Top positive review
A surprising but very genuine winner
4 February 2017
Not a fan of New Labour, competitive sport, self-help books or indeed people who describe themselves as 'winners'? It really doesn't matter.
Alastair Campbell's foray into motivational writing is good enough to leave all such self-limiting prejudices floundering in its wake. This is an excellent book.
'Winners' reaches places perhaps unanticipated by its author. I turned to it, almost by accident, in the midst of minor personal crisis totally unrelated to football, cycling or geopolitics: my problem was a contentious local planning dispute. The whole thing was getting me down. I felt increasingly powerless, victimised by circumstances beyond my control and unable to see a positive way forward.
Does 'Winners' give an insight, however indirectly, into what Tony Blair got from Alastair Campbell during those long-ago days of refulgent Labour success? Certainly, it feels that way. Reading 'Winners' is rather like having a trusted, plain-speaking, sometimes pretty merciless friend standing by my side, telling me to get myself together, think strategically and act purposefully. It's all good advice. It also works.
As befits an extremely successful journalist, speech-writer and spin doctor, Campbell writes clearly and forcefully. His examples and case-studies, gathered from sport, politics and personal experience, are well-chosen, memorable and sometimes surprising, e.g. a life-long republican's encomium to HM the Queen. If some of his basic points are rather simple, isn't this generally true of helpful advice?
The best thing about this book may well be its tone, though. In contrast with many self-help books, which can often read like unrelieved padding, all written on autopilot, one gets the distinct sense that 'Winners' is informed by something more genuine and immediate. There may be a reason for this. Not to put too fine a point on it, one can't quite forget that Alastair Campbell, whatever else one might think about him, personally fought his way back from a full-on nervous breakdown, took on a high-profile job wherein every vulnerability in his mental health would be open to attack on a regular basis, and has somehow emerged from all of this stronger than ever.
I suspect that Campbell has had to have a tough word with himself from time to time, has learned lessons from the success of others as means of personal survival, and that 'Winners' is in fact the fruit of that very extended, hard-won and probably rather painful harvest.
So in summary, this book probably isn't what you think it is. It is practical, pragmatic and hugely effective. I can't say it solved my planning dispute, which is still a mess, but it absolutely transformed my mental attitude toward it, my ability to meet that particular set of challenges and to bounce back from inevitable setbacks. If I now feel stronger for having got through an awful few months as I did, 'Winners' deserves a lot of the credit. I know that I'll turn to it again the next time I need robust advice and encouragement. I really could not recommend this book more strongly.