Comment at end
1st June 2010
“PRELUDE TO POWER”
Available from today, hard cover, (£12.50 incl p&p) – Prelude to Power, 1994-1997, by Alastair Campbell
Campbell: TB and I had a long chat about GB. He’s brilliant but flawed, he said, again. “He is like Peter in that he sees things very clearly for other people, but is less clear about himself.”
And: Peter M was getting really bad headaches at the moment and said he was due to see a doctor. He said he would be taking a picture of GB to show the doctor because that was the real reason.
I doubt if Campbell’s extracts will be quite as much fun as Iain Martin’s version here, or that we’ll learn anything new, but here we go –
When Alastair Campbell published The Blair Years in 2007, he withheld the most explosive material. But now, in an exclusive extract from his uncut diaries, he can at last be frank about Blair, Brown and the tensions at the top of New Labour.
The published diaries begin on 12 May 1994, the day John Smith, then Labour leader, died. Alastair Campbell was assistant editor of the now defunct Today newspaper. He was close to Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and several other senior figures inside the Labour party, then 15 years into opposition. That autumn he became Blair’s press secretary.
Thursday 12 May 1994
I went over to Millbank and was due to do ITN down the line first. It hadn’t been confirmed he was dead yet, and as I waited to do the interview, I heard Dermot Murnaghan in the studio saying “God, Campbell looks really miserable, does he know something we don’t?” The news was confirmed not long afterwards.I called TB [Tony Blair, then shadow home secretary] who was up in Aberdeen, and said the speculation is going to start straight away.
He sounded pretty cut up. He said anyone who was seen to be campaigning, or even thinking about the leadership, would get punished. I said I know, but he needs to understand that once the shock is absorbed, the speculation will begin. He said he had the media around him today, and would find a way of making a tribute, and then probably try to head back to London. It really was hard to take in … The mood was definitely for TB. I saw Neil who had been talking to Charles Clarke [head of Kinnock’s office, 1983–92] and Patricia Hewitt [Kinnock’s former press secretary], and he said it was all moving for Blair. Brian Wilson [Scottish Labour MP] said it was a myth that all the Scots would go for GB [Gordon Brown, shadow chancellor]. The feeling was TB was the man for the moment … I bumped into Charlie Whelan [GB’s press officer] and Sarah Macaulay [PR consultant, later GB’s wife] at Rodin’s cafe in the basement at No 4 Millbank. We had a sandwich together. Charlie said there was no way Blair would get unions behind him. I said the question for me was: who do the Tories fear most? I had done a TV thing with Norman Tebbit [former Conservative cabinet minister] earlier, and he was in no doubt TB was the one the Tories did not want because he had an appeal that went beyond traditional Labour leaders, including JS. I did a pre-record with Mark Mardell [BBC journalist] for Newsnight and right at the end, he asked who was going to be the next leader and I just said it: “Tony Blair”.
I bumped into TB later as he was leaving the Commons to go home. “This is all very difficult,” he said. “What do you mean?” “Relationships.” He and GB had had a couple of conversations he said, and it was clear both were coming under pressure to stand, but both agreed it would not be good to stand against each other. He said to call him at home later. I did, and he said he was being inundated with calls and messages saying he had to stand … He didn’t know what GB was up to, but he did feel they had to come to [an] agreement about which one of them should do it. I said for what it’s worth, virtually every single person I have spoken to, apart from committed GB people, are saying you have to go for it. I said the Tories are hoping we go for GB.
I told him what Whelan said regarding the unions, to which he said “That is rubbish. Some won’t, some will.” We agreed his strength was the appeal he was thought to have to the broader public and that would become more apparent in the coming days. Both he and GB were worried that Labour had not really been pushing on hard enough recently.
Whichever one of them went for it, it had to be on a platform of faster change and modernisation. Again, that said TB rather than GB … Tessa [Jowell, Labour MP] paged me to call her. She said I must watch out not to get too tired. She said “Your role in the next few weeks will be crucial, and you must stay fit and strong.” She then added, ” … for Tony.”
Friday 13 May
TB called after he had left the house, angry that he was doorstepped on the way out. I said there will be more of that until it becomes clearer what is happening. He said GB had worked for this moment all his life, and he was not going to step aside easily. He said: “I only want to do what is right.” I said: “If we are talking about doing what is right, then you have to ask who would be better placed to take Labour from where we are to where we need to be: winning.” I could tell he felt that was him, but it was a big psychological step to reverse the general position as perceived, namely that GB was the main man … “I really don’t want to fight Gordon,” he said in a later conversation. “I don’t think that would do anyone any good, not us and certainly not the party.”We spoke several times during the day and he kept saying how difficult it all was. And it is. But the important thing was he had not just rolled over and said “over to you Gordon”. They were going to have to tough it out between themselves, and at least TB sounded like he was beginning to marshal a few arguments.
Saturday 14 May
I called Peter [Mandelson] and asked why he didn’t return my calls yesterday. “You know why.” “No, I don’t.” He said he was incandescent at my Newsnight interview … He said, you are not just a pundit in all this and you know it; he said the TB media bandwagon will work against him if he is not careful.I asked if he was going to support GB and he said I had been wrong to be so unequivocal, and it had been deeply unhelpful. Everything he was saying suggested he was backing GB yet he didn’t answer directly. “Do not imagine GB will just walk away from this. He is a formidable politician and he cannot be ruled out lightly in the way you did.” He said the media wave for TB at the moment was “froth” and would quickly be blown away.
Monday 16 May
I called JP [John Prescott] who said he had called Peter to say there was no point carrying on with all the old enmities. He [Prescott] said there was “no way” Gordon was going to stay as shadow chancellor … he said if Gordon became leader it would be back to all the old stuff, who’s in, who’s out, aides whispering and doing people in, whereas TB is able to work with everyone.
Monday 30 May
It was a bank holiday so worked from home and Peter M came round, fed up. He said Gordon had told him that he felt he had betrayed him. So he was in a position where the people working for TB thought that he had been playing a double game, whereas GB thought he had been supporting TB all along.
Wednesday 1 June
TB called first thing. He said the dinner [at the Granita restaurant, Islington] had gone fine, and GB was going to make an announcement today that he was not standing. He said it would be very important what I write about it because people knew I was close. He said it was vital I talked up GB, and tried to get others in the media to do likewise, and it was also important I talked up the importance of the TB-GB partnership, that they remained good friends and would continue to work together, and the two of them working together was crucial to Labour’s future success. He also wanted me to say that as they were both relatively young, this was a selfless act which left open the chance of him getting the leadership at a later date.
It was pretty clear GB had finally conceded, but driven a hard bargain along the way. That, or TB was just desperate to keep him onside and avoid a fight. In that first call of the day, he was almost exclusively concerned with GB getting what he called a soft landing.
Thursday 2 June
JP [Prescott] called, and was pretty caustic about the whole thing. “Forgive me if I have total contempt for these press people writing all this shit about Brown. He pulled out for one reason only – because he finally realised he could not get the votes. End of story. So to have all this bollocks about it being selfless and all for the party, come off it, it’s rubbish.” … He was effing and blinding the whole time, said there was no way we were going into an election with Brown in sole charge of fucking economic policy.
Tuesday 14 March 1995
[At a meeting with Blair] JP’s temper rose and he really laid into GB – indecisive, not as clever as he thinks he is, not a team player, looking after himself. He said to TB: “You’ve got a real guilt complex about him because you’ve got the job, and he plays at making you feel guilty, and the other one [Peter] wheedles about and makes you think you need him and it’s like you’ve got two fucking monkeys on your back. They get their authority from you and they abuse it. They damage you. If you make the judgment you need them fine, but my judgment is they damage you, and you’ll regret it.”TB: “Look, I am a politician not a psychoanalyst.”
Saturday 15 July, Sydney
Overnight cuttings fine apart from an article in the Guardian that Peter M had been put in charge of a new group. It put TB in a real spin … TB called GB and they had a real up-and-downer. GB was in whingey mode, saying that if TB wanted Peter in charge of policy, fine. TB exploded. “He’s not in charge of fucking policy … I’m trying to get a political show on the road and sometimes I think I’m leading a Toytown party.”
Friday 25 August
[A book by Bryan Gould has “outed” Peter Mandelson] Peter M called later to say he was panicking about the Sundays … He had no doubt now that GB was determined to destroy him if he could. “He has convinced himself that I destroyed his chances of becoming leader and he vowed that day to destroy his destroyer.”
Tuesday 5 December
TB and I had a long chat about GB. He’s brilliant but flawed, he said, again. “He is like Peter in that he sees things very clearly for other people, but is less clear about himself. I can remember the moment when in the back of my mind I felt he would not be leader. It was after the general election when Neil had stepped down, and GB would not even contemplate challenging John Smith. I felt he could have won, that the party might have wanted to jump a generation. But he would not run, no way, and he didn’t want me to run for the deputy leadership. And something in me began to wonder if he really had it in him; whether maybe it was something he preferred to want, rather than to be.”
19 January 1996
TB said it is tragic. The guy devoted his whole life to becoming leader of the Labour party and he feels he had it taken away at the last minute by friends who betrayed him.
Sunday 25 February
TB insisted that he worked like hell to make the partnership work, but GB wouldn’t work with him properly. He said it was like dealing with a girlfriend who every time you looked at another woman thought you were having an affair with them.
Thursday 9 May
The strategy meeting was not just about the speech, but also the campaign on the Lost Generation for next week.A huge amount of work and planning had gone on, at GB’s instigation, involving [David] Blunkett, and Jack Straw’s people. Peter M therefore got very irritated when Gordon said he didn’t think we were ready for it on Monday. Peter and I both sighed volubly, given neither of us had been keen in the first place, but had tried hard to make it happen. Peter got defensive and very hoity-toity and I could sense he was losing it. He said Gordon, this was entirely your idea, we have all been trying to make it work without proper direction from you or your office, and now you are rowing back. They started talking very loudly at each other, just a few decibels short of shouting. … TB, who for once was sitting in the chair by the TV, rather than at his desk or in his usual place on the sofa, said, “For heaven’s sake keep this under control.’ Peter then stood up, said no, I won’t, I’m not taking any of this crap any longer, and he stormed out, slamming the door … Peter came back later to collect his coat and TB said, “You cannot talk to Gordon like that in a room full of people,” and Peter said in that case he was happy to quit doing the job that TB had given him.
“I have had enough. I am not going to put up with it any longer, being undermined by GB and getting no support from here.” He picked up his jacket, walked out again and slammed the door even louder than before. I looked at TB and he looked at me, and we both stood there shaking heads. TB sat down and said: “What am I supposed to do with these fucking people? It is impossible.”
Friday 24 May
TB said to me later that maybe he had to accept Peter and GB would never be able to work together again properly. He said Peter should be under no illusion the onus was on him to make it work. He felt GB was indispensable in a way Peter was not.
Friday 20 September
I think one of the reasons TB is quite chipper is that he has just kind of reconciled that they are not going to work together very well and he’ll just have to work around the situation. He seems to have decided that there is only so much he can do so there is no point losing sleep. JP is there, has huge strengths but can be really hard to work with, so let’s look to the strengths and manage the rest. GB is brilliant but difficult so let’s allow him to decide when he wants to be brilliant and work around him when he’s difficult. Peter M wants to be more engaged but feels rebuffed so let’s make him feel more involved and get him to take the same attitude to GB.
Monday 13 January
At one point, TB just laughed out loud, obviously suddenly struck by the comic nature of the whole thing, where a shadow chancellor was refusing to tell a leader of the opposition what he thought of the economy. TB called him back in later and they had another voices raised meeting, just the two of them. CB [Cherie Blair] told Fiona that Tony was actually now not sleeping well, because he was worried that if he could not get GB working with me and Peter, we would not really have a campaign.
Monday 20 January
[Blair] told me something of their conversation yesterday [about ruling out raising income tax]. “Gordon, as leader of the party, I think I am entitled to be consulted when you are announcing something as important as this.” “I’m consulting you now.” “Yes, half an hour after Charlie has started setting up the briefings on it. You are not consulting, you are telling me it is a fait accompli.”
Monday 27 January
Peter M was getting really bad headaches at the moment and said he was due to see a doctor. He said he would be taking a picture of GB to show the doctor because that was the real reason.
Friday 14 March
Anji [Hunter, Blair aide] told me that when GB left TB’s office on Wednesday, he’d been really upset, and TB said GB admitted he could not get over TB being leader but he had decided to be more balanced and friendly.The Alastair Campbell Diaries Vol One: Prelude to Power, published by Hutchinson on 1 June, £25. To order a copy for £18.99 (inc UK mainland p&p), go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846
Alastair Campbell has requested that the fee for this serialisation be donated to the Labour party
Just released – Prelude to Power, 1994-1997, by Alastair Campbell
MORE FROM CAMPBELL’S DIARIES
Reading John Harris’s “Alastair Campbell: Tears and testosterone at No 10”, I found his interview reveals quite a bit. For instance – “Brown is drawn as a maddening, irrational character, coveting the Labour leadership almost as soon as Blair takes charge, and chucking spanners into New Labour’s works whenever the chance arises [… ]All this seems to have reached its peak by the autumn and winter of 1995-96, described by Campbell in the diaries as “a period of absolute mania”. Even more than usual, Brown is “impossible” and “a pain in the arse”. He and his people conspire to kill Blair’s version of an idea known as the “stakeholder economy” at birth. Campbell experiences the onset of a crippling depression, “the worst it had been for years”. Brown, it seems, was almost literally driving him mad […] Prelude To Power reeks of testosterone. Women are ogled […] Campbell was integral to Labour’s re-election effort, but is quick to cite what he sees as its big mistake. “We didn’t make enough of the record,” he says. “I think it was partly because – and this is not a criticism – when Gordon took over from Tony, that was being defined as the change. A lot of the continuity was lost.”
Alastair Campbell’s diaries reveal Tony Blair’s doubt over leadership bid: “Blair feared big ‘psychological step’ to reverse perception of Gordon Brown as ‘the main man,’ according to first volume”
John Rentoul suggests that most press coverage missed the big stories in AC’s Diaries: one, that Brown was fuming over missing the BIG JOB from the day John Smith died, (and from then made Blair’s life hell.) And, two, that Ed Balls and Tony Blair had the same low regard for each other. (And probably still have.)
- Bryan Gould denies “outing” Peter Mandelson
- Finkelstein, October 2008 – Suggests Blair would be ‘furious’ over Mandelson’s reconciliation with Brown
- New Statesman, June 2009 – Brown & Mandelson – “It’s love”
- BBC – John Prescott, in pictures
- Daily Mail, May 2008 – Cherie Blair reveals Alastair Campbell’s fury over Carole Caplin’s topless photos
Tags: 1994-1997, Alastair Campbell book, Anji Hunter, Campbell's Diaries, Carole Caplin, Cherie Blair, early pictures Blair, ed balls, excerpts, Gordon Brown, John Harris, John Rentoul, John Smith, Neil Kinnock, now available online, Peter Mandelson, Prelude to Power, Tony Blair