Magazine article The Spectator

The Bushy Black Moustache Which Will Replace Alastair Campbell

Magazine article The Spectator

The Bushy Black Moustache Which Will Replace Alastair Campbell

Article excerpt

A few years ago I was at a Labour paily conference on behalf of the BBC and - this will not surprise you over much, I expect - missed its most important and defining moment. It was the vote for the party's National Executive Committee and the whisper was that Peter Mandclson would lose his cherished place. It was about the only thing in the whole week which hadn't been stage-managed or gerrymandered, a moment of genuine drama and unpredictability.

I'd forgotten it was happening at all until someone at the bar - yes, of course, that's where I was - told me the vote was being held at that very minute, at which point I tore, like an overweight and very unagile mountain hare, past the elderly stewards and into the conference hall. But too late, too late. The result of the vote had already been announced.

I tapped some chap on the shoulder and rather breathlessly inquired if Mandy was on or off the NEC. He smiled and pointed in the direction of Labour's backroom team, hanging around the edge of the stage. 'Well, tell me: what do you think?' he asked.

I looked up and any doubt was immediately removed. It was a scene of the most fervent and consuming bacchanalia. Monkeys and apparatchiks and press officers were high-fiving and hugging each other, occasionally breaking off in spasms of uncontrollable mirth. It was jubilation on the scale of a World Cup victory over Germany. So goodbye, then, Peter.

Somewhere in that throng of celebrating Labour people was David Hill, who, it's pretty clear, will soon he replacing Alastair Campbell as Tony Blair's director of communications. Hill told me that the whole question of his appointment is 'up in the air at the moment' which, I suspect, means that it is a done deal. If you're a Labour supporter, you will certainly hope that it is a done deal, because Hill is that rare combination in contemporary politics: hugely competent and very, very likeable. If you're a Conservative, you should probably worry a little. I mentioned in these pages a few weeks ago that if Labour entered the next election with Campbell still prowling the halls, it would lose. With him gone, it does not mean that Labour will win, but the appointment of David Hill makes such an outcome rather more likely, for a variety of fairly straightforward reasons.

I met the man when I first started working for the Labour party in 1983, right at the beginning of that long and painful process of transformation and modernisation which led - ineluctably it now seems - to a party shorn of ideology and eaten up by its own hubris, a party for which the only purpose of winning an election was to enable it to win the next one, and the one after that.

Back then, of course, Labour won nothing. We would prepare for the easiest by-election in the most rock-solid Labour seat and see the majority - and once or twice the deposit - swept away. It was like playing for the worst football team in the world: turn your back for a second or two and you'd be five goals down with the crowd streaming out of the stadium in despair.

David Hill, as Roy Hattersley's right-hand man, was central to the process which led to the abandonment of Clause Four, unilateral disarmament and all those other wacko policies of the 1950s or, indeed, 1850s, which made Labour unelcctable for 18 years. …

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