Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A good press secretary

Hutchinson, an imprint of Random House, is to publish Alastair Campbell’s diaries ‘in full’ starting with the first of four volumes, Prelude to Power 1994-1997, in early June. Oddly, there is no mention of this imminent publication on Random House’s busy website. A selection of Campbell’s diaries - entitled The Blair Years - was first published in 2007, and though the book sold well it didn’t seem to make many friends!

Alastair Campbell was born in Yorkshire, in 1957, the son of a vet. He was educated at City of Leicester School and Cambridge University, where he studied French and German. After a stint as sports reporter on the Tavistock Times. he became a trainee on the Plymouth-based Sunday Independent, then owned by Mirror Group Newspapers, where he met his partner Fiona Millar (with whom he now has three children). He moved to London to work for the Daily Mirror, and soon became a political correspondent. However, in 1986, he was hospitalised suffering from alcohol abuse.

Subsequently, he rebuilt his career at the Daily Mirror becoming its political editor. He advised Neil Kinnock, the leader of the Labour Party at the time, and worked closely with Robert Maxwell, the Daily Mirror’s owner. Next, he became political editor of Today, a tabloid newspaper, and was working there when John Smith died in 1994; soon after he agreed to become Blair’s spokesman (see extract below). He helped coordinate Labour’s 1997 election campaign, and, when Labour won, he was appointed the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary. In 2000 he was promoted to the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications.

In 2002-2003, Campbell became heavily embroiled in the events leading up to the Iraq war. In August 2003 during the Hutton Inquiry, he resigned, though he said his resignation had been agreed months earlier, and had nothing to do with the enquiry. Since then, he has done a variety of jobs, including helping Labour with the 2005 general election, and writing a column for The Times. He publishes a vlog and a blog on a personal website, where he also advertises his services as a ‘communicator, writer, strategist’, and as a speaker. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia.

While working for Blair, Campbell kept a detailed diary, said to total around two million words (how DID he find the time?). Only two weeks after Blair stood down from the leadership of the Labour Party, in 2007, Hutchinson (part of Random House) published The Blair Years, being extracts chosen by Campbell from his diary. The book is said to have sold 230,000 copies. Now, only weeks after the Labour Party have lost power, and Gordon Brown has stepped down, Hutchinson is about to start publishing Campbell’s diaries ‘in full’. The news comes from a Random House press release, although there is no sign of it on the Random House websites. Campbell, though, has made the text available on his own website.

The first volume, to be published on 3 June (but available from 1 June according to Amazon), is entitled The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Volume One - Prelude to Power 1994-1997. It will begin with 40 pages of ‘hitherto unpublished material recording the discussions that led to Tony Blair, rather than Gordon Brown, becoming leader of the Labour Party’. Some 75 per cent of the material in this first volume is previously unpublished, Random House says, and was prepared for publication some time ago.

Hutchinson Publishing Director Caroline Gascoigne said: ‘With elections and campaigns so fresh in people’s minds, and with so much focus on the legacy of the Blair-Brown governments, the timing of publication could not be better for us. Prelude to Power is a truly riveting read. I don’t believe there has ever been a diary quite like this from someone so close to the centre of power, and who has remained there ever since. I know that people have assumed the unpublished material is all about the Blair-Brown relationship, but it is about so much more than that.’ Further volumes are likely to be published every six months, and to be titled Power and the People, Power and Responsibility and The Pressures of Power.

Paul Routledge, of the Daily Mirror, picked up the news and made a brief comment: ‘Alastair Campbell is to publish all four volumes of his diaries of the Blair years. Unexpurgated. Expletives undeleted. **** knows who’ll buy them. Not this t*sser, as he described me in the original, edited version.’ And The Guardian, in revealing the news, reminded its readers of what it said about The Blair Years: ‘nasty, brutish and long ... the edited outpouring of an obsessive’. However, that’s an unfair editing of its own material: the very sentence actually finished with ‘. . . but its significance cannot be denied.’ And, in further fairness, The Guardian also called the book ‘compelling’, and another reviewer, David Hare, said although it was ‘unrevealing’ it was ‘fascinating at the same time’.

Here is the start of the first entry in The Blair Years.

27 July 1994
‘TB called me and asked me to go and see him in the Shadow Cabinet room. I arrived at 1:30 and into the kind of turmoil you normally associate with moving house. Boxes and crates of John Smith’s papers and possessions on the way out, TB’s on the way in, and nobody quite sure where everything should go, and all looking a bit stressed at the scale of the task. Anji Hunter and Murray Elder were in the outer office, and I got the usual greeting from both, Anji all over-the-top kisses and hugs, Murray a rather distant and wary smile. He said Tony was running a bit late. He went in to tell him I was here. A couple of minutes later John Edmonds [General Secretary of the General and Municipal Boilermakers Union] came out, and looked a bit miffed to see me. Tony’s own office was in even greater chaos than the outer office so he was working out of the Cabinet Shadow room. He turned on the full Bunsen burner smile, thanked me for all the help I’d given on his leadership acceptance/speech, and then, still standing, perched his foot on a packing case and got to the point, rather more quickly than I’d anticipated. He was going on holiday the next day, and he still had a few key jobs to sort out. He was determined to get the best if he could. He needed a really good press secretary. He wanted someone who understood politics and understood the media, including the mass-market media. They don’t grow on trees. He said it had to be somebody tough, and confident, someone who could make decisions, and stick to them. Historically the Labour Party has not been blessed with really talented people in this area of politics and political strategy but I think we can be different. Gordon is exceptional, so is Peter, so are you, and I really want you to do this job.’

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