Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Diary

Article excerpt

What compels people to keep a journal? Is it because conceit persuades them that posterity must not be deprived?

My night thoughts pondered this during the week that Alastair Campbell's opus was unwrapped.

As far as I can make out he saw himself as the all-seeing camera eye at Blair's ersatz Versailles court.

Unfortunately an apprenticeship writing for the fetid pages of Forum magazine does not make one a Duc de Saint Simon. Or put it another way: if the Duc was a Chippendale bureau, Campbell is more a flatpacked kitchen table from Ikea.

I suspect that, subconsciously or otherwise, those who diligently make the effort to record the day's events before retiring embroider the facts: sometimes for honourable reasons, to spare pain to the living, sometimes less than honourably if they are intent on settling old scores and determined, whatever the true facts, to depict their own behaviour in a favourable light.

Campbell, the erstwhile spinmeister, has let it be known that he was forced to let his masterpiece be got at and toned down lest it betrayed the holy writ of New Labour.

In most cases journals reveal more about the authors than their victims, for when venom stains the pages the reader perceives he is being manipulated by somebody who is patently unfulfilled; when all is praise it becomes transparently obvious that the writer is touting for future favours from those he is sweetening. Today more and more politicians and their groupies feel the compulsion to cash in immediately after they are deprived of the perks of power; a week is not only a long time in politics, it is also a long time on Waterstone's shelves for most of them. Who now bothers to search out a copy of Barbara Castle's memoirs or, more recently, the indiscreet meanderings of David Blunkett?

When I was much younger and struggling to become a novelist, I felt it important to study the trials and tribulations of famous writers such as Maugham, Arnold Bennett and the Brothers Goncourt. I convinced myself that if I followed their example, my own success was assured, but when I tried to emulate them the method did not work for me, mainly because my life at that time contained nothing of interest to others and my journals were mostly concerned with the debris of unrequited loves. …

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