Friday, July 20, 2007
I only ever met him the once, while I was producing items for ITN's News at Ten. It was in Basildon during the election campaign in 1997, and he'd arrived prior to the Blairs to walk the course.
The electioneering event was being held in a theatre crammed with Labour activists and fans. It was a few days before the vote and everyone knew the Tories were finished; Major had just done a ridiculous press conference on Europe in which he'd plaintively asked his fellow Conservatives not to 'bind my hands'.
But the country was ready for a change and everyone in Basildon knew it that afternoon. There was intense excitement. Campbell was this tall figure with piercing eyes who came over to us as we sat there, and I was treated to an early dose of New Labour suspicion about media they didn't totally grip - a twenty questions routine of who we were and what we were doing, and all this time a slightly sneering tone and on my part an awareness that this guy let NOTHING past him whatever and even now, on the eve of an enormous victory, absolutely zero was being left to chance.
Here are, we're told, his diaries and if you're keen on politics at any level they're a great read. Blair spends most of his time tense and anxious. Campbell stalks around, sits in cabinet, and moans about how hard he's having to work and how little his wife appreciates his absences.
He doesn't get on with Cherie at first, then better as she realises how crucial he is. There's lots of colour about Cook, who gets a decent press, Mandelson who at one points attacks him physically.
Ironically it was spun that Gordon Brown was an absentee from this book, but he's here all along and while clearly much has been omitted about the rows and general fireworks, its more than clear that he was a trucculent conductor on the New Labour Government Bus.
Lots here about Northern Ireland, which is fascinating, and about how much help Clinton was in obtaining peace. Then the Two Towers fall and Campbell witnesses at first hand how quickly the world changes into a different place.
His mistake, candidly explored here, is to give in to anger and hate - even he appreciates he goes 'over the top' sometimes, and his attitude to the media is shocking; he literally hates the press en masse and eventually finds he can no longer brief them.
Gordon Brown has already signalled a move away from the media tactics of the Blair era but we'll see if it sticks. Whatever the flaws, it worked for Tony.