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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: My election diary, week one

Is someone in the prime minister’s team deliberately trying to derail his campaign from within?

Photo: HENRY NICHOLLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

There is of course a part of me that misses being on the campaign trail, previous election campaigns having been defining periods in my career, full of drama and unforgettable, life-changing moments. 

Then again, there is the relentlessness, the sleeplessness, the travel, the logistics and security, the forgetting to eat, the mishaps and setbacks, the insatiable media, the protesters and the golf club bores, the panicking candidates, the whingeing from campaigners and volunteers who think they could do better than the strategists at the top table… Bill Clinton was absolutely right when he said that electioneering is the only form of human life that makes everyone look like a passport photo.

So, on balance, I am happy to be part-insider, with lots of friends centrally involved and occasionally wanting my view, and part-outsider, writing columns like this, doing The Rest Is Politics and getting it on Channel 4, interviews, speeches, round-tables with business and fundraisers for Labour, social media and all the other paraphernalia of political debate that can occupy 24 hours of every day if you’re not careful. 

It’s quite nice, I guess, to have sufficient reputation on the campaign front for people to assume I am deeply involved even when I’m not. Podcast partner Rory Stewart cannot be shaken from the view that I have been holding the pen over Labour’s election strategy (I really haven’t.) 

Looking at social media, many more seem to be convinced I have managed to put a plant inside Tory HQ. How else, goes their thinking, could Rishi Sunak’s campaign possibly have got off to such a dreadful start, unless the love child of Malcolm Tucker and Machiavelli was in there deliberately ballsing everything up?

Where to start? The timing, which took us all by surprise, including furious Tory ministers and MPs who couldn’t see any logic in what their leader was doing, leading to many announcing they were offski.

The weather… OK, even Machiavelli couldn’t fix that, but he would almost certainly have read a forecast, or looked out of the window and seen that wet stuff falling from the dark things above. He might have thought that a £2m purpose-built media centre would have been a better place for a major announcement than a Biblical downpour, and would so have avoided the risk of super-protester Steve Bray blasting Labour’s 1997 anthem (Things did Get Better, by the way) via giant umbrella-protected speakers.

Then Sunak’s first big event, which I watched on Sky News, mesmerised as their reporter tried to tell us what was happening, while being bundled out of the building by security men. Then the first meeting with “members of the public”, who turned out to be Tory councillors pretending to be warehouse workers, asking patsy questions to a man accusing Keir Starmer of being scared of debate.

This was followed by a trip to Wales, where his breathless excitement about the upcoming Euros was unsurprisingly not shared by people whose team had failed to qualify. Then Northern Ireland, for interviews in the, er, Titanic Quarter, a chat with the press on the plane home in front of not one but two Exit signs, followed by a day off! 

It all really does leave you wondering… is he actually this hopeless, or will the next volume of Tim Shipman’s account of modern politics reveal that Sunak’s supposed genius Aussie strategist Isaac Levido was actually best man at Keir Starmer’s wedding?

To Leeds, for UKREiiF – that’s the UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum, which has grown in a few years into a huge event, this year attracting 13,000 people.

In a meeting with several hundred of them, I discovered two seemingly contradictory findings when doing one of my show-of-hands surveys. Every single one of them believed Labour would win the election. Yet, when I asked this room full of experts in housing, construction, planning and local government how many of them believed that Labour would be able to build several new towns in the course of a single parliament, this time no hands were raised.

It is becoming conventional wisdom that Labour are lacking in boldness and ambition. But think about what building a new town involves… not just homes for people, but shops, schools, surgeries, roads, parks. A new town is a huge undertaking. 

What I found fascinating was that the people whose investment and expertise would be required to deliver it all viewed it as too bold and ambitious, yet it didn’t remotely shake the view that Labour would form the next government, the prospect of which they seemed to find perfectly acceptable. Interesting times ahead.

I quite like working to tight deadlines, and thanks to Rishi Sunak the deadline for my next two books just got a lot tighter. Why Politics Matters is aimed at primary schoolchildren, Alastair Campbell Talks Politics at teenagers and young adults. 

Like most people, I believed there would be an autumn election, and so planned for publication in late August. But now that we know it is on July 4, I intend to bring out the book for teenagers on June 20, and the book for primary schoolers on election day. It seems sensible to get them out there when politics is even more dominant in the national debate than usual. 

Most of my intended readers will not be able to vote. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be taking an interest. And I believe profoundly that we need to fire up the young to get passionate about, and engaged in, political debate, if we are to rebuild faith in our politics and turn our country around. 

It is going to take a lot more than a change of government.

My birthday was spent ticking off a bucket list item, a Celtic-Rangers Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park. I have had a soft spot for Celtic since my tenth birthday, May 25, 1967, when they stunned the football world by becoming the first British team to win the European Cup. The Lisbon Lions, truly the stuff of legend. 

And how is this for fate? Saturday’s final was on May 25, 2024, my 67th birthday. The result was never in doubt. Celtic 1-0 Rangers. Poor game, great atmosphere, right outcome.

The Celtic-Rangers rivalry produced perhaps Tony Blair’s most embarrassing moment of his many meetings with the late Queen. He very rarely let slip any of their discussions, but came back from one meeting at the palace somewhat discombobulated.

To understand the story, all you need to know is that she was wearing a green dress, and that there had recently been a game between the two giants of Scottish football, accompanied by a lot of off-field violence, and even an agonised debate about whether future games should be played behind closed doors, so onerous were they on Police Scotland.

She had told him that she was visiting Scotland in the coming week. 

“I hope you’re not intending to wear that dress,” he smiled, before realising that while he thought it was obvious that it was a light-hearted reminder to avoid the green of Celtic, or the blue of Rangers, Her Maj thought he was simply dissing her fashion choice!

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