30 June 2013

Alastair Campbell: still fighting the last war


The Mail on Sunday's Simon Walters has a go at Alastair Campbell, for comparing Blair's misinformation about WMD to Churchill's "bodyguard of lies"wartime deceptions.

This came from a speech Campbell gave on Thursday in Australia, and the full text is on his blog here, which doubtless is where Walters got it from. We are in an era where the commentariat do all their sleuthing via armchair data mining (as I do, but I don't have their salary or expense account).

In a fight between two unsavouries, I find myself rooting for neither. Campbell's speech was about presentation in an age of easy fisking, and accordingly it's easy to reverse engineer Walters' attack and show what really happened and how angled the MoS piece was.

On the other hand, Campbell's fearsome rep as Number 10 spinmaster was founded on his knowledge of journalists' own personal vulnerable areas. In 2009, he put a shot across the bows of Andrew Marr, who had asked awkward questions about the then PM Gordon Brown's medication. Campbell wrote on his blog:

"It was sad to see Marr, perhaps with an eye to a few Monday morning cuttings, feel that he had to raise blogosphere rumours about Gordon going blind, or being on heavy medication of some sort. I know it will give him the passing satisfaction of pats on the back from journos … But it was low stuff. I'm sure Andrew would agree that everyone has certain areas of their life that they'd prefer not to be asked about live on TV."

It was a clear threat to disclose what Marr was at that time trying desperately to conceal, namely the story about his alleged love-child. Interestingly, this is no longer on Campbell's blog. Down the memory hole goes that piece of yesterday's news. Will we have to copy and paste everything in future, just to be sure it doesn't get "lost"?

Campbell seems still to be working to rehabilitate the reputation of his former boss Tony Blair (described by Clarissa Dickson-Wright in her first autobiography as "a mimsy psychopath"), and as the IRA told Margaret Thatcher, "We only have to be lucky once." I wish he would give it up: it's not just the Coalition lives lost, it's the Iraqi deaths too, running into six figures. But of course he won't stop, because his own reputation has to recover too. The Dodgy Dossier clanks behind him like Jacob Marley's account books.

In fairness, here's the bit from Cambo's blog that Walters semi-misused:

There has always been comms. There has always been public affairs. There has always been PR. There has always been spin. Read the bible for heaven’s sake. What is new is not spin but the reality of a globalized media age, an information economy, a world where technology is accelerating the pace of change on an exponential basis. Nor have there been political and media systems which for most democracies mean that even if people wished not to tell the truth, the pressures are all to do so, and woe betide those who don’t.

That’s not always been the case.

I read a book recently on the relationship between (SLIDE 8) Churchill and de Gaulle, who could regale each other with stories of their public deceptions, and perhaps in doing so deceived each other too. Another recent book, Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross, showed how Churchill got actively involved in the preparation of what he called the ‘bodyguard of lies’ to accompany the truth that an invasion across the English Channel was being planned. Macintyre states as a fact that after the invasion, Churchill lied to Parliament to keep various deceptions going.

Yet if the pollsters were to do a survey, who had a greater commitment to wartime truth, (SLIDE 9) Churchill in World War 2 or Tony Blair in Iraq? I think we know what the answer would be … it just wouldn’t be true. Interesting paradox in a world full of them.

Mr Campbell, too, has his interesting paradoxes.

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