Friday, May 11, 2007

Howard nails the real culprit

Probably only political obsessives managed to stick with yesterday's extended edition of Newsnight to the bitter end, but for those that did, there was a real treat in store.

Jeremy Paxman was chairing a studio discussion featuring Howard, Polly Toynbee, Charles Kennedy, Alan Milburn, David Hare and Alastair Campbell. Towards the end, the talk turned to Tony Blair's style of government and the impact of spin and sleaze.

Howard recalled that in the days when the young Tony Blair used to shadow him at Employment and the Home Office, he found him at all times to be absolutely straight and honest.

Then, looking across at Campbell, he declared: "I believe the man sitting there is who's responsible for what changed." Campbell had no response to it other than to accuse Howard of being a sore loser.

Howard's right, of course. Blair must bear the final responsibility as the man who employed him, but it was Campbell whose bullying of journalists and civil servants in the cause of news management did more than anything else to demean our political culture during the Blair years.

And of course, it was Campbell who wanted to get Dr David Kelly's name out in the open in order to "fuck Gilligan," part of the chain of events that ultimately destroyed the public's trust in Mr Blair.

The Guardian's Will Woodward has written a piece in today's Blair Resignation Supplement (not online as far as I can see) the gist of which is that Tony Blair would not have been the same force without Alastair Campbell.

Will is a nice guy who has already gone far in the Lobby and will go further, but he's wrong on this one. Without the baleful influence of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair might have been a great Prime Minister.

Update: The Newsnight clip is now on YouTube, courtesy of Chicken Yoghurt.

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Justin said...

Wow. Somebody was bound to say it Campbell's face eventually. Shame it had to be Michael Howard, is all.

Like you say, words failed Campbell. Again.

Justin said...

Thought the exchange deserved wider exposure so I YouTubed it.

Ross said...

Justin, I had been looking for a You Tube of the incident earlier today, so thanks for that.

MorrisOx said...

This is a sore point for you, Paul, and a number of others who were either frozen out or found themselves on the receiving end of a uniquely unpleasant brand of bile.

It's not the first time a PM's right-hand man has played fast and loose - Ingham was a bruiser, Joe Haines similarly 'accomplished' - but New Labour's news management infected everything from the Downing Street bunker through to departments and agencies.

In the end, of course, it was self-defeating. But let us not pretend the Treasury - whose response to requests for information from No 10 was usually short and sweet - was much better.

Gordon has a case to answer, too.

Paul Linford said...


You are implying - and I don't blame you for thinking this - that my attitude towards Alastair is coloured in some way by my own personal dealings with him. In actual fact I had very few such dealings, save for a rather silly episode during a Lobby briefing when he accused me of asking the Governor of the Bank of England whether he had stopped beating his wife.

No, my assessment of Alastair comes from observing his dealings with others (eg telling a pregnant female lobby hack not to "wet her knickers" over some misleading piece of spin) and above all his behaviour in the run-up to the death of Dr Kelly and in the immediate aftermath of the Hutton report.

skipper said...

I sort of reach the same conclusion in my post today after staying up late as well. It was a classic moment when Howard went for Alastair and I thought he was well rattled.

Anonymous said...

paul, campbell wasn't around during the cash for perrages stuff though.

i think you maybe giving campbell too much responsibility for blair's actions.