This meticulously detailed but fast-paced book explains how Alastair Campell, ostensibly the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, was allowed to create his own job to accommodate his volatile and driven personality. Secondary legislation (Orders in Council) were implemented to enable Downing Street staff to be both Special Advisers and Civil Servants (and so to give orders to the hitherto impartial executive). The immediate result was a "purge" of the Government Information Service and the crowning fiasco was Campbell's (and Jonathan Powell's) part in coordinating the Iraq intelligence dossiers. Campbell reached the heights from inauspicious beginnings. At Cambridge, he did little else other than play football for his College and drink himself blind in the "Late Night Bar" before, when he could manage to scrape himself off the floor, sallying forth into the night "to beat up an upper class twit". After a spell drifting around on the Continent, playing the bagpipes and exercising the ferret, he won a prestigious traineeship on the Mirror, eventually becoming political editor in his early thirties. Oborne and Walters develop the thesis that from early in his career, Campbell's vocation was to act as Grand Vizier to someone who enjoyed extensive power. Robert Maxwell provided one dry-run for this ambition, Neil Kinnock another. Apparently Campbell developed a suspicion and antipathy towards the Parliamentary lobby as a result of their vicious treatment of Kinnock in the late 80s. The second Mandelson resignation, "Cheriegate" and the vendetta against the BBC cumulatively made his position untenable - not least for asking for the PM's backing against his own wife - and suggest that the psychological demons once led to a (manic depressive?) breakdown have not been laid to rest.Read more ›
Peter Oborne is a political correspondent who manages to step beyond the daily "splits" and "backing down" verbiage that passes for political journalism. His analysis of Campbell's character-change (after a drink-induced breakdown) is fascinating. And his analysis of his subject's power is useful:a combination of a "Napoleonic" centralising of power by Balir; the sidelining of Parliament and representative institutions; and the importance of the "media-class". It's a good read. I recommend it heartily.
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Oborne goes straight to the heart of the New Labour machine. The media dominates Blair's administration - arguably keen media management got him elected in the first place. Oborne is insightful but not dull - truly revealing the mind of our new masters. The best political book I have read for ages.
Oborne has written and co-written a number of books, some containing material similar to this book's. Simon Walters seems to be a Daily Mail journalist (i.e. 'right wing', but with some sensational penetrating articles). My copy was first published in 2004 - clearly it's been updated from 2000, though it doesn't say so anywhere. Let me try to get the authors to speak for themselves:--
They say (page 102) '.. talented journalists ... wield immense social, economic and political power which the Media Class has gathered unto itself...' BUT (page 126) '.. Bernard Ingham ... understood the value of denying access. [TV and radio] Programmes that irked Margaret Thatcher suddenly found that no senior minister would go on to be interviewed. ... Campbell and Mandelson never made that sort of mistake. They controlled who appeared where ... Any programme which questioned the glowing public image of Tony Blair and his Shadow Cabinet found itself ostracised. ... Mandelson's method .. with the press was to single out a tiny number of favourites. He had a coterie of trusted souls...'
So journalists wield immense power - but, back in the real world, are at the mercy of secretaries and press officers. Oborne (editor of the Spectator) cannot admit that people like Murdoch have immense and corrupt power - able to tell lies about genocide, for example.
As regards Labour, Oborne and Walters state (page 117) 'Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould were born and bred in the Labour party - it is part of their innermost being, which is why the final ... step... felt ... like ... parricide. This was not so with Campbell...' BUT after all Mandelson is, or believed to be, descended from Jews in Poland who presumably collected taxes from the peasantry.Read more ›
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