2 September, 2010
IS IT just me or does anyone else have a suspicion that Alastair Campbell might still be pulling strings for Tony Blair?
The former Labour PM’s autobiography is, as you’d expect, hugely controversial – he has a rich retirement to prepare for after he cleans up on the after dinner speaking circuit – but it also smacks of being shaped by the hand of a PR guru.
Tony Blair, for all his success in transforming the fortunes of the Labour Party, was never a man who had a firm grasp of PR. That’s why he employed Alastair Campbell. Campbell was the puppet master and Blair the showbiz frontman. And, boy, did it work.
The problem with running a political party like a PR agency, as the Blair-Campbell dream-ticket discovered, is that the inconsistencies soon start to poke through the facade of quasi-socialism.
And that was ultimately Blair’s undoing. People didn’t know which Tony Blair they were going to get – the young, brave socialist who played electric guitar but has a firm social responsibility, or the blinkered puppet-on-a-string who danced blindly in the shadow of the USA.
His biographical recollections of his time as Prime Minister – the only political post he ever held – are full of such inconsistencies and look like they’ve been moderated by Alastair Campbell’s red pen.
Blair’s greatest moment was, arguably, Election night 1997, when he first came to power. I love his recollection of the night. It’s full of bravado but underlined by a little human uncertainty.
He said: “This was not a win. It was a landslide. After about two hours for a time I actually became worried. The moving line at the bottom of the TV screen was showing over a hundred Labour seats. The Tories had just six. I began to think I had done something unconstitutional.”
When he recalls his fractious relationship with Gordon Brown, Blair reveals himself a man who won’t suffer fools but still maintains a sense of humour.
“I’m afraid I stopped taking his calls. Poor Jon [an adviser] would come in and say: “The chancellor really wants to speak to you.” I would say: “I am really busy, Jon.” And he would say: “He is really demanding it.” Then I would say: ‘I’ll call him soon.” And Jon would say: “Do you really mean that, prime minister?” And I would say: “No, Jon.”.”
But then we move to his memory of 9/11 and the twin towers horror. The quote, to me at least, suggests Campbell has his Rent a PR Quote book out and Blair, for the first time, is starting to behave like a geek in awe of America’s playground bully.
He said on hearing the news the Twin Towers had been attacked: “At that moment, I felt eerily calm despite being naturally horrified at the devastation, and aware this was not an ordinary event but a world-changing one. It was not America alone who was the target, but all of us who shared the same values. We had to stand together.”
More evidence required?
This is what he says, with the benefit of hindsight, about George W Bush. “He was, in a bizarre sense… a true idealist.”
What about this memory of negotiating with the Rev Ian Paisley over the Northern Ireland Peace Deal?
“Once, near the end, he asked me whether I thought God wanted him to make the deal that would seal the peace process. I wanted to say yes, but I hesitated; though I was sure God would want peace, God is not a negotiator.”
God is not a negotiator? Of course he’s not – everyone knows he is, in fact, a DJ.
In all seriousness though Alastair, stop it. Stop writing throwaway PR sound bytes and trying to make them sound like literature. It’s embarrassing. And it gives PR a bad name.
By Adam Moss, News Editor