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Alastair Campbell: Was Ed Miliband outperforming David Cameron?

Former British prime minister David Cameron - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

In these exclusive extracts from his diaries, ALASTAIR CAMPBELL recalls meeting David Cameron’s director of communications Craig Oliver. He felt Ed Miliband was outperforming his man. 

Friday, May 18

Met Craig Oliver (Cameron’s communications director). Jeremy Heywood [cabinet secretary] still hadn’t replied to my complaint re. Cameron [Campbell had accused the PM of seeking to deflect criticism over Coulson by dragging him and Iraq into the debate], though he had promised to yesterday. Craig said he had not meant it to come out like it did. Yeah right.

Craig talked mainly Leveson at first. He said Cameron was doing a lot of preparation. He picked my brains on where I thought Leveson was heading. I felt he was going for statutory then independent regulation. He felt that Rebekah had not been impressive, that Jay had tied her up in relation to this idea that she only reflected what readers wanted.

He thought GB would be the PM most worried, but I felt that was wishful thinking. Cameron Leveson witness on June 14, apparently. He was finding the new mood quite tough. The negativity and the difficulty to get things on their agenda. I said Cameron did too much and he was too day to day. Had to build up ministers.

He reckoned Ed was doing better but that Cameron still won on the ‘prime ministerial sniff test’. He had wondered whether Geordie Greig [Evening Standard editor] to edit the Mail on Sunday was a move to make the Mail less vile. I felt it was tactical pre-Leveson.

Monday, June 18

TB [Tony Blair] was easily the best of the former PMs at Leveson, really showed an understanding of the issues, and good tone. GB was all smouldering and really unbelievable when it came to claiming he never used the press to undermine TB, or to do others. Major was Major, Cameron was Cameron, hated being challenged.

Tony Blair arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images – Credit: Getty Images

Wonderful tweet – he hasn’t been talked to like this since he was at school. Fiona [Millar, Campbell’s partner] and I went to see Posh, a satire on the Bullingdon Club, and pretty stomach churning. There are people like this and they run the country. I also chaired a debate on the play with Luciana Berger [Labour MP], Rachel Johnson [journalist sister of Boris], the producer and an Oxford don. Went well, and Rachel no less came out and said class in Britain would not change until private schools were gone.

Tuesday, June 26

Another early start for The Wright Stuff [Channel 5 talk show]. Good stuff on the book [previous volumes of Campbell’s diaries], also stuff on mental health and public figures and a good discussion on literary hit Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. Fastest ever book to reach a million in the UK. I cracked a joke re. renaming the diaries Fifty Shades of Power.

Off to Waterloo to Gerald Shamash’s office for a meeting with police from Operation Weeting with [officer] Michelle Roycroft. Very nice woman. On hacking she just wanted to pick my brains on my time as a journalist and also my relationship with some of the key people she was looking into, especially Rebekah and Coulson.

I wasn’t terribly sure of the purpose of the interview but she said she wanted to draft a statement for me based in part on Leveson. She had read my statements and transcripts and was also giving me a sense of the scale of the investigation. Gerald was trying to find out a bit more about where it was heading but she was pretty discreet. She did say, however, that they expected quite a lot of charges.

Friday, September 7

Dinner at Ed Miliband’s. Perfectly nice but bit of an odd evening. The other guests were Tessa and David, and Charlie [Falconer, Labour peer]. Ed said very little, and quite often he would chip in halfway through with a question about something that had already passed.

Tessa was clearly on a high again about the Games [as Olympics minister from 2005-2010 she had been one of the architects of the 2012 Games]. Ed didn’t really get sport. He was very relaxed about Boris [Johnson, mayor of London], felt that his rise was all good for us, whereas I felt it made it OK for some people to vote Tory and he also took the ‘interesting-politician’ space.

Charlie was very funny re. the different TB and GB styles when sacking, but both involved not being wholly frank. Charlie has such a wonderful analytical mind and is so good at giving an assessment of people’s basic character, including all his, our and TB’s kids. Ed was very subdued, so Charlie chatted away – re. Leveson, re. [shadow chancellor Ed] Balls, re. the statement due next week on Hillsborough, with 400,000 [government and police] documents being released for the first time. Ed had a slight look of panic on his face all the time. He was in a better place but it was hard to imagine him as PM.

October 15-27

The Hacked Off campaign had picked up worrying signals from [deputy Labour leader] Harriet Harman’s office that Labour was looking to back a deal with the editors, and when I texted Ed about it later, he indicated that they worried Hacked Off were too inflexible. Not a good sign.

The other campaign I had got drawn into was No More Page 3 [to persuade the Sun to stop its topless feature], and I had a meeting with them, including [Labour MP] Stella Creasy, shortly before we left for France. It was important for them not to be part of the Leveson debate. We went over the kind of names that would be good on a letter to Dominic Mohan [Sun editor] to try to draw him into a debate. He needed to feel it was actually a bit old fashioned. [The newspaper eventually stopped the feature in 2015.]

Thursday, November 8

Hugh Grant round first thing to interview me for his documentary on the press, pre-Leveson. Fiona and Grace [Campbell’s daughter] keen to meet. We went up to the study and it was really just a chat, but I pointed out, as I had done to the Hacked Off lot, that they needed to do a better job of understanding where others were coming from, not to compromise as such but to understand how to beat them in an argument.

We chatted for an hour or so, pretty much all my usual stuff, then a bit with him trying to press me re. our role in it all, after which he apologised for being a bit Paxmanesque. I said he really didn’t need to and he really wasn’t that tough.

Wednesday, November 28

TB looking fit and well, had lost a bit of weight – unlike me, over 15 stone again – and was fizzing with stuff. Now working in 10 countries, and wanting to double that so he had 10 African projects on the go, and 10 outside Africa.

On Leveson he said the coverage of the build-up underlined why the papers needed tougher regulation. The basic dishonesties ran through them the whole time. He said he was still in this remarkable position where we were seen as the best example of modern political operation by most political operators around the world, but battered here.

He felt on Ed M that though he was doing better, the basic strategy was wrong. He had spoken to him, said he was happy to help but he felt Ed had the view that the country had essentially moved to the left because of the austerity programme. He felt Ed was not making the impact he could be but ultimately it was because he had the wrong politics and the wrong strategy.

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