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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: This worst-ever government has made me a ranter

This is the worst government in memory. Having a rant at their expense may only be a coping mechanism, but every little helps.

Boris Johnson. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

I can’t decide if I should be flattered or hurt that Prospect magazine has published a long review of my Instagram Live Rants and Rambles. Flattered, because a “review” in an upmarket posh mag suggests I may have stumbled upon a new art form; hurt, because the sense you get is that this guy – moi – used to be powerful, and now just wanders around Hampstead Heath raging into a phone about how awful the Johnson government is.

“For those who remember his pomp,” writes Robert Hutton, “it’s like stumbling across Paul McCartney playing a hotel piano, doing requests for tips.” Actually, even if intended as insult, I am taking any comparison with Macca as being as good as it gets (Cue another plug for the new Beatles documentary series on Disney+, “‘brilliant, mesmerising” – AC on Insta).

If you’re not on social media, and even if you are, this may be the first you are even aware of my Rants and Rambles. This would neither surprise nor offend me. There is just too much stuff out there these days. But Hutton’s piece did at least get me thinking, “well, why do you do these Rs and Rs, then?”

Partly, to be honest, therapy. I wake up most days in a rage, driven to it by the government and the damage they are doing to our country and yes, as Hutton correctly observes, out of enormous frustration that I used to work for a competent, serious PM and lead a team inside a functional, serious Number 10, and now see this shambles playing out day after day, scandal upon scandal, the lies piling up as high as the bodies Boris Johnson was content to see – victims of Covid.

The rage abates a little with the distraction of the freezing cold water of the Parliament Hill lido – down to three degrees at one point over the weekend – and then we take the dog for a walk to warm up. The rage is still there, and has to go somewhere. Why not by talking it out of me for a bit? Talking, walking therapy. Costs nothing.

The numbers are small, hundreds live, a few thousand after the event, but for the regulars, it seems to provide therapy for them too. Hutton records me saying on one R and R: “She [Fiona, my partner and occasional less ranty co-ranter] just thinks I should shut up.” He looks at the comments coming in on his phone. “No, Fiona, no, they’re all saying ‘no, he shouldn’t shut up’.”

The interaction also gives me ideas for new lines of attack and inquiry. It was partly on these rambles that I started to sense growing revulsion at Johnson’s conduct of government, and set myself the target of getting the Nolan HOOSIAL Principles – “Honesty, Openness, Objectivity, Selflessness, Integrity, Accountability and Leadership” – re-injected into the public debate. I think we are making progress on that.

This is the worst government in memory, bar none, and we just have to do what we can, in any way we can, large and small, to help get rid of them. I freely accept my Rs and Rs are in the small category, but every little helps.

Lawyer and activist Peter Stefanovic is very much a “do whatever we can” kind of guy. When most of the media were still fawning over Johnson and co, Stefanovic was constantly calling out the lies on social media.

His video setting out just a handful of lies told by Johnson in the Commons – itself a resigning offence in the days when ministerial standards were upheld – has now been viewed more than 40 million times, despite most of the media ignoring it. I did get it played on Good Morning Britain, and Stefanovic interviewed, when I was guest presenting, Sky have covered it, and I managed to mention it on BBC Question Time a few weeks ago, which helped clock up another million plus views.

But when, in an interview about partygate/wallpapergate, I raised the video in a BBC News Channel interview last week, and pointed out that the Beeb was the only major news outlet not to have covered it, the interviewer segued rather uncomfortably to a question about Labour backing new Covid restrictions. Odd.

Johnson’s needless Sunday night presidential address, essentially a fresh attempt to use the reality of the pandemic to distract media and public from the various messes his amoral character has created, provoked a lot of comment.

The one that resonated most strongly with me was a tweet which repeated roughly what I had said to my partner Fiona as we watched him unveil his latest new three-word slogan, Get Boosted Now. “If you had no idea who he was, you were interviewing him for a job, and he turned up looking like that, what are the chances you’d take him on?” “Zero,” she replied.

Home secretary Priti Patel was a notable absentee at the Police Bravery Awards, perhaps something to do with the Police Federation, organisers of the event, passing a motion of no confidence in her.

Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick was there to present an award, but seated a few tables away, so I was unable to quiz her on the new Johnson/Raab/Dick doctrine that crimes are not investigated retrospectively. My inquiries of officers from other forces on this were met with what might best be described as raised eyebrows and quizzical glances.

There were some remarkable stories of police courage told, the overall winner a team of four officers from West Yorkshire who had successfully tackled two men engaged in a murderous attack using Samurai swords.

But the story that struck me hardest was of West Midlands PC Matthew Evans, off duty on a visit to his brother in London, who confronted a violent offender who had stabbed a man in the street. By the time he had chased, disarmed and detained the man, a crowd of passers-by had gathered, and his appeals for support were met with some of them trying to help the offender escape.

PC Evans sports a huge beard and some of the crowd pulled at it in an attempt to get him to let the man go. Asked as he accepted his award why he thought the crowd had turned on him, not the knifeman, he replied simply: “I think in some places the hatred of police is just so ingrained.”

It was kind of shocking to hear it said so matter-of-factly, in a roomful of police officers who appeared not to be shocked at all.

Angela Merkel’s first G7 as German chancellor, in St Petersburg in 2006, was a G8, with Vladimir Putin in the chair, and Tony Blair representing the UK at his last but one. She is the last of the G7 leaders from those days to have gone, leaving Putin, though no longer invited, last man standing.

As G7 foreign ministers met in Liverpool, I worked out that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has been in post for twice as long as the seven of them combined. I’m not sure the ‘Truss warns Putin’ headlines, as the tension over Ukraine rises, are taken quite as seriously in Moscow as they seem to be in the Tory papers.

I had to read Liz Truss’s ‘big foreign policy speech’ twice, to see if it really was as trite and lacking in an actual foreign policy as it came across on first reading. It was.

From the opening line (“The world is moving very fast”) through gems like “the free world has taken its eye off the ball”, via people are “the greatest transformative force” and Britain as “the greatest country on Earth… from the Beatles to Sarah Gilbert to Tim Berners-Lee”, it read like the kind of thing that sends GCSE markers to sleep as they decide whether to award a C or a D.

No cliché was too worn for the new foreign secretary, no alliteration too clunky. “Getting on the front foot – to the frontiers of freedom… proud, positive, patriotic… influence, ideas, inspiration…” If she really is favourite to replace Johnson then we are, as my Insta Live regular Nigel McPheat put it, heading from the lying pan into the dire.

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