Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken ~ David Hume (1711-1776)
In the television version of his diaries, Alistair Campbell revealed far more than he intended. The three things that I took away from the programmes were:
- Campbell is a vain and deeply disturbed individual who should never have been entrusted with such power
- Tony Blair's poverty of judgement in picking his friends places Campbell in the company of other star choices (Bush, Berlusconi, Blunkett, Mandelson, as well as Cherie's indispensable confidente, Carole Caplin)
- A large part of Labour's (and Blair's) failure to engage the public in positive aspects of its policy agenda was because of Campbell's paranoia and exclusive focus on danger.
His strategy wreaked havoc because, instead of deflecting attention and cooling the impact of events, his actions poured petrol on the flames. His uncontrolled ill-temper and contempt for those who opposed his views enraged his victims who, in turn, sought every opportunity for revenge.
A telling moment was when he showed sympathy for John Prescott and the notorious egg/punch incident. Clearly, Campbell would have done the same, but more restraint is required of a Deputy Prime Minister or Chief Press Secretary.
The culmination of Campbell's career was his involvement in the dodgy dossier, the Gilligan incident, the death of Dr David Kelly, and the Hutton Inquiry fiasco. Campbell had drawn his friend Blair into territory where it was impossible for him to win. Whatever Blair said, whatever he did, he would not be believed. Campbell was his Svengali and he wrecked any moral authority Blair might have had.
The style of the diary is self-serving and pathetic, as shown by the empty note of sympathy for Dr Kelly's widow. But Blair chose to listen to him and, even after Campbell resigned, said that he would telephone him every single day. Campbell was his crutch, so indispensable that Blair insisted that he attend cabinet meetings. He needed Campbell in the same way that Cherie needed Caplin. Hole in the head comes to mind.
Blair and Campbell were a double act, although it is difficult to decide which was Laurel and which was Hardy. It is easy to imagine Campbell muttering "another fine mess you've got me into", but it was Campbell who sexed up the dossier (whatever Hutton concluded). Neither man had the innocent charm of Laurel and both shared the self-importance of Hardy. Their performance would have been comic if it had not been tragic.
Campbell's role in politics was a sorry episode which did much to undermine trust in public life, and in the men and women who populate that world. A sad story of a talented but flawed man, driven by a need to succeed in achieving narrow goals, diminished by an uncontrollable urge always to be right.