Editor-at-Large Alastair Campbell on the PM and Britain’s position as Z-listers at the world’s most obnoxious party.
The judgement of the Davos crowd is not one that I would necessarily set up as the arbiter of who and what does and doesn’t matter in the world. The last time I went there, several years ago, I decided it would indeed be the last time. Imagine the worst party you have ever been to, where everyone is looking over each other’s shoulder for someone more important; then think of the biggest bullshitters and narcissists you have ever met, chuck in a few dubious oligarchs, and imagine them all fighting for space and volume, amid tons of angst and wasted energy as a small army fret over which event the real A-listers are at, and try to get invited.
But the real judgement on Davos doesn’t require much imagination at all… it is to reflect that you cram into one small space the political, economic, business and media elites who either helped to create the global financial crisis, or failed to spot it, and then when the crash came, and in its wake brought such catastrophes as Trump, Brexit and the rise of populism, failed to assess their own role, or adapt to a new world. The great and the good. Mmm, maybe not so great, not so good. For once, I found myself nodding in agreement with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s observation that they needed to be put on notice… though then I heard what he had to say on Brexit – or not say might be a better way of putting it – and the nodding stopped.
Yet even accepting that Davos has become a byword for the smugness of wealth, and the acceptance of glaring, growing inequality as an immutable fact of life, there was something alarming about the seeming irrelevance of Theresa May at the recent gathering. Yes, the attention-seeking whirlwind that is Donald Trump was on everyone’s radar, but even so, the British patriot in me is troubled by the sight of our Prime Minister making her keynote address to a few human beings dotted around amid empty chairs, much as she had done at the United Nations General Assembly. Worse, there were more empty chairs at the end than the beginning, underlining not just a lack of charisma, but a lack of interest in what Britain has to say right now. It is hard to overstate just how fast and how far we have fallen in the eyes of the rest of the world since voting to leave the European Union.
‘That ship has sailed,’ says Jeremy Corbyn of Brexit, going on to tell the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation that there was no question of Labour supporting a fresh referendum on the final deal. We must now take as read that no matter how high the cost, no matter how great the chaos, no matter how low our standing in the world, and no matter what the detail of the deal May brings back, neither the Government nor the Opposition will countenance any circumstances in which the decision might be revisited. This strikes me as being fundamentally at odds with Corbyn’s oft-stated claim to ‘listen’ to Labour party members. If he was listening, he would know that the vast majority want not just a fresh referendum, they want to stay in the EU.
There is a lot of talk among his fans of deselecting MPs deemed to be disloyal to his leadership. But if MPs are to be deselected, perhaps those who are putting loyalty to Corbyn ahead of their own beliefs on Brexit, and their own assessment of the national interest, might ultimately be more vulnerable.
With Burnley no longer in the FA Cup, I was able to take up LBC’s long-standing offer to present a Saturday morning show. Great to have Ken Clarke on, saying he would keep fighting, condemning our current MPs as ‘the most pathetic Parliament’ of his lifetime, and suggesting that Corbyn and McDonnell were just as Eurosceptic as John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg. I had planned to do one hour on Brexit, but the calls came in so thick and fast that we kept going much longer. Phone-ins are no more or less accurate than other tests of opinion, but there were definitely a few mind-changers in the mix. Robin from Whitehaven said people like him, in places like that, had voted Leave because they felt their communities were being left behind by globalisation. But now, he said, watching the actual consequences hove into view, and this shambles of a government at work, he said he and others like him felt ‘scared’. The word on the page does not fully convey the real fear in his voice as he spoke.
Another convert who came on the programme is writing a piece for this paper. Will Dry. Interesting name. Interesting young man. He voted Leave, at the time placing his faith in the intelligence and knowledge of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The important thing in life, Will, is to learn from mistakes. He has. And now he has set up a new campaign organisation, Our Future, Stop Brexit, to stir up agitation against Brexit across our university campuses. In particular he wants young people drawn to Jeremy Corbyn to do what they can to force a change of tack by Labour. This kind of student activism has never been more needed. Might I suggest we have student rates for The New European? And a few features on Paris ’68?
‘Do you ever go on about anything apart from bloody Brexit?’ asks Malcolm Kingman of Portsmouth. Well, yes, though in this august organ, born of the ruins of June 23, 2016, it does seem fair to go on about it a bit. But, just for you Malcolm, let me tell you about my new book out next week, called Saturday Bloody Saturday, which I have co-written with former Burnley striker Paul Fletcher. The word Brexit does not appear anywhere in it. It would reveal remarkable prescient powers if it did, because it is a novel set in 1974, when the not at all elitist Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were both preparing to sit their entrance exams for Eton and Dulwich College respectively.
It is the story of two teams, a struggling Northern football club, and an IRA active service unit waiting instructions to take out a Cabinet minister. And Malcolm, because I am a very nice guy, if you send me your address via my website, I will pop one in the post to you – 400 pages and not a whiff of Brexit, or indeed of anything to do with Europe at all. As Chelsea hardman Ron Harris says on the cover, it is a reminder of football ‘when it was a man’s game’, (you know, Malcolm, before all those foreigners came over and started rolling over and pretending to be shot when they were tackled).
Finally, I went along to Leicester Square Theatre to watch Ed Miliband record his podcast with Geoff Lloyd. They played a game where a famous person’s name was put on a screen behind Ed, who had to guess who based on clues given by Geoff. Paul Dacre’s name went up, and alongside it words that Geoff was not allowed to use…’Daily Mail/editor/newspaper/evil’.
‘Alastair Campbell’s nemesis,’ said Geoff.
‘It’s a long list,’ replied Ed, before offering ‘Peter Mandelson’ as his first choice.