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Alastair Campbell’s diary: Labour can’t rely on Tory disasters – here’s how they can win

Despite it all, the prime minister is still seen as a winner, one Tory MP tells ALASTAIR CAMPBELL. But, here's how the opposition can change that.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during the CBI annual conference. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/PA Images.

As you’ll know by now, I do like interactive show-of-hand surveys, and with the conference and events sector starting up again, you will be hard-pressed to stop me giving you regular snapshots of opinion.

To ExCeL in East London, and a crowd of B2B marketeers. Is the country in a mess? Landslide for yes, zero hands for no. Are Boris Johnson and his government doing a good job? Exact reversal. Not one person out of several hundred willing to say we have a good government. Is Johnson a good prime minister? Zero. Is Brexit going well? Zero.

He fared better on “Is Johnson a good communicator?” (This was before his Peppa Pig speech.) Maybe a third said yes, me included, but I made the point that, technically, effective communication comes asunder if there is no substance and strategy at its heart. That is what is now happening.

But then… will Labour win the next election? Two hands raised. This is the problem with our politics right now; a government clearly not up to the job, a prime minister as venal as he is incompetent, but the country insufficiently seeing in Labour a viable alternative.

This was a mixed age group of 20- to 50-year-olds, with one man admitting to being a year older than my 64. It was a mix of salaried and self-employed, mainly but not exclusively south-east based.

The combination of dire government and struggling opposition is creating a lot of anger and anxiety, and a fair few people giving up on politics altogether, one man asking whether the era of cryptocurrency and wider technological change meant we were now well down the road to the Sovereign Individual vision I have mentioned before – in which the super-wealthy are bigger than government, bigger even than the rule of law.

I asked if anyone had a sense of what Labour’s strategy was? Blank faces, shaking heads, a few hands tentatively raised. I asked the owner of one of those hands, a young man called Eoin, to come up and explain what the strategy was.

Essentially he said they wanted to put together a winning plan based on learning lessons from the past decade. Mmm, is that a strategy?

Then a woman called Mimi came up and said: “Their mistaken (her emphasis) strategy is to focus on voters in the red wall.”

That was closer. Either way, it is not really clear or working if a bunch of politically engaged professionals have no idea what it is. My worry about recent polls showing the Tories falling behind is that Labour will think they are on track. They may have drawn blood on corruption, Keir Starmer spooking Johnson into acting on second jobs, then rinsing him at the Despatch Box, then hot-footing to Bradford to highlight broken promises on rail. All good.

However, proving the Tories are sleazy and incompetent, and that Johnson is a liar, will only get Labour so far. They have to be clearer about the alternative, more visible in their campaigns, more present in the conversation, more incisive in their attacks, more interesting in their analysis of the country and the world, more able to develop policy ideas that meet the scale of the challenges we face.

The Tories are eminently beatable, but it requires Labour to see this dark period for Johnson as the time to change the rules of engagement and step up on all of the above.


When I designed my alternative Tory Cabinet here recently, largely to cause mischief – successfully, judging by the traffic from Tory MPs – Helen Grant was in as chief secretary. This was based on recommendations from others, but last week I met her in person for the first time.

The prime minister’s special envoy on girls’ education, she was speaking at a fundraiser for Stay at School, a charity founded by my friend Peter Chittick, which helps educate children in Nepal.

She had a nice manner and spoke well. However, whenever she mentioned Johnson, claiming, for example, that he had a real passion for the education of poor girls in the developing world (er, sexism, racism and overseas aid cuts, anyone?), I could feel her losing altitude with the audience.

She, and others like her, would do better to show how different they are from him, rather than seek to draw any moral authority by their proximity to, or dependence upon, him.

Another Tory MP I met last week, a minister sacked in the reshuffle, told me he did not believe that the party will dump Johnson.

“He is still seen as a winner,’ he said. “Sunak is a rich suit with no understanding of real people, Truss has less charisma than that motorbike she was on, Patel is pretty popular but deep down the party is still racist… Boris can f*** up a whole lot more before there is a move.”

How depressing is that? I am not sure he is right, but fair to say he understands the Tory Party better than I do. I am not sure I understand it at all anymore.


I like to think I am fit, and capable of taking on big sporting challenges. But my cold-water swimming – we are now in single figures at the Lido (both water temperature and numbers queueing ahead of the 7am opening each day) looks pretty puny alongside Lewis Pugh’s mammoth swims in the waters off Greenland to draw attention to fast-melting glaciers.

Now my running has been put to shame too. On Monday and Tuesday, rugby coach Kevin Sinfield ran from Leicester to Leeds over 24 hours to raise funds and awareness for the MND Association and the appeal to build The Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neurone Disease, in Leeds.

He did it in seven-kilometre batches – in honour of Burrow, his fellow Leeds Rhinos rugby league legend, who played at Number 7.

This allowed him short rest periods within every hour, but it meant going right through the night.

I did two of the evening stages with him and could only marvel that he had already done 11, with 12 still to go.

By a strange coincidence, we were both speaking at the same business event the next day.

I had been asked to talk about resilience and the winning mindset. Part of me was tempted merely to say “ask Kevin,” and sit down.


From Chesterfield to see my sister near Retford, then to Leeds for a TV show, to Manchester for a speech, and a Burnley home game.

So a good range of people and places to test the Northern view on things. One thing is becoming clearer: Northern Powerhouse was a Cameron slogan without substance or strategy. Levelling Up is a Johnson slogan without substance or strategy.

Two posh, rich, entitled and arrogant Old Etonians who have conned, and are now screwing, the North. The North is noticing, and the new Tory MPs are starting to worry.


My favourite event last week was in Chelmsford Cathedral, a 30th anniversary celebration of Open Road, a charity which supports addicts. The highlight of the evening was a speech by a man called Jeff Blair, which ended with him reading a poem he had written, called Crucifixion. Jeff spent four decades addicted to drugs, mainly heroin, was in and out of prison, until he turned his life around with the help of Open Road. The poem, which you can access by googling Poetry Changes Lives/Jeff Blair, is so powerful about addiction and the attitudes which surround it. He has also co-written a play, which has just won an award. That is recovery.


Finally, a blatant TV plug. Winter Walks, BBC 4, November 30. Me in the Yorkshire Dales, filming myself on a 360-degree camera on the end of a selfie stick and talking to myself about whatever comes into my head as I walk along. Worth watching for the scenery alone. And I do manage to smuggle in a negative reference to Brexit.

See inside the 25 November: He's unravelling edition

Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images.

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