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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: My advice to Rishi Sunak

It's hard to believe that he will listen to my guidance. But I offer it nonetheless

Image: The New European

I don’t imagine for one second that Rishi Sunak would listen to my advice. But I shall give him some nonetheless:

Dear Rishi… draft statement as follows: “On being made prime minister, I promised an era of integrity, professionalism and accountability – because what preceded me was anything but. I have tried to be polite about my two immediate predecessors, then and since. But the time for politeness is over. It is time to tell the truth. One left office because of serial lying for which he has taken no responsibility since. The other left because of catastrophic mismanagement of the economy. She too takes no responsibility, instead blaming others for failing to see her genius. Both behave as though the past is irrelevant to the present. The truth is: they are a major cause of the country’s problems which I am seeking to confront.

“As elected MPs, they are entitled to continue to make whatever contribution they wish to public debate. But they cannot do so on the same irresponsible basis on which they governed. Truth matters in politics. Standards matter too. We cannot take the public for fools and expect them to trust or respect us. So much trust having been lost, it is an important part of my role to re-earn it.

“In these circumstances, I think it is frankly absurd that the tradition of resignation honours should be applied in the normal way. Having seen the lists of nominations my predecessors wish to put forward for peerages, knighthoods and other honours, my very clear judgment is that politics will fall further into disrepute if I allow them to be awarded.

“I know this will be unwelcome news to Mr Johnson and Ms Truss and the many friends to whom they have promised honours. But I cannot see how this can be justified at this time and in these circumstances.

“I should add that I will not be making a resignation honours list on my departure from Downing Street, whenever that may be. I hope this can become a sensible precedent. In the meantime I urge Mr Johnson and Ms Truss to continue to support the party that made them leader before they lost the trust I am now determined to rebuild. And I will get on with the job of trying to repair the damage done and meet the challenges we all face.”

There you go, Rishi. Job’s a good ’un, as they say in your Yorkshire constituency. Some of your advisers and all of Johnson’s client journalists will say it is a declaration of war against him and Truss. But they have already declared war on you and you’re just letting them fire at you without firing back. David Cameron tried that approach in the EU referendum when he insisted there should be no “blue on blue” attacks against the Johnson lies and bluster. That went well, didn’t it?

So give it a go. Show some strength and leadership and moral courage. It will do you the world of good. After all, Keir Starmer hasn’t done badly out of showing that when he says his party is under new management he means it, even if it leads to his predecessor losing the whip.

While you’re at it you might find out how the good people of Uxbridge are feeling about their MP swanning around the world pursuing a parallel foreign policy, insisting taxpayers pick up the tab for his legal fees to get him out of his Partygate lies and law-breaking while he trousers a quarter of a million every time he does an after-dinner speech.

And perhaps get a new Tory candidate in there who might actually believe in something other than their own ambitions and attention-seeking.

Thanks for the nice messages after last week’s Radio 4 debate on Brexit three years on from our departure from the EU, in which Jacob Rees-Mogg sought to tell the live audience that it was all going better than people like me suggested, and got roundly rubbished for his troubles.

The people making up the audience for these Today programme debates do not know until they get there who will be on the panel or what the subject will be. So the Beeb doesn’t do the usual political audience balancing they do for programmes like Question Time. It is first come first served.

The debate was broadcast live and so we began by sitting quietly and listening to the news headlines. The lead story was about Brexit negotiator David Frost saying how well it was all going. The audience laughed almost to a man and woman. So Rees-Mogg looked somewhat startled from the off.

His selective use of statistics and his gaslighting using tendentious claims about past, present and future further added to the laughter, heckling and booing. He then did something he rarely does – aching politeness being his usual shtick – namely, he tried to get personal. I am well used to opponents in debate throwing “what about Iraq?” at me, and there will usually be one or two in any audience happy when the words “dodgy dossier” get flung around. When Rees-Mogg tried it, he was met with a few more howls and lots of head-shaking scorn.

The mood has turned significantly on Brexit. Perhaps the loudest applause my own contributions received was for the observation that both Labour and Tory are lagging behind the people, most of whom are tired of the slogans, know that Brexit isn’t working, and just want it fixed.

Many thanks to the New European for sponsoring the current and next episodes of LEADING, the new weekly podcast channel Rory Stewart and I have launched alongside The Rest Is Politics. LEADING consists of us interviewing people in positions of leadership, rather than just blathering away between ourselves. Fittingly for the paper’s first tie-up, it is for an interview with the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

It is quite something that through the entire negotiations the suave Frenchman remained the sole lead negotiator representing not just the Commission but 27 EU countries, and never lost the support of any of them. Compare that with the ever-changing roll call of prime ministers, ministers and civil servants he had to deal with on the British side. In Barnier’s My Secret Brexit Diary – a good book which deserved a better title – it is clear he had considerable respect for Theresa May and Olly Robbins, the civil servant who had to try to make sense of the mess created by the ministers, less so for many of the others he had to deal with.

But one line really leapt out at me, a diary observation made in 2018 after his meeting the Labour opposition team under Jeremy Corbyn: “Listening to him, I get the feeling that one day Keir Starmer will be UK prime minister.” Here’s hoping.

Next up after Barnier is the great American sprinter Michael Johnson. And before non-sports fans turn away, let me tell you it is a very, very political interview.

Johnson’s analysis of current US politics, and what it is like to be a black man in Trumpified, polarised America is both compelling and important. PS: The athletics bits are terrific too!

I had never ridden a tandem until the weekend, when Ed Balls and I were persuaded to ride one in the final stages of our journey to the Norwich v Burnley match to support our respective teams. It was all part of the Green Football Weekend in which fans of clubs competed to get green points by doing things which showed their commitment to the environment. Manchester United currently top the Green League, which must be a nice and rare feeling for them these days. Burnley, meanwhile … well, take a look at the Championship table. “Out of sight,” I believe the pundits call it.

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