Magazine article The Spectator

Palace Intrigue

Magazine article The Spectator

Palace Intrigue

Article excerpt

The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Vol. 2: Power and the People

by Alastair Campbell

Hutchinson, £25, pp. 320

ISBN 9780091797317

Plunging into the second volume of Alastair Campbell's diaries is like opening a Samuel Richardson novel. The tone is breathless and excitable and the dramatic world of backstabbing, tittle-tattle and palace intrigue is instantly captivating. Historians will scour the book for valuable new information. Practitioners of media management will regard it as a classic.

Downing Street rivalries dominate from the start. The impression that 'the TB-GB riftology' developed after 1997 is inaccurate. War had been raging ever since Blair won the leadership in 1994 and Brown's sabotage unit, led by Charlie Whelan and Ed Balls, swung into action as soon as they arrived at No. 11. Campbell is vague on the Granita deal, a seemingly immoveable fixture in the New Labour story, but the probability is that Brown's henchmen dreamed it up in order to destabilise Blair. So when Blair and Brown denied that they'd agreed a timetable for sharing power they were perceived to be lying and were in all likelihood telling the truth.

Blair's difficulty was a dearth of top talent.

The party had plenty of able middle-rankers but only one figure with serious prime ministerial ambitions. So every scrap of antiBlair sentiment gravitated automatically to Brown and made him more of a threat.

The Blair-Campbell relationship was evidently warm and strong. Away from the pressure of summit meetings they relaxed by improvising sketch routines in silly voices. Heading to Scotland they always put on 'mock posh Jock' accents. Blair loved to entertain his staff with impressions of world leaders, and his version of the Queen is, apparently, lethally accurate.

Some of Labour's best-known figures failed to shine in power. At the Foreign Office Robin Cook's head was turned by the grandeur of his surroundings and by the platoons of public schoolboys he was free to order around. Marital problems compounded his difficulties. A great parliamentary debater who genuinely awed the Tories in opposition, Cook comes across as a vain, randy little peacock who relished the attention his love life generated and began to pose like a character from a cheap romance.

'Planning to marry your girlfriend?' asks Campbell. 'My future, ' Cook intones, 'is Gaynor.'

Campbell writes about women acutely. As early as 1997 he notices that Hillary Clinton is a better strategic thinker than her husband. …

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