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The Blair Years: Extracts from The Alastair Campbell Diaries Hardcover – 9 Jul 2007
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'A brilliant, absorbing account...These diaries...will be gasped at, and
relied upon, for decades to come. Buy them: they will suck you in' -- Matthew Parris, The Times
'This is a gripping, compelling and genuinely revelatory read' -- Rod Liddle, Sunday Times
'Who the hell does he think he is?'
-- Roger Lewis, Sunday Express
The Blair Years is the most compelling and revealing account of contemporary politics you will ever read. Taken from Alastair Campbell's daily diaries, it charts the rise of New Labour and the tumultuous years of Tony Blair's leadership, providing the first important record of a remarkable decade in our national life. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product description
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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!
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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