Alastair Campbell – The Blair Years

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Through the highs and lows, Alastair Campbell, press supremo, was at Tony Blair’s side. Watch Campbell on his diaries

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ALASTAIR CAMPBELL’S DIARIES – THE BLAIR YEARS

(WARNING: Don’t read on if you intend to read the book in your own time)

Watch Alastair Campbell interview on “Hard Talk” on 11 July, 2007 (24 mins)
Campbell on the press and politicians: “The journalists don’t matter … the people that matter are the guys who put their heads above the parapets, who took the tough decisions.”

29th July, 2007

  • On 13th February, 2002, when Campbell said he was resigning Blair tried to persuade him to stay. TB said, “If I die tomorrow, they would say he was the guy who modernised the Labour party, made it electable, won two landslides, sorted the economy, improved public services, Bank of England, Kosovo, Northern Ireland. They would barely remember the frenzies we have survived, so always remember the big things, the big reasons why we’re doing it.
  • Brown was more anti-Livingston for London mayor than was Blair.
  • Clinton was in ‘real red-hot anger’ to Blair over US press coverage that Blair was showing toughness on land troops in Kosovo, and Clinton was weak. Clinton said in an hour long phone call to Blair: “There is a price to pay and you will pay it.”
  • Blair’s instincts deserted him at the Women’s Institute speech; After the WI disaster of June 2000 Blair, father of a 4th child, felt his confidence slump.
  • Fox hunting ban: Blair “agonised” over it, as he thought it was “illiberal” & “not him”.
  • A lot of Destruction around. Re Hinduja, Mandelson resigned for 2nd time, though in the end an inquiry cleared him. He said the press wanted to destroy him, but that, “Ultimately it’s the PM they want to destroy and they will stop at nothing to do it.” He blamed Brown whose people got these stories out as they wanted to “destroy him”.
  • Tony Blair warned Gordon Brown in 2001, only six months after leading Labour to its second landslide election victory that he would not support Brown as his replacement if he was ousted from office.

Mr Blair’s threat to withhold support if there was a coup was made at a private dinner with Mr Brown in December 2001. This might explain how long it took for Blair to publicly support Brown in recent months. Only when it was inevitable, and there was no contest, thus the party interest came first, did Blair come out to back Brown.

21st July, 2007

EU Conference, March 1999

BLAIR: “I THOUGHT HE [SCHROEDER] WAS GOING TO HIT ME

Holding on to the British EU rebate meant Blair had to show the home audience (mainly the press) that he was not lacking in the tough Thatcher department. Regarding discussions with Schroeder and Chirac, he said to Campbell: “It’s not much fun having your balls squeezed by a German who is being wound up by a Frenchman”. And later in the conference, after a confrontation with the German Chancellor, who told him germanically to go away, he reported to Campbell, “I thought he was going to hit me”.

18th July, 2007

Couple of points of interest:

On April 14th 1997, prior to their first general victory, Blair said: “There has never been a general election when the focus is so much on one person. This election, when you boil it down, is all about me, and whether I am fit to be Prime Minister. It’s kind of scary at times”.

Blair admitted always being “dependent” on people.

During the Northern Ireland negotiations, on April 9th 1998, Blair said to Campbell: “Get out a briefing that there is a battle between an irresistible force and an immovable object. The irresistible force is the legacy and the baggage. The immovable object is me”.

During the Northern Ireland negotiations Blair was at “his infuriating best”. He was like a man possessed.

13th July, 2007

AN ONEROUS JOB

It was the last of the BBC series tonight covering the book. It was concerned with 9/11, Iraq, Kelly and Hutton. In the end, after being cleared by Hutton, Campbell left his job with these parting words from Blair, “you know I’ll ring you every day”. He replied, “fine, as long as you know I won’t always be there”.

Not surprising. If it’s anything like accurate, Campbell’s oft-mentioned tears were less of tantrums but more of despair and distress. What a job!

BUT NOT AS ONEROUS AS THIS ONE

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After Campbell and Mandelson departed Blair in the end was on his own. True there were others, like Brown, responsible for New Labour. But their personal commitment and loyalty were not so fully or freely given. Since 2003, Blair has faced press accusations and attack without Campbell, the consummate press manager. And without the loyal political colleague he had in Mandelson. I imagine only his family and faith have kept him sane.

[Pics: Top row – Mandelson resigning in Parliament; Blair and Campbell;]

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[Pics: Bottom row – Blair, Campbell and Brown; Blair & Family, Downing Street.]

I don’t really CARE whether people think I’m soft touch – but I’ve found Alastair Campbell’s book unexpectedly moving. The bad press it got before its publication was undeserved. I’ve just read this bit about Blair talking about his mother who died when he was young:

Sep 19th 1996 – ‘Asked in an interview if he ever felt stalked by tragedy … when he talked about his mum he really opened up, and I found it quite moving [ … ] there was a real naturalness and warmth in his words, and a look in his eyes that was half fond, half sad, and when he had finished talking about her, he just did a little nod and a sigh and then looked out of the window. What would she make of where you are now? I asked. Heaven knows, he said. I think she would be anxious for me, but proud. He said the thing that his mother’s death had given him was a sense of urgency, the feeling that life is short, it can be cut even shorter, and you should pack in as much as you can while you’re here, and try to make a difference.’

His mother would have been proud that her son has tried and succeeded in making a difference, perhaps especially as regards Northern Ireland.

12th July, 2007

For a quick resume of the Best Bits go here. Saves me writing my own version. I have found it compulsive thus far and I haven’t got to 1997 yet! It’s intriguing how much daily stress there seemed to be, balancing competing egos and political approaches. Getting people to sing from the same hymn sheet was an ongoing battle, though such as Prescott seemed to have more focus than some others. The unions, largely, had it in for Blair from the beginning and he never quite won them over. He thought they and the early shadow cabinet, were “not serious people”. Perhaps the reason for his developing his ‘presidential style’ – a way of sidestepping the Old Labour type debates. He seems instinctively to want to discuss and bring people together, but when it seems impossible, he retreats into a comfort/survival zone of a few advisers – in order to keep the party alive and serious.

Campbell, the ‘hard man’, was emotional at times, and was driven to tears quite often.

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[Pic: Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson shared a high regard for Tony Blair, as well as Blair’s vision of New Labour]

He was attacked by Mandelson and not vice-versa. Kinnock, as a friend of Campbell’s was vituperative against his working with Blair, which he said would NOT be good for Campbell, though WOULD be good for Blair. Kinnock also opposed much of Blair’s reforming agenda, which he saw as Thatcherite, despite his starting off the whole process. On one occasion Campbell feared the kettle of boiling water in Kinnock’s hand when K. was throwing a wobbly!

11th July, 2007

HIGH SPOTS SO FAR (I’ll call Blair ‘TB’ as does AC – Campbell)

  • From the start of his leadership TB seems to be an emollient, inclusive and mature source of stability in the mixture, seeing the best in all – Brown, Prescott, Mandelson, Campbell, Cook and urging them to pull together.
  • TB hated parliamentary set pieces – “nightmarish” – right from the start, saying, “you’ve no idea how nerve-wracking it was”. Amazing how he came to dominate incomparably such occasions.
  • TB did not want to emphasise the “sleaze” of the previous government; felt it diminished overall trust in politics.
  • He thought Brown a brilliant strategic thinker.
  • Feb 4th 1995 – fisticuffs between Mandelson & Campbell. They made up afterwards, and still remained friends, although Mandelson made it clear that he found AC abrasive and insensitive on numerous occasions. There seems to have been a competition between them for TB’s affections – though TB wanted both on board. Big Daddy with the kids!
  • Tory Alan Clarke says after TB speech of 5th Feb 1995 (Clause 4) “I’ve come to the view that your boy is a VERY serious figure. I loved his speech. “

10th July, 2007

GOT THE BOOK – Don’t read the below if you don’t want to know.

First impressions: Seems quite interesting actually. I like how there is a line at the foot of each page to describe what’s on it.

Media power and abuse of that power mentioned heavily at the start by Campbell.

So far, it’s been about persuading Prescott that ‘New Labour’ is a good idea. General acceptance, but the dumping of Clause 4 at Blair’s first party conference as party leader not yet known by all. Campbell being advised by Kinnock NOT to work for Blair and put up with the sh**** press!

Only got up to Christmas of 1994 and Blair depressed at times over the weight of having to be a psychologist to get all to work together. Tories flummoxed by Blair at PMQs (so nothing new there. Press largely onside at this stage. Blair not happy to dwell on Tories’ previous sleaze stuff – thinks dwelling on it it detracts from all politics.

9th July, 2007

MO & THE BLAIR NAKED TRUTH

I almost had kittens earlier. Radio 4’s PM was rumbling away quietly in the background when I heard Kevin McGuire of the Daily Mirror saying that in his book, Campbell tells of how he had “walked in on Tony Blair & Mo Mowlam naked on several occasions”.

WHAT! WHAT? THE SAINTED PAIR? …. AT IT? …. I DON’T beLIEVE it!

Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Jumping between thinking, “Attaboy” and “God, hasn’t he got enough to seek forgiveness for?” I waited to hear it blasted all over the six o’clock news! Nothing.

So I listened again at the BBC website. Sure enough I can now delete the picture that’s been hanging uncomfortably between my ears ever since. McGuire had actually said that Campbell had “walked in on Blair and Mowlam naked on separate occasions”.

Seems standing around reading the paper in the buff (TB) or lying in the bath in an unlocked bathroom (Mo) was par for the course for Labour politicians.

Phew ….! That was close.

See Sky’s video on the Campbell Book

Read highlights of the Book – I enjoyed Blair’s approach over Mandelson’s quitting, 1999:

He (Blair) was out on a fishing boat and halfway through the conversation said suddenly, “Hold on, I think I’ve got a fish.” He handed the phone to Bill Lloyd [protection officer], who then gave me a detailed running commentary as he brought the fish in until I said: “Bill, I could not give a flying fuck about his fish.”I then listened to shouts and hollers and “wow”s until TB came back and said, “You should see the size of the fish I’ve just caught.” I said I was so pleased for him. “Yeah, OK,” he said, now sounding hurt.

BLAIR RESCUED BROWN FROM LOO – I think!

Radio 4’s noon news today said that Blair locked Brown in the loo in the Granita restaurant until Brown agreed to allow Blair a free run at the party leadership. Of course, this was NOT the case, as told by Alastair Campbell. They were at the house of a friend when Brown got locked in. Blair’s remark was made in a light-hearted way, following their discussions on the leadership, as he stood outside the loo trying to get Brown out. A joke, in other words. Pasted below – the BBC website report on the incident:

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Pasted from BBC News page

Gordon Brown once locked himself into a toilet and had to be freed by Tony Blair, according to ex-Downing Street press spokesman Alastair Campbell’s diaries. Mr Brown and Mr Blair met at a friend’s house in Edinburgh shortly after the death of the Labour leader John Smith.

They were discussing who should replace him.

The diaries, which refer to Mr Blair as TB and Mr Brown as GB, say: “TB was clear he should stand because he felt that was the best chance for the party, but GB was not convinced. At one point, GB went to the toilet.

“Minutes passed and TB was sitting twiddling his thumbs and even wondered if GB had done a runner. Eventually the phone went.

“TB left it, so then the answering machine kicked in and GB’s disembodied voice came on: ‘Tony. It’s Gordon. I’m locked in the toilet.’

“They both ended up laughing about it. TB went upstairs and said: ‘You’re staying there until you agree.’ ”

The two men later made a deal at a London restaurant, Granita, where Mr Brown agreed to step aside to give Mr Blair a clear run at the Labour leadership.

It has been widely reported that in return he was given a promise that he would be able to wield huge power as chancellor, and that Mr Blair would step down and hand over power to him at some point in the future.

Now, I’d have been highly delighted if it had been Blair doing the locking and not the unlocking, but it just shows how easily the press can be responsible for getting a story wrong. Wonder how soon the tale of the Blair Big Fist locking up Brown will become folklore?

Sky News’s take on the Campbell Diaries

‘TODAY’ INTERVIEW OF ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

This morning, John Humphrys interviewed (listen here) Alastair Campbell on his Blair Years book. Humphrys angle was clearly that he did not accept both Iraq inquiries’ reports and also that Campbell was largely to be blamed for all the lack of trust in Blair and for ‘misrepresenting’ the WMD evidence. So Humphrys mind seems made up, it would seem.

IRAQ – ‘ALL HAD DOUBTS APART FROM BLAIR’

Interesting that Campbell says that ALL others in government had doubts about Iraq, apart from Blair. But NONE of them, apart from Robin Cooke, resigned because of their doubts. Clare Shorte might not have been “shot” by the PM, as he and Campbell joked, but her resignation came later. Why did Brown not resign? Collective responsibility?

And it seems that John Prescott was being lined up as a caretaker PM if Blair lost the Iraq vote in parliament. He was resigned to resigning in that eventuality.

There may well be some re-writing of history going on, but that has been going on for some time by ALL sides. It’s all down to where individuals and groups in the party REALLY stood on the changes and the policies. Whatever, Labour should remember that it is unlikely that they would ever have been in power for three or even two terms without Tony Blair’s New Labour agenda.

8th July, 2007

THE BLAIR YEARS

Now that Alastair Campbell’s book is about to hit the shelves, we can expect weeks of analyses from the opinionated, the biased, the naysayers and even the empathetic.

I have selected a few little snippets to give you a taste.

To read some excerpts in pdf format as well as short videos of The Blair Years, go here.

Read the BBC’s report here. The Sunday Times has quite a lengthy resume here.

On 7th July at his website, Alastair Campbell said this:

alastaircampbellinterview.jpg“What I am really hoping for is that once the noise fades, what will be left is a good book that is at heart a warts and all account of a remarkable Prime Minister during a remarkable period of change. I saw him on Friday to deliver a copy of the book. He seemed very content to be out of office, and fizzing with ideas for the future.”

Well, I’m happy if Mr Blair is happy and especially if he’s ‘fizzing’. I don’t like to think that he might be struggling to cope out of office and worrying daily about his legacy. The future’s good. Soon I might even feel sufficiently content to stop adding to this blog, some of you will be relieved to know.

An extract is pasted below, dated Saturday, April 26, 1997, on working with the Liberal Democrats. So there’s nothing new about Brown’s advances of 2007. In 1997, from a likely position of strength, Blair was willing to share power. Today, from a much weaker position, Brown is doing the same thing. Blair was flummoxed by the Left of his party (and reportedly Brown) pre and post 1997 when he tried again to “work with others”. Today Brown has been given greater leeway. Why? Because today’s Labour party needs “the others” more than they did in 1997. So which of these PMs was the more inclusive political animal?

Bringing the Liberal Democrats into government

“We were holding up really well
in the polls. Richard Branson
[head of Virgin] was going to be
the big thing today. Again, it
would help in terms of mood,
the sense of things going in our
direction. My favourite story
was ‘Major takes charge of
campaign’. Where the hell had
he been up to now? Meanwhile,
TB was getting stronger all the
time. I got there just before 7
and he stunned me straight out
with the boldest plan yet. ‘How
would people feel if I gave
Paddy a place in the Cabinet and
started merger talks?’ Fuck me. I
loved the boldness of it, but
doubted he could get it through
the key players. He had the
Clause 4 glint in his eye. He’d
hinted at it a few times in the
past, but this sounded like a
plan. He was making a cup of
tea, and chuckling. ‘We could
put the Tories out of business for
a generation.”

Extract 2:

Bowing out early

On July 11th 2oo2, Blair let it be known that he wanted to stand down before a third term. He did not wish to lead the party into a third election.

“On July 11, 2002, TB asked a
group of his advisers if we
thought he should announce
publicly that he would not lead
Labour into the next election. It
was something we discussed on
and off over the next few weeks.
Thursday, July 11, 2002
TB called me through and we
went out for a chat on the
terrace. Philip [Gould] had
briefed him on how his trust
ratings had really dipped. He
said ‘In truth I’ve never really
wanted to do more than two full
terms.’ It was pretty clear to me
that he had just about settled his
view, that he would sometime
announce it, say that he was
going to stay for the full term,
but not go into the election as
leader. The big question was the
same as before – does it give
him an authority of sorts, or does
it erode that authority, and do
people just move automatically
towards GB?”

Extract 3

Iraq – Blair persuades Parliament

March 2003

The day before the
defining Commons vote
on Iraq, Robin Cook
resigned, adding to a
sense of crisis and a Prime
Minister’s future on the line as
he sought to persuade
Parliament to support military
action.
Monday, March 17, 2003
TB started Cabinet, introduced
Goldsmith, then Clare came in
and asked Sally where Robin
was. ‘He’s gone,’ said Sal. ‘Oh
my God.’ TB’s only reference to
Robin was to say that he had
resigned. Peter Goldsmith went
through the answer on legal
authority to use force. One by
one, a succession of colleagues
expressed support for TB, then
Clare said she owed them ‘a
short statement’, that she
intended to reflect overnight.
She said publication of the
Roadmap was significant but we
shouldn’t kid ourselves that it
means it is going to happen. She
said she admired the effort and
energy that had gone into getting
a second resolution but there had
been errors of presentation. ‘I’m
going to have my little agonising
overnight. I owe it to you.’ JP,
John Reid and one or two others
looked physically sick. JR spoke
next, said never underestimate
the instincts for unity and
understand that we will be
judged by the Iraq that replaces
Saddam’s Iraq, and by the
Middle East. Derry said he felt
we would have got a second
resolution if the French hadn’t
been determined to scupper it,
and said we had made so much
effort to get a second resolution
that it had led to people thinking
we actually needed one. Paul
Murphy was just back from
America and said what an
amazing feeling there was
towards us there. ‘It’s not quite
the same here,’ said TB.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Debate day dominant. GWB’s

statement overnight had come
out fine. They had taken in all
our changes, the ultimatum was
calm and strong, the tone
towards Iraqi people
compassionate, the commitment
to the Middle East peace process
was in there strong, and all the
bellicose stuff either taken out or
conditional. So to be fair, they
had delivered big-time for us.
The Robin resignation speech,
and the standing ovation in parts
of the House, was still getting a
lot of play but I sensed that was
the high point of the rebellion.
TB was on the phone to Blunkett
who was warning him that John
Denham would resign. Also
Philip Hunt [Lords minister]
went on the radio to resign. That
seemed to be about it at the
moment. TB was in a pretty
calm mood. He felt we were
winning some people over on
the arguments, but we had a
problem in that there were a lot
of our MPs who had promised
their local parties that they
wouldn’t support without a
second resolution. This was the
unintended effect of the point
Derry made yesterday, that we
fought so hard to get one that
people assumed we needed one
before action.”

View the PMQs video of Tony Blair’s Iraq war announcement 19th March 2003

20th March 2003 – Blair announces to the nation – Iraq invasion begins

At 2200 GMT British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a live televised address to the nation. He confirmed British troops were in action in Iraq. He said their purpose was to remove Saddam Hussein and disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

Click to go to Alastair Campbell’s site to read more extracts

Read Campbell’s thoughts on Blair at PMQs
Tony Blair’s former press chief Alastair Campbell has published his diaries. The Blair Years cover the run-up to the 1997 election win through to the Iraq War’s aftermath.

A selection of extracts from the BBC website

BLAIR RELATIONS WITH BROWN

Tony Blair (TB) warned Gordon Brown (GB) as early as December 2001 that he would only support the Chancellor as his replacement if he was not forced from office, according to Alastair Campbell’s diaries

He describes a “difficult” dinner on 19 December 2001 where Mr Blair and Mr Brown discussed his succession.

“TB had given him a pretty frank assessment of why he (TB) was generally thought to be an OK PM – because he had breadth, could deal with a stack of different things at once, and get on with a range of people. He told him he still believed he was easily the best person to follow him but he was not going to support him in circumstances where he felt he was being forced out.”

Mr Campbell says has taken out a lot of his diary entries relating to the Blair Brown relationship. But some material remains. On polling day, May 1 1997, he describes the “bad tempered conversations” between both men on the forthcoming reshuffle, with Mr Brown wanting the full list of junior ministers, although they had not yet been finalised.

On 17 February 2001, he describes how some of Gordon Brown’s supporters were upset at Mr Blair agreeing to an air strike against Iraq. “His (Brown’s) disciples seemed to think we had deliberately bombed Iraq as a way of minimising coverage,” he writes (referring to Gordon Brown’s Labour spring conference speech). “They really seemed to believe it too.”

On Monday April 29 2002, Mr Campbell writes about Mr Blair’s worries about ministers transferring their loyalty to Mr Brown. “TB’s big concern re the GB situation was the feeling that ministers were unsure what their instincts were meant to be, because though we were the present, they realised GB was the future. TB needed to be clear that they were answerable to him.”

IRAQ

7 September 2002, on persuading President Bush to go to the UN over Iraq: “As we left Bush joked to me, ‘I suppose you can tell the story of how Tony flew in and pulled the crazy unilateralist back from the brink.’ ”

On 28 February 2003, after just 5% of people questioned in Spain back the war: “TB said to [Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria] Aznar that 4% was roughly the number you could get in a poll for people who believed Elvis was alive, so he had a struggle.”

On 17 March 2003, the eve of the Commons decision on Iraq: “JP [John Prescott], John Reid and one or two others looked physically sick. [John Reid] said… we will be judged by the Iraq that replaces Saddam.”

On the day of the Iraq vote, Mr Campbell writes: “TB’s speech in the house was one of his best.

“Very serious, full of real argument, confronting the points of difficulty and we felt it moving our way.

“All of us I think had had pretty severe moments of doubt, but he hadn’t really, or if he had he’d hidden them even from us.

“Now there was no going back at all.”

Shortly before the Commons debate, Mr Campbell recalls President Bush promising: “If you win the vote in Parliament, I’ll kiss your ass.”

PRINCESS DIANA

On 4 May 1995, Mr Campbell writes: “She’s standing there absolutely, spellbindingly, drop-dead gorgeous, in a way that the millions of photos didn’t quite get.

“She said ‘Hello’, held out her hand and said she was really pleased to meet me, so I mumbled something back about being more pleased.

“‘It would make a very funny picture if there were any paparazzi in those trees,’ she said.”

On 30 August 1997, he describes Tony Blair’s reaction to Diana’s death: “I don’t think I’d ever heard him like this. He was full of pauses, gabbling a little, but equally clear what we had to do.

” ‘I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe it,’ said TB [Tony Blair]. ‘You just can’t take it in, can you?’

“And yet, as ever with TB, he was straight onto the ramifications.”

LABOUR VALUES

On 30 August 2000, Mr Campbell’s diary records: “TB said it was important I understood why parts of Thatcherism were right.

“TB said, ‘What gives me real edge is that I’m not as Labour as you lot’.

“I pointed out that was a rather discomfiting observation. He said it was true.

“He felt he was in the same position he had always been and we were the people who had changed to adapt.”

TERRORIST ATTACKS

On 11 September 2001: “TB was straight onto the diplomatic side… said that we had to help the US, that they could not go it all on their own, that they felt beleaguered and that this would be tantamount to a military attack in their minds.

“He said the consequences of this were enormous.

“He’d been going on about Bin Laden for a while because there had been so much intelligence about him and al-Qaeda.”

POSSIBLE RESIGNATION

“TB called me through and we went out for a chat on the terrace,” Mr Campbell recalls of 11 June 2002.

“He said, ‘In all truth I’ve never really wanted to do more than two full terms.’

“It was pretty clear to me that he had just about settled his view.

“The big question was the same as before – does it give him an authority of sorts or does it erode that authority, and do people just move automatically towards GB [Gordon Brown]?”

NORTHERN IRELAND

On 12 May 1997: “TB said he reckoned he could see a way of sorting the Northern Ireland problem.

“I loved the way he said it, like nobody had thought of it before. I said what makes you think you can do it when nobody else could?”

On 11 December 1997, the day of the first Sinn Fein visit to Downing Street: “I shook [Sinn Fein’s Martin] McGuinness by the hand, who, as he sat down, said fairly loudly, ‘So this is the room where all the damage was done.’

“It was a classic moment where the different histories played out.

“Everyone on our side thought he was referring to the mortar attack on [John] Major and we were shocked.

“Yet it became obvious from their surprise at our shock that he was referring to policymaking down the years and Britain’s involvement in Ireland.”

KOSOVO

On 18 May 1999 Mr Blair had a disagreement with US President Bill Clinton, Mr Campbell writes: “They had spoken for over an hour and the first five to 10 minutes was taken up with Bill in a total rage.

“TB said BC’s outburst was ‘real, red-hot anger’. He felt he was just getting a lot out of his system and TB was the only one he could let rip with.”

PRESIDENT BUSH ON PUBLIC SPEAKING

6 April 2002: “The truth is I have a limited vocabulary. I’m not great with words. I have to think about what I say carefully.”

ON FORMER CABINET MINISTER CLARE SHORT

April 2003: “Clare was rabbiting on more than ever. I slipped TB [Tony Blair] a note about the time Saddam shot his health minister at a meeting because she was annoying him and did he want me to get a gun? ‘Yes,’ he scribbled.”

CARETAKER PRESCOTT GOVERNMENT PLANS

Senior civil servants planned for a caretaker government led by John Prescott if Tony Blair resigned after losing a vote on the war in Iraq. In March 2003, Andrew Turnbull, the then Cabinet secretary, looked into “how a JP caretaker premiership would operate”.

Mr Campbell recounts a meeting of Tony Blair and senior No 10 staff “to go through some of the what-ifs, including him (TB) going if we lost a vote. TB said he felt that there had to be a vote on a second resolution and if it was about the use of troops and he lost a vote on that, he would have to go.

“The Tories were making clear they would support us on a war motion but not on a confidence motion. Andrew Turnbull was quietly looking into how a JP caretaker premiership would operate.”

HUTTON INQUIRY

10 August 2003: Mr Campbell describes leaving his family holiday in France to pick up his diary, to hand in as evidence to the Hutton Inquiry into the death of government scientist Dr David Kelly.

“As I left the house, and said goodbye to Fiona, I did actually wonder momentarily whether it would be the last time I saw her, whether what I discovered on reading my own diary would be so awful that I would want to top myself.

“It was only a passing thought, but it was there, and it came back several times as I drove down to Marseilles. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but in this climate, things had gone beyond reason, it was like a drama or a novel, and nobody had control of events.”




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10 Responses to “Alastair Campbell – The Blair Years”

  1. Tony Jarrett Says:

    Time to point out that some sort of coalition with the Lib-Dems would have been a disaster in 1997, not least because HMG needs an Opposition. As the process would have split Labour wihin a year it would have actually smashed the coalition which is Labour and made a three party system effective, rather than what we ordinarilly have.

    There is a stronger case for bringing in individuals now, partly as a response to those whose interests seem to be served by calling for a Parliamentary General Election. Brown’s position isn’t as strong as Blair’s in 1997 – a majority of 167 was it? – but it is by no means weak.

    Good to hear that TB is in a perky mood, ironical that he had intended to go so much sooner, as, perhaps, per the Granita agreement? Of course that sort of carve up can never be published by its authors while it mght be used against either of them.

    I think it is becoming clearer that he remained captain of his own destiny re his resignation, as I have said elsewhere here, and that the weariness of Brits re anyone in power was a major factor.

    It is a bit like the Islamo-fascists and Iraq – they were doing their terrorist thing before Iraq was an issue. Blair would have gone without the strident valkyries of the press corps, it is the weariness of the public’s relationship with the PM which counted.

    Far from suggesting that the reptiles do not deserve their cummuppance, of course . . .

  2. Tony Jarrett Says:

    Just hearing Humphrey’s interview of Alastair Campbell and am struck by he disingenuity on both sides, but most especially Humphreys.

    It is an arrogant BBC attitude at root, while Campbell makes clear that he was defending TB and the Labour Government and our country. He discounts what independent reports say, lies repeatedly about what Campbell actualy said.

    The whole programme for a long time has been so unbalanced that they shoudl be made to study Blair’s speech on the media every morning before they go into work.

    Elsewhere on your site, Blair-friend, someone asked for whom Blair’s speech on the media was intended. Well I think it is for the public first and formost, because we need to rein in those who deliberately mislead us, but most especially for the press/media who are less and less trusted as they traduce our less and less trusted politicians.

    Al Queda must be chuckling in their cyber-caves, for it is their interests which are served by such nonesense.

  3. keeptonyblairforpm Says:

    Morning Tony!

    You and I are still political anoraks, aren’t we?

    The point I was making about Blair’s thoughts in 1997 on bringing Ashdown in, is that this is contrary to the picture that is painted of his not being inclusive. I think he has always been inclusive and that was reflected in his ‘sofa’ style. Decisions were always made in cabinet anyway – obviously – but he felt that speaking one-to-one to outsiders helped bring in outside perspectives to cabinet debate. Nothing wrong with that.

    Blair might even have looked at continuing to talk to other parties, as he was definitely “less Labour” than many in his party, but he could never get agreement from the Left of his party, and reportedly had strong antipathy from Brown on the issue.

    If any coalition between Labour & Lib Dems had been formed in 1997, and then broken down after a year – well, Labour still had a HUGE majority, so could have gone back to the drawing board and Blair would have been able to say, “I tried”. I think a more likely scenario would have been the break-up of the Lib Dems as their Left would have been unhappy at Ashdown working with Blair on several policy areas. Perhaps Blair saw this as a palatable possible outcome – neutralise the other party of the Left – and bring back to the fold the old Social Democrats.

    Today, Brown, not perhaps a sofa kind of guy, is trying to bring in others with political input. Fine. Tony did it first – as with most things – that’s the point I make.

    Interesting points Campbell makes about Blair wishing to go in 2002. Of course if he had gone, he would not have Iraq emblazoned on his forehead. We’d probably still have gone in there – I CANNOT accept that Brown, the great pro-American, would have turned down Bush – but now it would have been Brown’s War.

    You could be right about the weariness factor, but I’m not sure. A third satisfaction rating is all most leaders can expect after all these years and that’s where Blair was at the last count. All I can say is that I’ve just returned from Scotland and met many people who said, “What the hell do we think we’re doing getting rid of Blair! The man’s an amazing politician.” The words used towards your man were not exactly flattering. And that’s Scotland!

    I also heard Humphrys and Campbell on Today. Agree with you wholeheartedly here. It’s clear that Humphrys and many political journalists do not trust or believe either of the inquiries after Iraq. The BBC (and other) journos KNOW all that has happened leading up to Iraq – and they know everyone’s motives for every decision. Oh that you and I and prime ministers were so powerful and omniscient!

    I hope the ‘feral press’ speech will stick in the memories of much of the public – partly because the speech itself wasn’t feral towards the press – though it could have been. Common sense really, as with most of Blair’s speeches. It’s likely to stick in the minds of the press a little longer, though. They may moderate their rush to judgement in future on those in power who have to take the hard decisions, now that their main target has been removed. And Brown is hoping to spread the responsibility and blame if ‘wrong’ decisions are made in the future by him or A.N. Other PM. He may, thus, never find himself in Blair’s position as the First Among Equals. We’ll see.

    Al Quada are having a laugh a minute!

  4. Marc Says:

    Stop! I have the book. I don’t want to already know all the best bits 🙂

    It seems every newspaper / blog/ news pro gramme wants to tell me !!

  5. keeptonyblairforpm Says:

    Ooops, Marc! Why don’t you write some of your take on the bits you’ve read, and post them in here? I haven’t got a copy yet, so I’m just picking up some of the bits I notice around the net.

    You’ll just have to stay off your computer for a bit and sit in a quiet room and read.

    And while Campbell and Blair’s opponents tell you the book’s a disappointment, it’s also third on the best-sellers list, according to reports tonight.

  6. Marc Says:

    Well whether the book is a disappointment depends what you’re expecting from it. I am not, and never have been hoping for Alastair Campbell to “dish the dirt” on Tony Blair.

    From a historical point of view, I am finding it more interesting.

    I am busy, coupled with the fact that I like to take my time when reading so it’ll few a month or so before I’m finished for sure. I’ll put some thoughts up.

  7. keeptonyblairforpm Says:

    Hi again Marc,

    I’ve got my own copy now and have read a few dozen pages. I’m enjoying it. But like yourself I know it’s not going to be bad on Blair. Struck by how sensitive TB seems so far – trying to be inclusive and keep people working together. Seems to be taking a lot out of him, and it’s only Christmas 1994! So ironic that he doesn’t want anyone to dwell on the previous government’s ‘sleaze’ – though mainly because he says it destroys people’s trust in politics per se.

    Very conscientious of Campbell to have done this. He’d never remember the detail like this unless it was written down. It has the ring of truth to me. And Prescott was important right from the start – and on board for dumping clause 4 without too much persuasion. They all seemed to be inspired by Blair. And TB reckons Brown is THE great strategic thinker.

    Hope you’ve got this far and I’m not spoiling it for you. I’ll shut up now.

  8. Tony Jarrett Says:

    There was so much ignorance re Clause 4, especially among those who went on about it, either becasue they claimed it as the cornerstone of their political beliefs, or who wanted to sweep it away.

    I last read it in order to check before an arguement in the local Constituency Labour Party. I had to get a copy of the relevant document from HQ, because the short quote from it on a LP membership card left out so much.

    It not only called for the “best” form of “public ownership” (not necessarily nationalisation) and “most equitable distribution of the proceeds . . (of the production) that may be practicable” but also for “the emancipation of all the people” and other social goals whch I thought importamt.

    I left Labour just after the 1987 election, I do not know what the position is now.

    John Prescott didn’t fool me into believing that he was left wing, or grounded apart from in the sort fo rumbles such a bruiser enjoys. At least no-one could make out that ALL of Labour’s eladership was too clever by half.

    I wrote to him once commending something he had said about letting the schools settle down before more reforms. Not even an acknowledgement!

  9. Tony Blair - VERY Latest & Other News Updates « Tony Blair Says:

    […] Alastair Campbell – The Blair Years […]

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