Power & Responsibility 1999 – 2001
The Alastair Campbell Diaries – Volume Three
Edited by Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty
Hutchinson – £25.00
Power & Resposibility is the third Volume of Alastair Campbell’s full-throttle, high-octane, power-diaries, which, for all intents and political purposes, are the isotonic, literary equivalent of listening to John Coltrane for hours on end whilst downing a svelte and craquelure collection of oysters, Mars Bars and espressos. Not particularly in that order mind, but there you go. Just as those cheeky-chirpy likely lads had pronounced back in the day (Coldplay nonetheless, who’d have thought it?), a sudden rush of somewhat calculated blood to the head, isn’t something to be taken lightly.
The same equates to these 695 pages, where life in the fraught fast lane of Downing Street is very much brought to bear in no uncertain terms. Beginning with the tragedy of the Kosovo crisis on May 1st 1999 and ending with 9/11 – a date that immediately wrote itself into (unforgettable) living memory as well as countless history books by altering the course of both the Bush presidency and the Blair premiership – this chronological dissertation of sorts, goes way beyond that of most factual accounts of life in government.
The emphasis of the latter being in government, for as Tony Blair’s patron saint of political strategy and this book’s author, Alastair Campbell, was to prove, New Labour really was simply riddled with the residue of controlled chaos. The fuel crisis and the foot-and-mouth epidemic leap forth here, as does the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott delivering a swift left-hook into the kloof like face of a complete knobhead. An act that in and of itself, surely warranted an elongated role of several resounding drums.
Still does in fact – and lest it be said one gets the impression that Campbell is of a similar persuasion, particularly when he writes: ‘’I felt instinctively there would be a lot of support of JP (John Prescott), but also that he should say he wished he hadn’t responded like that. He was not up for it one bit, said the guy was a total twat and ‘Anyway,’ you never apologised when you hit Michael White.’ I pointed out that I was then a Mirror hack. He is the deputy prime minister, but he wasn’t having any of it. He said it was bloody ridiculous that we had to take all this shit from people just because we were politicians and he would not be apologising. I admired him for it, but I knew TB (Tony Blair) would want something to defuse things.’’
It’s such straight and totally non-gullible shooting from the hip, which essentially accounts for Power & Responsibility being such a worthwhile, although at times, totally wacked’n’wired read. Indeed, were the diaries not liberally peppered with occasional viperseque vitriol (‘’[…] the French were demanding we clear all scripts through the French Embassy. I had to tell them, as politely as possible, to fuck off.’’), they might well have proved really hard-going.
As is, we are able to dip into the cataclysmic relationship betwixt Tony Blair and his then Chancellor Gordon Brown, the second Mandelson resignation, the eventual and amazing culmination of the Northern Ireland Peace Deal (‘’To see Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein as Deputy First Minister alongside First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP, once sworn enemies, is confirmation of the remarkable journey they have made, and the remarkable success so far of the peace process itself.’’), not to mention the (uncalled for) trajectory of Campbell’s ill-considered quip with regards the ‘’bog-standard comprehensive’ (‘’It still regularly appears in print, probably beaten only by ‘we don’t do God’ and ‘People’s Princess’ as the most quoted mini sound bites of the era’’).
Suffice to say, there’s so much more to mull and muse over.
It’s all here, everything from Bill Clinton and the BBC to those wretched brothers in arms Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe; from he who enjoyed a tipple or two Boris Yeltsin to Golden Balls Beckham; not forgetting ye aforementioned pasty king himself, John Prescott, the Millibands, John Major and ghastly Mail On Sunday. There’s so much in fact, one cannot help but wonder how the sultan of so-called spin, actually found the time to keep a diary.
I’m really pleased he did though; as it’s the closest I’ll ever get to Number Ten.