The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Volume One: Prelude To Power

The Alastair Campbell Diaries
Volume One: Prelude To Power 1994 – 1997
By Alastair Campbell
Hutchinson – £25.00

At seven hundred and forty-four pages, this book could well be described as an elongated trawl through the back pages of Alastair Campbell’s self-imposed, worst nightmare. Self imposed, because he himself chose to be at the vanguard of Tony Blair’s media campaign; and worst nightmare, because during said tenure, Campbell experienced countless bouts of depression, family-upset, heavy drinking and social frustration. But as former Labour Leader, Neil Kinnock made perfectly clear during the protagonist’s deliberation of the position: ‘’[…] it’s good for Tony, bad for you and the family, and I’m totally opposed. You’ll hate the crap, the detail, the wankers you have to be nice to.’’

So there you have it, The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Volume One: Prelude To Power is a political, literary grenade of sorts, which, although not quite as explosive as it pertains to be, is still nevertheless as tempestuously revealing as anything you’re likely to read this side of Alan Clarke.  Albeit less canny, less colourful and less contagious: ‘’’’Mo had fucked up talking to John Patten [Conservative Education Secretary] on the train to Eastleigh. She had said something about TB being worried about bringing up the children in the Number 10 flat. Silly woman, just can’t resist gabbing.’’

One has to bear in mind that both diarists are writing from completely different angles. Where Clarke shoots straight from the hedonistic hip of both flagrant and fragrant opportunism (several puns intended), Campbell neither shoots nor shares. Rather, the former political columnist for the Daily Mirror merely regales us with what it was like to be at the helm of New Labour circa ninety four – ninety seven: awkward and arduous, dense and difficult, historical, nullifying and at times, thankless.

The petty pugilist spats between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were, during the campaign, kept hidden beneath a menagerie of smiles, purple prose and diversion. Regardless of much probing from the media and the likes of the ever brilliant Jeremy Paxman, ‘twas Campbell’s job (and perhaps mission) to smokescreen the turbulent truth from being gleaned by the public.

No wonder Blair: ‘’turned on the full Bunsen burner smile, thanked me for all the help I’d given on his leadership acceptance speech and […] got to the point rather more quickly than I’d anticipated […]. He needed a really good press secretary […]. He said it had to be somebody tough, and confident, someone who could make decisions and stick to them. Historically, the Labour Party has not been blessed with really talented people in this area of politics and political strategy but I think we can be different. Gordon is exceptional, so is Peter (Mandelson), so are you, and I really want you to do the job. It’s called press secretary but it’s much more than that.’’

Indeed, it was much more than that, as in a way, Campbell evolved into that of a walking laryngotomy betwixt a rabid and insatiable media on the one hand, and the equally rabid and (politically) insatiable dorksome foursome: Blair, Brown Mendelson and (John) Prescott on the other.  And were one to include Robin Cooke – who had aspirations and an agenda of his own – it’s no wonder Campbell had a rather hard time of it. He even took a considerable pay cut too – although I’m sure this sacrifice has now been rectified numerous times over. As not only did he publish The Blair Years in 2007 (which attracted widespread critical acclaim around the world), but this book is actually the first of four instalments.

Four instalments? Yikes – talk about keeny keen…

The Times’ Matthew Paris has said: ‘’these diaries will be gasped at, and relied upon, for decades to come.’’ This may well be the case. Although considering the length of this first book, one cannot help but wonder if a set of diaries the length and breadth of War and Peace, will actually manage to sustain the interest of even the most gung-ho of sceptical and political, armchair analysts.

We shall see.

David Marx


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