there’s this guy for whom it’s been such a nightmare he’s killed himself. The day he died was without doubt the worst day. It was about the sadness that someone felt driven to do this.’
THE MAIL’S DESCRIPTION OF CAMPBELL AS “ABHORRENT” AND “SHABBY” WAS DESPICABLE, IF, SADLY, TYPICAL OF ITS MODUS OPERANDI
Campbell’s account would have left right-thinking people feeling a touch guilty for their constant refrains of ‘evil, manipulative politicians and spin-men out to get David Kelly’.
Of course, by definition, that kind of conscience excludes the Mail. I can’t help but feel that even if Mr Campbell had been driven to suicide, given that he admits his mental condition was such that he ‘often collapsed in tears’, the refrain from such as these would have been, “ah, well, it was only because he was guilty and knew he’d be found out”.
David Kelly’s suicide was also the lowest spot ‘thus far’ of Tony Blair’s career, as mentioned too in Cherie’s recent book.
You may recall the press question thrown at the then Prime minister while he was in Japan, the day after Mr Kelly’s body was found. Asked by a British journalist, “have you got blood on your hands, Prime Minister”, he was stunned into silence.
I have found no record that he recovered enough to answer this heavily laden question at all.
Since it had been decreed that he was clearly NOT a human being, this left his enemies to assume the blood was up to his elbows.
It seemed unfair, cruel, wrongly directed and disrespectful to me at that time. And I wasn’t into the Blair phenomenon as I am now. I just remember wondering how low some journalists have to stoop to be noticed.
I still wonder, when I force myself to read these “opinion formers”.
CAMPBELL ON BROWN
I’m not going back to my old job … but I will help, but do not want a full time position.
Mr Campbell has reportedly been offering the government advice on its public relations strategy.
Asked whether he had been offered a post, he said: “I’ve never stopped talking to Gordon and other people in the government and the Labour Party…
“I just cannot stand the sight of seeing these Tories getting terribly smug… I will help but I’m not going to go back to a full-time position.”
Asked what went wrong for Brown, Campbell said, “First, the on/off election – the public decided no we’re thinking about this guy in a different way”.
But he added, “Gordon in the economic crisis is a round peg in a round hole- he is getting through to the public.”
On party funding
“There’s a real difficulty – 24/7 media media knocking – the public saying they are all the same – but we have to have parties, Prime Ministers and so forth”. And “until all parties sign up to a different sort of system it’ll be very difficult to change it.”
LABOUR MUST “REDISCOVER A BIT OF FIGHT” AHEAD OF THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION
He added: “The Labour Party, from top to bottom, has got to find a bit of fight.
“There’s not been nearly enough of a robust defence of our record… We need a co-ordinated, concerted campaign.”
Describing the media’s treatment of the Tories as “getting away with murder” he said he believed that the Tories have not thought through their position, and that they do not have “that gigantic a poll lead”.
Referring to Labour’s record, Campbell said there had not been “nearly enough of a robust defence of their very good record in government since 1997.”
My thoughts exactly, but YOU know why that is, Mr Campbell: most of the good stuff was of Blair’s doing, most of the bad stuff was the former chancellor’s. Don’t want to give the press too much to dissect, do we now?
Excerpt from Richard Webster’s account:
He [Kelly] said that he had only met Watts once, in November 2002, some six months before the relevant reports were broadcast. Chidgey then said: ‘Can I just be clear on this: I understand that these notes refer to meetings that took place shortly before the Newsnight broadcasts that would have been on 2 and 4 June.’ Kelly replied: ‘I have only met Susan Watts on one occasion [ie in November] which was not on a one-to-one basis, it was at the end of a public presentation.’
Only later, questioned by a different member of the committee, and asked explicitly whether he had ‘met or talked to’ Watts more recently, did Kelly admit that he had spoken to her ‘four or five times’ on the telephone and may have done so at the relevant time. This information was clearly vital and a witness who was being entirely frank would have volunteered it initially. In answering the questions put to him Kelly may have persuaded himself that he was telling the truth. But he was clearly not telling the whole truth.
Campbell’s Diaries, Mirror, 9th July 2007
CAMPBELL thought of quitting after the suicide of Government scientist Dr David Kelly, the source of a BBC story claiming Campbell had “sexed-up” intelligence before the Iraq war.
He said in the interview: “When they said a body had been found, I wanted to quit there and then.
“I knew what was coming. Then Tony phoned me from the plane, and I said: ‘Look, Tony, I just want to go’.
“I never met David Kelly but I inadvertently became a part of his life and death. In a way he’ll be with me forever.”
Australian interview: 16th July 2007 – Praises Blair
ANDREW DENTON: With respect, and you’re a fantastic communicator which is why you were so successful at your job, but it does seem, you do seem rather holier than thou about a media with whom you’ve been deeply complicit and antagonistic and part of that’s how it comes across to me sitting here.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well I’m sorry about that. I’ve never felt holier than thou and as you know, I don’t do the God thing, so I’m not sure holiness will ever set upon my…halo. But I’m one of the few people who’s been at senior level in journalism, and a senior position…in government and this isn’t a fashionable thing to say, but during that last 25 years, 27 years when I’ve been in those two careers, my respect for the media, I’ve got to tell you, has plummeted, and my respect for politics has risen because I’ve seen how hard it is for the politicians actually to make change happen. And I was privileged to work alongside a guy who has made so much change in this country happen. So much change around the world and it’s going to endure.