Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Alastair Campbell’s Diary: Brexiteers won’t talk about the B-word

If Brexit was going well, we would never hear the end of it. Instead, there's an omertà on the subject

Image: The New European

“What does an editor-at-large actually do?” asks reader Nicole Bayley. My fellow New European E-a-L, Matthew d’Ancona, will likely be asked the same question from time to time, as he settles into his role. I suspect his answer will be different to mine, because essentially it is a “make of it what you will” position.

I am not the editor, though on the occasions I am introduced as such in radio interviews, I tend not to bother with rebuttal, because it would take too much time to explain. The actual editor is a bloke called Steve and he does a lot of the real work, alongside a bloke called Matt, who used to be the editor, was also the paper’s founder, and is now editor-in-chief.

E-i-C is much more important than E-a-L, (E-i-C > E-a-L squared, as Einstein might have put it) and Matt now does a bit of everything, which is what I do as an E-a-L, but not as much as he and Steve do, because I have loads of other stuff going on too, like my podcast, which is not the same as the New European podcast, which Matt E-i-C and Matt E-a-L do, which is why it is called The Two Matts, and a VG listen it is too. Alles klar, Nicole?

So far as I see the role, I keep in regular contact with Matt and Steve, feed in ideas, make introductions, generally support what the paper is doing, and of course write this column, which I have done pretty much every week since the paper was born from the ashes of the Brexit referendum.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, doubtless I could find out just how many times, in the 352 editions since June 2016, I have pointed out, in many varied ways, that Brexit is a catastrophe for the country which those who campaigned for it claimed to love. I am confident it would average out at several times per week. Message consistency has always been important to me.

Consistency of messaging used to be important to Brexit’s supporters. Yet Nigel Farage now barely mentions the B-word, unless the B happens to stand for Bank. Likewise, Boris Johnson’s weekly Daily Mail column is largely a B-word-free zone. Instead, the paper’s poor readers have been exposed to his forgetfulness about the ULEZ scheme he founded and now – allegedly – hates, his shedding of crocodile tears for people lost on a hunt to see the wreck of the Titanic, and musings on his failure to lose weight. 

No wonder Mail executives are ever more loudly asking each other, as his copy lands in their inboxes: “Whose fucking idea was this?” Non-Lord Dacre, I suspect.

Meanwhile, Brexit true believer Rishi Sunak quietly drops, yet again, plans for new checks on farm produce coming into the UK from the EU, because such taking back control of our borders will further add to inflation and the cost of living crisis. Who would have thought it, eh? Apart from all those people who warned that exactly this would happen.

If Brexit was going well, we would never hear the end of it. But it’s not, so we don’t even hear the start of it from the Brexit “winners” and their media cronies. Therefore, one of my E-a-L functions, in which I am fully supported by the E-i-C, is to make sure that the Brexomertà fails, and that at least one paper does not fall silent on the disaster that keeps on disastering.

The editor-at-large role also means I can occasionally go very left field and write about things none of you expect. Go on, which of you turned the page and expected an item on boxers who went into politics? Here it is.

I explored the theme in advance of interviewing heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua for The Rest Is Politics LEADING. The fact that he specifically wanted an appearance on the podcast to be his one big interview outside those he is contractually obliged to do ahead of what should have been his big fight against Dillian Whyte, now cancelled after Whyte failed an anti-doping test, suggested to me he might have an interest in the theme. 

Let’s start with the war leader… who among us does not know that the current mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, was a heavyweight champion of the world? Nikolai Valuev, at seven feet and 149 kilos the tallest and heaviest ever heavyweight champion, has been a Russian MP for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, and was last year drafted for service in Ukraine. Sticking with dictatorships, Idi Amin was a light heavyweight champion in Uganda, a country he went on to govern as a brutal military despot.

Manny Pacquiao won 12 major world titles across eight divisions, the last of them aged 40, before going on to be a member of the Filipino Congress, a senator, party leader and presidential candidate. 

Joshua was unaware that Erik Morales and Alexis Arguello, two former world champion fighters viewed by aficionados as true greats of the sport, both went into politics after retiring from the ring. Morales is currently a congressman in Mexico. Arguello became mayor of Managua in Nicaragua, but took his own life aged 57, a few months after taking office.

And if you’re ever looking for a really tough political geek quiz question, try this one: name the only current cabinet minister in a G7 government who was a professional boxer prior to going into politics? The answer: Dan Vandal, minister for northern affairs in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet in Canada. Fight record: 18 wins – with a 50% knock-out ratio – and six defeats. (That’s enough boxing
– ed-at-large

Oh, now there’s a headline that must have sent the hearts of Labour’s campaign team all-aflutter. “Rishi Sunak’s popularity surges as he toughens net zero stance.” The fluttering won’t have lasted too long, however. The headline was in the Daily Telegraph, reporting on a Conservative Home poll, which showed that Sunak had gone from net negative to net positive in the eyes of Tory supporters. 

Read down a bit and you learn that the prime minister is the 14th most popular member of the government. So if they were a football team, he would be on the subs’ bench.

Of course, the real agenda for the Telegraph was to persuade its readers that a campaign to send the planet on the road to oblivion, as backed by climate crisis denialists on the US and UK hard right, makes for really smart politics. I’m not convinced.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed The Two Matts’ discussion of the Barbie and Oppenheimer movies, and their agreeable disagreement about David Baddiel’s criticism that a Jew (Oppenheimer) was played by a non-Jew (Cillian Murphy), to my mind they saved the best till last. 

This was when Matt E-a-L let rip over Sunak’s continued lame efforts to portray himself as a truly normal human being, in a matter of days moving effortlessly from “I love cars” geezer messaging that could have been scripted by Jeremy Clarkson, via a big “I love the great British boozer” campaign, perhaps even less convincing given he is commendably teetotal, to his breathless excitement about visiting Disneyland, cue lots of happy smiling family photos.

Sunak is trying hard to be the regular guy next door (though most of the many front doors he owns tend to be some distance from a neighbour.) I suspect Matt E-a-L is not alone in his assessment that it makes the PM come over as “a very silly person”. Scouseman Matt E-i-C was even more succinct. “Twat”. The editor-in-chief’s word is final.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the Climate crisis? What climate crisis? edition

Image: The New European

The Eurosceptics are now ecosceptics… this time, they will wreck the planet

Brexit is more than enough for any political generation. But, the worst is yet to come

Lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

Dirty dossier could see heads roll at Tory HQ

A botched character assassination could be a source of embarrassment to the Conservatives and their friends in the media