For whom the Campbell tolls: Alastair Campbell's ongoing media career is an obscenity...
... but many people's memories were seemingly erased by the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
|Mic Wright||Apr 30||2|
It isn’t just that satire is dead — it died of unnatural causes sometime in the 1970s. Tom Lehrer dates its demise to the day that Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in the autumn of 1973 — but that its corpse is regularly dug up and made to dance like a grotesque puppet by a cabal of hooting necrophiles.
That news follows Campbell’s cover story for The New European in which he — one of the most unrepentant enablers of the Iraq War — writes about watching “the lies pile high” in the Johnson government. The cover shows a pile of bodies — multiple Boris Johnsons — being stared at by Dominic Cummings.
In a way, it’s fitting as Campbell is an expert on governments where bodies piling up is seen as par for the course. It’s just that a large number of the bodies he shares responsibility for were Iraqis, who in the calculus of UK governments are worth, at best, about a quarter of a British person.
Campbell’s superpower is a lack of self-awareness and that energy glows brightly throughout The New European cover feature. He writes:
What was it I said here last week about Johnson trying to turn the focus on David Cameron’s money-grubbing lobbying as a way of deflecting attention from difficult questions about his own conduct and standards? “It has played into the hands of those rare souls who have been trying to make Johnson’s character, and his role in the denigration of standards in public life, an issue for some time.”
So it has, and his tantrum-fuelled phone calls to the editors has played into them even more.
It was Tim Walker, a former Telegraph colleague of Johnson and now this newspaper’s Mandrake columnist, who said that “those who know him best like him least”, and I hope it is not too egocentric – égocentrique, MOI? – to point out the asymmetry with the statement Tony Blair issued when I finally left my full-time post in Number 10: “Those who know him best like him best.”
There’s enough in those three short paragraphs to fill a book, but let’s break them down a little:
It would take far more space than I have available in one email to detail the ways that Tony Blair’s governments continued the chipping away at standards in public life that they had promised to restore.
The record of Peter Mandelson — who has recently returned to advise Keir Starmer — alone is a catalogue of friendships with dubious and discredited people, cosy deals, and corruptions of various kinds perpetrated in plain sight. His first resignation — over an undeclared loan — came roughly 18 months into the first Blair government. It was not the last scandal he was at the heart of and yet here he is all these years later a Lord and Labour grandee.
For Campbell, known during his time in government for his vituperative treatment of those who displeased him — in the press and civil service alike — to castigate someone else for “tantrum-fuelled phone calls” is so rich that you could pour it over a Christmas pudding and set it alight.
Despite the attempt at a self-deprecating joke, Campbell is a titanic egotist who categorically failed to take the joke when he was asked by Mark Kermode about parallels between himself and The Thick Of It’s Malcolm Tucker around the release of the film In The Loop.
That Campbell was/is kind and considerate to his friends and close colleagues is often used as a counterweight to the public impression of his time as Tony Blair’s enforcer. Presented with Tucker’s aggression — inspired in part by his own anger — Campbell told Kermode:
The media is obsessed with themselves… it doesn’t matter that much. When you point to the screen and say, ‘That’s your legacy…’ it’s more complicated than that.
Following the publication of his first collection of diaries, Campbell engaged in a concerted effort to improve his own press. He rebranded as a mental health advocate — drawing on his own long history of depression — wrote books about leadership and made a good living giving motivational speeches. And all the while he remained a readily-available talking head for TV and radio producers.
Campbell was given the chance to have a third act in public life. He is now 63 years old. Four years older than Dr David Kelly was when he died, after being forced into an unforgiving spotlight during Campbell’s scorched earth row with the BBC. Kelly, a government scientist, expert on biological warfare, and former UN weapons inspector whose work in Iraq had earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, was named as Andrew Gilligan’s source for claims that the government had “sexed up” the Iraq Dossier.
In Campbell’s own diaries — extracts of which were included in evidence given to the Hutton Inquiry which investigated Dr Kelly’s death — he wrote that after then Defence Secretary revealed to him that Kelly had come forward to admit that he had met Gilligan: “It was double-edged but GH [Geoff Hoon] and I agreed it would fuck Gilligan if it was his source. He said he was an expert rather than a spy or a full-time MoD official.”
After the government leaked Kelly’s name, Hoon ignored advice from the MoD’s most senior civil servant, Sir Kevin Tebbit, and forced the scientist to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. He was then interviewed by the security services and reprimanded by the MoD’s HR department. He was plagued with phone calls from the MoD for more details on his contact with Gilligan right up until he took his final walk.
The counsel for the Kelly family told Lord Hutton:
The family invite the inquiry to find that the government made a deliberate decision to use Dr Kelly as a pawn… in its battle with the BBC.
But Hutton didn’t conclude that and wasn’t designed to conclude that. It ruled that Kelly took his own life — a finding that is still questioned by some experts to this day — and despite significant evidence that Campbell, Hoon, and others up to and including the Prime Minister had pushed for Kelly to be named let the government off the hook while showering the BBC in shit.
The Independent’s front page from the day of the Hutton Inquiry’s publication with the word whitewash picked out in red in a sea of white space stands up. And another fact that has faded from the public consciousness is worth remembering — the Hutton Report was leaked to The Sun before it was officially published and the inquiry into who conducted the anonymous phone briefing came up empty-handed.
Sometimes it feels as if the London 2012 Olympics ceremony was a kind of Manchurian candidate reset for millions of centrists in the UK. It’s certainly the occasion they often bring up as highlighting “the best” of Britain, but I also think it marks a kind of political reset point — the moment when old Tories, Tony Blair, and figures from his government, were given a nostalgic refresh.
Once we came to Brexit, many people — especially the continuity remainers of the FBPE crowd — seemed to throw every other piece of context out of the window. It didn’t matter what Alastair Campbell had said and done in the past. It didn’t matter that Dr David Kelly had died a lonely death on Harrowdown Hill. It just mattered that Campbell was for Remain and against Boris Johnson.
To fight whatever his current battle may be, Campbell is willing and able to throw history out of the window. Here’s a startling paragraph from that latest New European piece:
Never mind Labour prime ministers, I do not believe Thatcher, Major, Cameron or May, whatever their faults and weaknesses, would have enabled the kind of moral degeneracy which Johnson has introduced to the heart of government.
Campbell was the journalist who ‘broke’ the story that John Major allegedly tucked his shirt into his y-fronts and got into Downing Street because New Labour hammered away at Tory sleaze. But because he’s now focused on presenting Boris Johnson — as bad a Prime Minister as the UK has ever had — as some anomaly rather than the natural consequence of the personality-driven, ideological emptiness he enabled with Tony Blair, he’ll retcon history.
That he also quotes the Nolan principles — Honesty. Openness. Objectivity. Selflessness. Integrity. Accountability. Leadership — without taking a moment to reflect on his own role in eroding them is just another dimension to the obscenity.
288,000 people have died in Iraq since the start of a war that Campbell enabled and continues to defend. That’s a pile of bodies that he shares responsibility for and no amount of mental health activism, charity work, or cosy chats on the set of Good Morning Britain can sweep that away.
It should be shocking that Alastair Campbell was not even for a moment pushed out of public life, but then Henry Kissinger is still alive, kicking, and in possession of a Nobel Peace Prize at 97. Who knows what other baubles, broadcasting jobs, and bylines Alastair Campbell will be able to collect in the time he’s got left…
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