Sunday, May 27, 2007


Disappointing but Right that Campbell's Diaries should leave out 'Interesting Bits'

Like most political anoraks I'm looking forward with great anticipation and excitement to Alastair Campbell's diaries. I tend to agree, however, with those who argue that memoirs by participants in government should not be allowed to publish while their government is still in power or within five years. For Chris Meyer's indiscreet memoirs to be nodded through and Sir Jeremy Greenstock's more measured tome barred, was nonsensical. One has to say that Campbell's rush to publication- apparently for financial reasons- seems depressingly in the worst traditions of New Labour.

Andrew Rawnsley discusses their imminent appearance in The Observer today and provides some tantalizing tasters. With all his experience and knowledge of what really went on, his diaries potentially could make those of Pepys(pictured) seem boring and self indulgent. The sad thing is that it seems what we'll get is very much a bowderlized version of the real thing. There will be little or nothing about the dominating political personality clash of the last ten years.

So there will be no dirt on Gordon Brown, even though it seems he did behave disgracefully towards Blair on many occasions. Nor will we read anything much about Tony's dealings with George Bush- surely the second most compelling relationship of his ten years in power. Finally, we won't even hear much about the authentic, real Blairspeak as Tony was horrified to hear Campbell was going to include his frequent uses of the 'f' word, not to mention the even worse 'c' word used in relation to 'a very senior party figure from the eighties who has been very critical of New Labour'- this simply must be Hattersley.

All this is disappointing for those of us who love political gossip and authentic glimpses into the 'engine room' of government, but with one's 'serious about democracy' hat on it's probably for the best. If ministers and civil servants think/know that one of their number is recording what is taking place for future publication, it could damagingly impede our already far from perfect processes of government. As for Campbell, he faces a situation which could go two ways. Potential purchasers of his book might decide it's had all the interesting bits edited out and stay away from the bookshops. On the other hand, it might sell well anyway and he could cash in again in a few years by publishing the full work, complete with dirt on Brown and Bush and Blair's prodigal use of obscenities(and he seemed such a nicely brought up man). Either way, I can't wait.

On one hand I can understand (and share) the excitement at the prospect of these diaries but, on the other hand I can get past the fact that they've been written by the most gifted & effective (if you like him) / deceitful & ruthless (if you don't) political communicators of his generation.

The power and importance of political diaries over the years has been derived solely from fact that they're usually written long after the author (or political contemporaries of the author) have ceased to be a significant figure in national politics. This gives them license to be frank and honest about their time in office safe in the knowledge that there can be little if any political consequences for their current party members.

As the Rawnsley piece demonstrates, the fact that these have been written by the uber-spin doctor himself, 'approved' and sanitised by their leading personae and published while almost everyone of interest in them is still on office means that these will be as far from a genuine political diary as it's possible to get.

I'll still buy them though....!
You've just summed up my reservations and reasons why I'll buy them too.
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