Saturday, July 14, 2007

More Alastair Campbell

Newsnight Review managed to make some sense of Alastair Campbell, whose book, weirdly, I find being advertised on this site. But I still don't think they got to the heart of the matter. From the psychological perspective, David Hare edges a little closer in the Guardian.  Now let me try. Campbell is a shrewd and intelligent man who knows nothing. All his actions and all his accounts of those actions are utterly devoid of context and wisdom. There is never any sense of why Tony Blair is a good thing, nor, as Michael Portillo pointed out, any idea of what the 'New Labour Project' is.  Neither, as Hare says, does he have any psychological curiosity or insight about those around him. Campbell simply operates from moment to moment and, as a result, cannot ever fully grasp the consequences of his actions. Thus he cannot see that the mere fact that he landed his boss with the catastrophe of the Hutton Inquiry utterly invalidates his own claims to have been vindicated by the foolishly compliant lord. Fair enough, you might say, that is his job. And it would, indeed, be fair enough but for the fact that he was not just a spinner, he was a policy maker. His membership of the tiny Blair inner circle meant that he was not just handling decisions made by others, he was one of the decision makers. This is an alarming development. Previously Prime Ministers called in their press chiefs after decisions had been made. Now they help make policy and, as a result, presentation is no longer an aspect of policy, it is policy. The real world, however, goes on, regardless of this nonsense. If we could stand back for a moment and see this, it would be obvious that Campbell, by any meaningful standards, is a trivial figure, his concerns pathetically parochial, a mere symptom of a diseased episode in British politics. Unfortunately, we don't seem to be able to stand back and, alarmingly, we don't seem to be able to recover from the disease. 

9 comments:

  1. I'm glad someone could make sense of the so called inner circle. For it defeats me as to how they managed to have the largest majority since George III, and change so little.

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  2. Biggest majority, smallest mandate - and, more importantly, least competence, partly thanks to a ruthless politicising of the civil service along with everything else.
    Campbell as a 'shrewd and itelligent man who knows nothing' is, I fear, a representative figure of our times.

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  3. One further point: he takes so much exercise and yet he always looks like a man who takes none.

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  4. True - and this also makes him representative.

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  5. Well I've just read the Guardian piece which says: 'Clare Short turns his stomach. Worse, she cannot "recalibrate to circumstances". Bernard Ingham is "a silly old fucker", Roy Hattersley "a fat pompous bugger", Matthew Parris "a little shit", Simon Jenkins "a total wanker". Alistair seems a pretty good judge. I was astonished by Newnight's coverage (and the BBCs coverage in general) but then again it is the media class up itself as usual. As Michael white said, Campbell is a Caliban who sees his reflection in the journalists he has to deal with. By the way,why was Hutton a disaster? I thought Gilligan looked very edgy and uneasy throughout last nights discussion -probably, like the makers of the Queen's promotional footage, because he was on very dodgy ground in search of a story.

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  6. As Mrs. H said this morning, in another context, it's all part of our consultant culture.

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  7. Susan B., ever hopping after D. Hare,July 14, 2007 5:12 pm

    David Hare -- oh, my. And poor you all: "The Vertical Hour" is going to appear in London, says his by-line. Well, it's very p.c. and makes mincemeat of Bush et al and other idiotic American activities (jogging, overeating), so it will probably play far better among people who agree completely than it did on B'way (where it closed 3 weeks early, despite the star power of Bill Nighy & Julianne Moore).

    My long essay on why this play failed while fellow Tom Stoppard's offering ("Coast of Utopia") cleaned up at the Tony Awards will appear in the fall issue of the Michigan Quarterly Review. Of course you'll never see it over there, but I believe it does have an online presence.

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  8. Poor Alastair. He spins so much, his vision, his thoughts, his recollections must be permanently akin to those of a trainee astronaut immediately after his first session on the giant centrifuge, befuddled and without any real grasp on reality. On Newsnight, he claimed his diaries were "warts and all", quickly amended to "warts and all does not mean all the warts". He expressed his intolerance of the current press culture, conveniently forgetting that he had spent years trying, like a great blacksmith at his anvil, to bend and shape it to his will. He added that he couldn't care less what sections of the press think of him. A few minutes earlier he had observed that Michael White was to be one of Kirsty's guests in a subsequent discussion of his diaries. I bet he asked who was on the panel before he was told; so much for not caring less. A potentially illuminating moment came when he mentioned Bill Clinton's "humanity"; Alastair recounted how he had met a chamber maid in a Birmingham hotel. She had expressed her great love and admiration for the President, who was staying in the same hotel. On hearing of this, Alastair quietly arranged for " this afro-caribbean lady" to travel floors in the same lift as the President. When it happened, the lady was undertandably dumbfounded. But was Alastair really making a claim for his own humanity in having had the wit, ingenuity and ability to empathise in bringing about a meeting between Number One Man and an awestruck chamber maid ? I'm also still puzzling over Alastair's need to refer to the lady's ethnic origin. Why ? A chamber maid is a chamber maid. Intriquing.

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  9. “...for really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he". I do believe this was the point Campbell was making about Clinton - that Clinton lives this better than most politicians of comparable stature. The fact she was Afro-Caribbean means nothing significant. When was the last time time anyone met an native English chambermaid in a major British city hotel?

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