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on 24 June 2008
It is probably inevitable that Alastair Campbell, as a New Labour supporter, would be reluctant to rock the boat while there was still a chance that the party could retain power at the next election. However, a book about the Blair years that barely touches on the relationship between Blair and Brown, and especially the oft-reported animosity between them, cannot be said to offer a balanced view.

This book was sold as an excerpt from the diaries, so perhaps the next volume, which will presumably be published either after the Tories have defeated New Labour, or after Gordon Brown has done so much damage to the party that nothing Campbell said could make things worse, will be more illuminating.

That being said, this volume provides an insight into Tony Blair's premiership, and his relationship with others in his cabinet, and with other world leaders.

As a journalist, Alastair Campbell knows how to write well, and to hold the reader's interest. I look forward to his next volume, because it might explain why the office of Prime Minister was apparently handed on a plate to somebody who proved to be incapable of handling it. Were there no signs during the previous ten years that Brown has reached the limit of his abilities, and was not fitted for the highest office? I think we should be told - and I hope that Alastair Campbell will oblige!
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Alastair Campbell spent the period 1994-2003 as the chief `spin-doctor' of Tony Blair, with job of putting him, and later the New Labour government, in the best possible light. This volume contains edited extracts from the diaries he kept during the period. Like all political documents written specifically for future publication they should be approached critically, so it is useful to know where Campbell stands at present. Helpfully he lists in the Introduction what he believes are the achievements during this period. Some are substantial and undeniable, such as peace in Northern Ireland and the intervention in the Balkans. Others are much more controversial, such as a `reformed educational system' and an `improved health service'. About Iraq, which, rightly or wrongly, will be remembered as the Blair `legacy', he simply says that he hopes the book will add to the discussion that `will run for years, if not decades'.

The diaries themselves are fascinating and give a unique insight to the frenetic world of politics at the highest level, with its endless round of meetings and conferences, and crises, great and small, demanding solutions. The brief sketches of the personalities involved, both national and international, and their interactions, are some of the most interesting parts of the diaries. We learn of the extraordinary way Blair used his closest advisors to deliberately work himself up into a kind of panic before delivering important speeches, and how the endless friction between Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson frequently poisoned the atmosphere. Above all there is the obsession with the media and the image of New Labour. Everyone opposing them (and that means practically all reporters) is vilified by Campbell in abusive, often sexual language, whereas supporters are praised as `sound' and having a clear understanding of the wider view. It is all a little too simplistic. The obsession with the media is in some ways surprising, because Campbell frequently advises others attacked in the press to ignore it, as it will `soon blow over'. He also notes that despite their best efforts the media failed to topple President Clinton, despite the Monica Lewinsky affair.

There are other surprises in the diaries, for example the lengths that Blair went to keep the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, `onside'. Prescott was portrayed in the media as a buffoon and it is no exaggeration to say that the general public concurred with this view and were unable to see what was his role was. Had he been dismissed following the disclosure of his later risible sexual antics with his secretary in his office during working hours, the public would have applauded, but he was not disciplined in any serious way. The reason for his apparent invulnerability is not clear from the diaries.

Campbell certainly pulls no punches, not just about the media and the Tories, and does not hesitate to criticise his own side, usually if they oppose the party line as Mo Mowlam and Claire Short frequently did, but also from time-to-time Blair himself and even Blair's wife, Cherie. This gives the diaries the ring of authenticity and honesty. In other places they are not so convincing. Amongst these is the account of the so-called `dodgy dossier' and its inclusion of the claim that Saddam Hussein had `weapons of mass destruction' available at 45 minutes notice. (Incidentally, neither term appears in the index.) Campbell accuses the BBC of sophistry in its statements about the role of its reporter Andrew Gilligan, but a similar charge could be made about Campbell's account of his own role in preparing the dossier and `outing' the scientist Dr Kelly, who later committed suicide.

The diaries are, inevitably, also about Campbell himself. Regardless of whether one accepts his view of politics or not, one can only admire the energy of a man who overcame a problem with alcohol and a serious psychotic breakdown (which he freely discusses in the diaries) to become, in many people's opinion, the second most powerful man in the country. At times the extraordinary pace of his work and the absurdly long hours resulted in solitary sobbing sessions, had serious consequences for his personal family relations, and were a contributory factor in his decision to leave the job. It is a measure of his loyalty that someone who clearly admires achievement so much could continue to make regular long journeys to support Burnley football club!

I greatly enjoyed these diaries, although they are probably a little long for the general reader who just wants to get a flavour of how New Labour came to power and how it operated when in government. For example, it does not need almost 800 pages to understand that Cabinet was largely a sideshow and that major decisions were taken by Blair and a small group of his closest advisors, or the importance attached to media reporting by New Labour. However, I am sure the detailed material in this volume (and in several further projected volumes) will be of enormous help to future historians of the period.
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on 4 May 2011
After doing a Marketing degree I really admired Alistair Campbell and his work for Labour - despite the morals and some decisions of TB. Listening to him recall his time working for Blair was really interesting. I know all diaries contain some 'pinch of salt' moments, this was absolutely fascinating.
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on 1 September 2015
Written in the first-person in journalese, Campbell takes us on, er, rollercoaster ride of the Blair administration. There are a lot of capital letters and some quite good jokes about Carole Caplan and Peter Mandelson. As usual there are buzzwords aplenty: "conviction politics", "fundamental" and of course the modern standby "journey." It makes for an interesting read but not an entertaining one, or, when it is entertaining it is because of the dreadful prose: "I went to Watford with Phillip Gould who was doing two groups of women" - nice work if you can get it.
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on 29 June 2010
I am only part the way through but so far it is a very honest account of the Blair years. It provides a very good insight into that period of UK government. I would certainly recommend this book.
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on 12 August 2008
Campbell has a sharp eye for personal description and these pull the reader through the book, they are funny and rude. He has no confidence in the abilities of MPs and Cabinet Ministers. Sadly neither Blair nor Campbell were able to encourage the abilities of those who could have been working with them, instead they laughed at them.The book shows the egoism and fragility of both men, who steamrolled others throughout their reign.
The book was also totally dishonest about so many political incidents. EG: the contentious Dome, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Mandelsons's resignations are all skated over. There is no development and no analysis, political or otherwise. On this level the book is a lightweight sham.
Campbell obviously needed people to see that he had got his story out there first. Campbell was Blair's Office fixer and this is the only level on which the book works.
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2012
The first thing I'd tell anyone who wanted to listen to the audio version of this book (or indeed read it) is that it is very much for fans of politics. If the inner workings of New Labour and the art of the possible get your blood flowing a bit quicker, then this is an excellent book. On the other hand, if you'd rather change the subject when politics comes up in conversation, then this book is probably not for you.

It is also worth making you aware that this is very much a fixers guide to politics, rather than the charismatic words of a front man (such as Blair or Clinton). To use a phrase from the film The Damned United: Blair was the shop front, and Campbell was more the goods at the back.

The audio book is a 5 CD abridged version of the 832 page full version and, although this can have limitations, it still seems to fit in all the essentials while giving sufficient detail on each to provide valuable insights on the inner workings of New Labour. As a politics geek myself, I found the content really interesting, especially when it came to how Campbell dealt with the stresses of the job and his conversations with Bill Clinton and George Bush (the latter of whom is, like Campbell, a teetotaller but, unlike Campbell, saw religion as the only way out).

Unfortunately the fascinating and well selected content is let down by Alastair Campbell's rather monotonous tone. Though his voice is bearable, it is annoying as Campbell seems to end all of his sentences on a glum downbeat note. Furthermore, every sentence seems to use more or less the same rhythm, which grates a little after 5 CD's and could have been improved by better use of tone (as in Blair's reading of 'A Journey') or the employment of a professional narrator.

So, before getting the audio book version (or reading the paperback), it is worth considering that this is very much the mechanics manual, as opposed to Top Gear. And if you want to just listen to the audio version, then you should be aware that it is no Shakespeare play.
But if you can live with both these things, then I'd encourage you to give this book a go as there are few other books that provide quite so much in-depth detail of what it was like to really be at the centre of power...
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VINE VOICEon 18 June 2008
Firstly, the down side: it's been edited. By Campbell himself. Which means that the juiciest stuff is either on the floor or, more probably, being held back until Labour is no longer in power and we can look forward to THE CAMPBELL DIARIES: THE EXTENDED EDITION! And this is a pity - there are times when you know the good stuff has been snipped out. And that's why it's 4 stars and not five (although it's long enough already, mind, so I'd not want to read a longer book)

Because the rest of it, for political anoraks, is fascinating. A genuine insight into how Number 10 works, and what it is like to be prime minister. Yes, it's biased (of course it is), it's self serving and it has a very one eyed view of the press; but that was his job. What particularly interested me was how much wider his role went than just press - he was an all purpose adviser and clearly for a long time the second most influential man in the country.

Worth a read
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on 7 August 2007
'The Blair Years' will serve as bed-time reading only for political obsessives. Despite the fact that Campbell's style is terse and succinct, as befits a diarist, the daily minutiae of political life during Blair's incumbency are heavy going. Even the frequent crises seem only to add to the sense of participating in a gruelling ordeal, rather than conveying the excitement of helping to shape world history.

It is, perhaps, inevitable that the Prime Minister's Press Secretary will be largely preoccupied with public and media responses to policy and to political actions. This bias is certainly evident in Campbell's account of events and, unfortunately, colours the narrative as a whole.

Campbell's repeated claim that the media are irresponsible and unfair in representing politicians as insincere, image-obsessed, power-driven, spin-dependent prima donnas is contradicted, paradoxically, by the dominant themes of his own written record.

Although Campbell coyly states in his introduction that "This book...is about Blair not Brown", the timing of its publication is interesting. Even allowing time for collating all the documentation, Alastair Campbell must have been sitting on much of this material since 2004, at the latest. Gordon Brown does not emerge from the narrative covered in glory. Campbell makes it very clear that he believes the right man got the job - in 1994 as leader of the Labour Party and again in 1997 as Prime Minister.

Given the strategic timing of publication, it is difficult to avoid the inference that Alastair Campbell, for one, considers the Brownite putsch to have been the beginning of Labour's political suicide.
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on 19 May 2008
Shame. This book had all the ingredients to be thrilling, gripping, revealing, fantastic and a real insight into the dark world of high politics.

Instead, we are treated to lengthy irrelevant paragraphs mixed with some truly illuminating passages. Quite probably this is due to the "unedited diary" format of the book. I say "unedited diary" because in spite of Mr Campbell's claims to the contrary, I can't help but feel that some sections have been edited with the benefit of hindsight.

Secondly, some crucial parts of the book such as the NI peace negotiations are suitably built up to effectively go unnoticed when the peace process was finally agreed upon by all parties concerned.

On the other hand, the diaries successfully portray politicians with all their shortcomings, as people that bicker and fight just like in any other workplace, interestingly highlighting their commitment to their jobs and the difficulties of balancing their personal lives.

Perhaps it would have been a lot better if the book was 150 pages shorter or so. Furthermore, given that it covers the Blair years, one can only wonder what the value addition of the future installments of the Campbell diaries may be.
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