SEARCH:  
Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 22nd June 2012

The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq by Alastair Campbell


It’s difficult to muster much excitement on opening the 4th volume of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, even more so when you realise that all 724 pages are devoted to less than two years of his life. Are the memoirs of Tony Blair’s press officer really so fascinating? Campbell originally condensed all four volumes into a single, 794-page book called The Blair Years and he might have done better to stop there.

Campbell’s justification for re-publishing his diaries is that, this time round, he’s able to reveal all sorts of embarrassing details that he couldn’t disclose in The Blair Years because it was published in 2007 when Labour was still in power. Loyalty to the party prevented him from being indiscreet back then, apparently, though quite why this loyalty should evaporate once the party has been turfed out of office is never explained.

So what juicy titbits does The Burden of Power, which covers the years 2001-03, contain? Well, we discover that Campbell was no fan of Clare Short’s, then the International Development Secretary. “She really was ghastly to deal with,” he reveals in the entry for November 15th 2001. “She would give every impression of agreeing with you, and then do or say something different; or she would just have an argument for the hell of it, but in that whiney ‘everyone but me is wrong’ voice that made me want to seal my ears with hot wax.”

He also doesn’t have much time for Christopher Meyer, the British Ambassador to Washington during this period. He’s particularly scathing about a hissy fit thrown by Meyer when he discovers that Blair is proposing to take Campbell into a meeting with President Bush rather than him: “Meyer threw an absolute tantrum, said he would be a laughing stock in Washington, threatened to resign on the spot.”

Campbell takes it for granted that we’ll share his view that Meyer acted like a prima donna on this occasion. In fact, it’s not surprising he was upset when he learnt the Prime Minister was taking his PR man along to a meeting with the President in preference to him.

But the main revelations, of course, are about the deteriorating relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Thus, on October 23rd 2001 we learn that Blair thinks “the mad streak has got worse”, while on November 28th 2001 relations between them are so bad it’s “impossible to get either of them to say anything good about the other”.

The portrait of Brown that emerges in these diaries is unflattering, to put it mildly. He’s “monosyllabic”, “rude”, “psychologically flawed”, “angry” and “smouldering”. “I sometimes wondered whether he wouldn’t actually be a total disaster as prime minister and whether in fact we weren’t duty-bound to ensure it didn’t happen,” he writes.

Blair, by contrast, remains the apple of Campbell’s eye. “TB did a very good summing-up,” we learn on September 11th 2001, the day of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. He’s constantly giving “good interviews” and getting a “very good press” and his performances at PMQs leave Campbell breathless with admiration. “Even the Tories were effusive in their praise for his handling,” he writes on September 24th 2011.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Campbell has a man-crush on his employer. This impression is confirmed by the constant rows he has with his partner, Fiona Millar, who is desperate for him to part company with Blair and spend more time with her and the children, not to mention Campbell’s contempt for Cherie, whom he portrays as a vain and silly little woman whose poor choice of friends is constantly threatening to embarrass her husband.

Campbell himself remains blissfully unaware of any homo-erotic subtext. Even after the Sultan of Oman puts him up in a room normally reserved for visiting spouses, he simply writes: “God knows what that made me.”

His general lack of self-awareness is symptomatic of his larger failings as a memoirist. There’s no irony, no warmth, no humour in these diaries – nothing approaching a literary sensibility. Just an endless series of gripes and moans about how useless everyone is – particularly the gentleman of the press – and how tough life is in the hypoxic chamber of Number 10.

Campbell’s shortcomings as a writer wouldn’t matter so much if The Burden of Power contained some genuinely earth-shattering revelations about his former colleagues. But most of the tittle-tattle is about figures now largely forgotten, like Mo Mowlam. Gossip has a shelf life and Campbell has left it too late to spill the beans.

In the Introduction to The Burden of Power, he reveals that he continued writing his diary after he left Downing Street, hinting that there may be more volumes to come. If so, I imagine he’ll be hard-pushed to find a publisher. The proper place for Campbell’s diaries is in the archives of an American Midwestern university where they can be studied by historians of New Labour. For the general reader, there’s precious little to hold your attention.

[ FIXED LINK | EMAIL TO A FRIEND ] Bookmark and Share





Twitter Brilliant from @OborneTweets. Why Boris should run in Clacton link  (1 hour ago)

BEST OF THE WEB

In defence of free schools by Toby Young - standpointmag.co.uk
Right to sleep with children was a "civil liberty" supported by the NCCL by Andrew Gilligan - telegraph.co.uk
Woody Allen allegations: Not so fast by Bob Weide - thedailybeast.com
That's it. If the BBC don't don't want me on I'm boycotting them by Dan Hodges - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
Boris Johnson says Tristram Hunt should resign - telegraph.co.uk
In defence of my sister by Dominic Lawson - Daily Mail
Data briefing: free schools by the numbers - newschoolsnetwork.org
Malcolm Gladwell's books are books are analgesics for those who seek temporary relief from abiding anxiety by John Gray - newrepublic.com
Bring back the National Liberal Party by Nick Boles - brightblueonline.com
The hypocrisy of Mehdi Hasan by Guido Fawkes - order-order.com
Ed Miliband is a copper-bottomed loser by the New York Times - nytimes.com
I'm a proud Yid, even if I hate Spurs by Anshel Pfeffer - haaretz.com
Pro-BBC article in the Mail shock! - Daily Mail
Ed Miliband is no leader. He's a vulture by David Aaronovitch - thetimes.co.uk
21 more middle class problems - buzzfeed.com
Intolerance of humanists who attack faith schools by Brendan O'Neill - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
Glenn Greenwald's dishonesty by Louise Mensch - trendingcentral.com
Arrest of journalist's partner price worth paying for national security by Dan Hodges - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
The 13 Most Guardian Headlines Ever - buzzfeed.com
Twitter troll hysteria is a classic moral panic by Brendan O'Neill - spiked-online.com
MC Gove in da house by Michael Deacon - telegraph.co.uk
The criminalisation of journalism by Mick Hume - spiked-online.com
Michael Gove gives Sir Humphrey lessons in letter-writing by James Forsyth - Daily Mail
Why educationalists hate Michael Gove by Frank Furedi - spiked-online.com
Ed Miliband is the new Neil Kinnock by Trevor Kavanagh - thesun.co.uk
Check my privilege? B****cks to that by Louise Mensch - unfashionista.com
Wind farms are a waste of space by top climate scientist - Daily Mail
Profile of Nigel Farage by Edward Docx - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Win a Leveson love birds holiday in Santorini! - thesun.co.uk
Far-Left teachers hijacking protests against Gove - telegraph.co.uk
Margaret Thatcher: The softer side by Andrew Roberts - telegraph.co.uk
Margaret Thatcher: Warrior by Matthew Parris - thetimes.co.uk
Margaret Thatcher: Punk savior by Niall Ferguson - nytimes.com
The truth about Hacked Off by Andrew Gilligan - telegraph.co.uk
David Miliband was a morally corrupt profiteer by Peter Oborne - telegraph.co.uk
Hard left credentials of Gove's "academic" critics by the Daily Mail - Daily Mail
Muslims infected by virus of anti-Semitism by Mehdi Hasan - newstatesman.com
Britain's draconian new press regulations will stifle freedom of speech by the New York Times - nytimes.com
The politicians' revenge on the press by Quentin Letts - Daily Mail
The press is the last bastion of free thinking by Melanie Phillips - Daily Mail
May Day, May Day by Matthew Norman - The Independent
Mila Kunis interviewed by hapless Radio 1 DJ - gawker.com
Postmodern Tories by Roger Scruton - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Profile of Michael Gove - Daily Mail
David Cameron is a man of principle among pygmies - Daily Mail
The mafia links of a former Hollywood mogul by Bryan Borrough - Vanity Fair
The Wired magazine article that inspired Argo by Joshuah Bearman - wired.com
Panic! The anatomy of a political crisis by Dan Hodges - totalpolitics.com
The British intelligentsia's libel against Israel by Melanie Phillips - melaniephillips.com
Review of Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Zöe Heller - nybooks.com
Is Esquire's interview with Megan Fox the worst piece ever written? by Jamie Lee Curtis Taite - vice.com
How Moore, Burchill and Featherstone all had a lovely bitch fight by Rod Liddle - The Spectator
Julie Burchill's censored article on the trans lobby - webcache.googleusercontent.com
The great aid mystery by Jonathan Foreman - The Spectator
How Les Mis taught me how to hate again by Matt Walsh - themattwalshblog.com
Fairness is at the heart of Osborne's strategy by Matthew d'Ancona - telegraph.co.uk
Jim Dowd MP v the Spectator by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
The Guardian has become the Vichy Evening News by Dan Hodges - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
Spectator would defy new state regulator by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
The Leveson Inquiry is the Left's chance to avenge itself on the Right by Benedict Brogan - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
Daily Mail investigation into the Leveson Inquiry - Daily Mail
The hight-minded, Left-wing paedo hunters by Frank Furedi - spiked-online.com
Britain's press must remain free by Tim Luckhurst - telegraph.co.uk
Obit of a legendary Labour whip by Nick Robinson - bbc.co.uk
Referring to students as "learners" is infantilizing by Denis Hayes
Toby Young for Prime Minister by Jake Wallis Simons - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
Ed Miliband's house is worth £2.3m! - Daily Mail
The election that never was by Damian McBride - dpmcbride.tumblr.com
JK Rowling despises everyone poorer than her by Charles Moore - telegraph.co.uk
JK Rowling's new novel is boring, Left-wing agitprop by Jan Moir - Daily Mail
Getting rid of Cameron would be electoral suicide by Simon Heffer - Daily Mail
Naomi Wolf: Dotty and Dim by Zöe Heller - nybooks.com
Gove Levels - Daily Mail
The End of Men? by Hanna Rosin - theatlantic.com
Posh-bashing is usually hypocritical balls by Hannah Betts - Guardian
Five conservative messages smuggled into Dark Knight Rises by John Boot - pjmedia.com
Multiculturalism? Nonsense. The Olympics are a victory for patriotism and common British values by Dan Hannan - Daily Mail
Dissenters are cast out in the name of "inclusion" by Melanie Phillips - Daily Mail
Martin Durkin's dyspeptic view of the Olympics opening ceremony - martindurkin.com
Batman: The ultimate conservative hero by Robert Colville - telegraph.co.uk
Why the Tories need to grow a pair by Dan Hodges - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
The day Gordon Brown came to power by Damian McBride - dpmcbride.tumblr.com
Owen Jones *is* Justin Beiber by Dan Hodges - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
Why Britain shouldn't be part of a European super-state by Charles Moore - telegraph.co.uk
Fixing Britain's character flaws by Anthony Seldon - telegraph.co.uk
The shame of Britain's public school elite by Matthew Norman - telegraph.co.uk
In defence of Murdoch by John O'Sullivan - nationalreview.com
In politics, you're either up or down by John Kampfner - The Independent
James Lovelock recants - Daily Mail
Let's give Polly Toynbee the Britain she wants by Tim Worstall - blogs.telegraph.co.uk
Why Labour should support free schools by Andrew Adonis - newstatesman.com
Free schools are breaking down barrier to decent education for all by Charles Moore - telegraph.co.uk
Arrest of Sun journalists poses threat to press freedom - totalpolitics.com
The anti-academies campaign is led by Trots, says Michael Gove - bbc.co.uk
Lasagne-gate - Daily Mail
Profit need not be a dirty word in education by Fraser Nelson - telegraph.co.uk
Osbornism by Matthew D'Ancona - thisislondon.co.uk
Can Michael Gove save Britain's schools? by Simon Heffer - Daily Mail
The Magnificent Victory at Cardinal Vaughan by Charles Moore - telegraph.co.uk
Michael Gove and the nest of vipers by Ian Birrell - Daily Mail
Academies policy has been rapidly vindicated by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
Mossbourne Academy's outstanding A-level results - Guardian
I blame therapy culture for the riots by Dennis Hayes - thefreesociety.org
Phone-hacking rage is Caliban raging at his own reflection by Dominic Lawson - The Independent
Why I'm a Conservative by Toby Young - nosacredcows.co.uk
The Government must crack the teaching unions by His Grace - archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com
"Ideological" is Labour's empty insult by Dominic Lawson - The Independent
There is an alternative to the cuts – deeper and faster cuts - conservativehome.blogs.com
Leader of UK Uncut is middle class Oxford graduate - Daily Mail
Stephen Glover on the real magnitude of the cuts: Just 3% in real terms in the lifetime of this Parliament - Daily Mail
Peter Sissons dissects the BBC's leftwing bias - Daily Mail
Student protester privately-educated Cambridge undergraduate with father worth £78m - Daily Mail
Ed Balls gave £600,000 of taxpayers' money to the football team he supports - Daily Mail
Dominic Sandbrook on the rise of the Political Class - Daily Mail
Interview with Toby Young in Attain magazine - attainmagazine.co.uk
Topic of Cancer by Christopher Hitchens - Vanity Fair
The perils of being a freelance journalist by Richard Morgan - theawl.com
Profile of David Cameron by Matthew D'Ancona - telegraph.co.uk
 

BLOGROLL

Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Normblog
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Slate
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone
 

COLUMNISTS

AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
 
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.com


  • IMdb Page on the film