The Burden Of Power – Countdown To Iraq
The Alastair Campbell Diaries
Edited by Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty
Hutchinson – £25.00
When Alastair Campbell writes: ‘’[…] I also knew it would unleash another avalanche of bollocks about spin, me, culture of blah,’’ a mere forty-four pages into the fourth publication of his diaries, The Burden Of Power – Countdown To Iraq, one is immediately and instinctively reminded of just how close to the knuckle Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications used to operate.
As such, it’s a colossal shame he’s no longer part of government. For if Cameron had Campbell on his rather suspect, spurious team of flim-flam no-hopers, he might be just a little more respected, as well as in a position of being able to get a few sensible things done. As is, there’s far too much ado about nothing taking place, and far too little of substance being implemented. That’s not to say this former sultan of spin would abolish the mess Britain currently finds itself in, but someone, anyone, with Campbell’s all round dense and (some might say) dangerous working demeanour, is both sorely and acutely missed.
As The Spectator has noted: ‘’Campbell’s great strength is that he tells it like it is,’’ and it is precisely this (natural) quality, this perverse, yet pristine penchant for direct talking, that accounts for these 694 pages being such a liberating and enjoyable read. Liberating in the sense, that even though you sometimes feel as if you’re in the driver’s seat of Downing Street, you really can’t help but believe what’s being written. Enjoyable due to being in said position.
The Burden Of Power kicks off on the historical date of September 11, 2001, and literally ends on the day Campbell left Downing Street. In between, there are two wars, one of which is still on going, the other of which remains a relentlessly unpopular stain upon Blair’s premiership. And having read and reviewed all four of Campbell’s diaries, I have to confess that it is this one, which puts the job of being Prime Minister into some sort of bleak and horribly, perplexing perspective: ‘’See the front covers of the four volumes and you see first a young and vibrant Opposition leader, then a young and jubilant prime minister taking the reins of power with an enormous landslide and huge goodwill, then a prime minister beginning to age as always they do – but still smiling […]. These were momentous decisions, taken amid enormous pressure and often with much else going on. It is why, though I disagree with his politics and oppose many of the things he has done, I have respect for the fact that the current prime minister, David Cameron, does the job he does. The pressures are unique to that post. Only five people alive today know what they are.’’
This meritorious ode to Prime Ministers however, doesn’t entail the entire book reads in a similar, and dare I say, delicate fashion. A mere eleven days after September 11th, Campbell already writes: ‘’The Sundays arrived late, millions of words of fuck all.’’
Indeed, ‘’millions of words of fuck all’’ could still just as readily be applied to so much of today’s media; which in all honesty, is rarely brought to account considering much of its deplorable behaviour. That a mere tip of the Murdoch Empire recently had its cage rattled somewhat, can only be a good thing. But even though The News of the World is (thankfully) no longer in existence, The Sun still is – relentlessly printing millions upon millions of words of fuck all.
The same cannot be said of The Burden Of Power. It’s as raw and provocative a portrayal of political life as you’re likely to read. I for one, am looking forward to the next instalment…