ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Credit where it's due for my stinging Farage insult
PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:33 07 February 2019
After an appearance on The Last Leg, ALASTAIR CAMPBELL credits the man behind his withering insult aimed at Nigel Farage.
May I begin with an apology, and sincere thanks, to my New European colleague and Brex Factor writer Steve Anglesey.
As some of you may have seen, last Friday I was on The Last Leg, Channel 4’s irreverent mix of the serious and the not so serious, to talk Brexit with singer Paloma Faith (life takes strange turns), to change into full Highland dress during a commercial break, and get the live audience clapping along to Ode to Joy on my bagpipes, a sound familiar to listeners of the (highly recommended) New European podcast (which Steve also co-hosts).
It is never easy, on a show like that, getting the balance right between serious and funny, but I try to be guided by my favourite definition of wit – “the alliance of levity and seriousness by which the seriousness is intensified” (TS Eliot). In other words, get people laughing if you can, but hopefully lodge a few serious thoughts in doing so.
Host Adam Hills allowed me to do my standard attempted demolition of Theresa May’s deal, pretty much as though it was Question Time or Newsnight, before moving on to the ‘fun stuff’, as he held up a series of photos and asked me to give an instant reaction to the faces I saw.
First up Tony Blair – “proper leader,” I said; Boris Johnson – I paused to reflect this was live television, then out popped “c-word”, the loud applause in agreement drowning out my “c for charlatan”, in case “c-word” as well as actually saying the c-word itself was banned; next up Britney Spears – “a phase I was going through”; Theresa May – “desperate”; Jeremy Corbyn – “please lead on Brexit”; Malcolm Tucker – “legend”; new Burnley signing Peter Crouch – “will do a great job for us”; Piers Morgan – “runner-up only to Trump in the narcissism stakes”; finally they showed one of me – “aged better than Tony”; but the response that got the best response of all, by some margin, was when Hills held up a photo of Nigel Farage and I said “nicotine-stained man-frog”.
It was quite something to have professional comedians and comedy script-writers telling me afterwards that it was a genius line, delivered with perfect timing, and asking me if I had ever thought of doing stand-up? Thanks, but no, though my daughter Grace does it already and is making her Edinburgh Festival debut this summer, with many of the jokes at my expense I fear.
Would the line have had quite the same effect if I had said “well, Adam, when I see Nigel Farage, I am reminded of the phrase regularly used by a splendid chap named Steve Anglesey at the New European, who week after week refers to the former UKIP leader as ‘a nicotine-stained man-frog’?” It would have got a laugh, for sure, but nothing like the one which greeted my apparently spontaneous show of wit. Check it out on the catch-up thingy.
Steve, many thanks for the inspiration. Memo to editor Matt Kelly: Give that man a pay-rise. And yes, as Matt reminded me on Twitter afterwards, and as I said in my No.1 bestselling Winners and How They Succeed, any great team must be guided by the wisdom of former US president Harry Truman: “It is amazing what can be achieved provided nobody cares who gets the credit.”
So I have given you TS Eliot, and Harry Truman. Now let me give you two more guiding-light quotes, both of which also appear in Winners and How They Succeed. From the late, great Marilyn Monroe: “Think in ink.” And, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Fail to prepare and you are preparing to fail.” (Can someone tell Mrs May and her hopeless, hapless team of ministers?)
Whether it is something as vast, complex and epoch-making as Brexit, or just a television appearance that will be forgotten fairly quickly, these pieces of advice are worth following. Part of my Last Leg preparation was thinking in ink about answers to the kind of questions I gleaned from the programme’s researchers were likely to come up, penning a few thoughts as last-minute memory-joggers.
Given only one and a half of the questions I prepared for did come up, and as ‘don’t let anything go to waste’ is another useful life-guiding quote, I thought you might like to see the Monroe-Franklin notes I left in my bagpipe case in the green room. (Yes, Matt/Steve, I am short of time to work on the column this week, but hopefully this is of interest!)
WHAT IS WRONG WITH MAY’S DEAL?
1. Bad for the economy; 2. Doesn’t deliver on Brexit promises made; 3. Does not settle the future arrangements so we’re going to be arguing about nothing but Brexit for years.
Makes us poorer, weaker in the world. ‘Exact same benefits’ – not happening. More money for the NHS – not happening, we end up with less because all the calculations say the economy shrinks. Sells out services which is 80% of the economy. Doesn’t deliver frictionless trade. We lose 65 free trade deals we have as members of the EU, with none so far to replace them. It doesn’t take back control. We have less control, continue to have to follow EU rules but have no say. Takes away the rights of our people to live and work in rest of EU. And we are going to be arguing about it for years because it leaves the central questions about our future trade arrangements unresolved. Dog’s dinner, and how any MP can vote for it when they know it will make their constituents poorer and the country weaker is beyond me.
DO YOU FEEL SORRY FOR THERESA MAY?
Absolutely not. She talks a lot about the national interest. She is driven by two things – staying there as long as possible and not going down in history as the Tory leader who split the Tory party. This whole debacle is about the Tory party, not the national interest; her about-turn on her own deal, which she said could not be re-opened, only now she says it can, underlines that. She votes against her own deal to get the party’s MPs on side. How can other leaders trust her when she does that? What does it say about her that she is prepared to risk a hard border and put the Good Friday Agreement at risk? It is utterly unprincipled, dangerous and morally wrong.
Also – so many mistakes on the way – didn’t bring the country together when she became PM, behaved as though only Leave voters mattered. Not involving parliament. Red lines which have created the need for the backstop. Wasting months on a hopeless election campaign. Triggering Article 50 without a plan. Not hearing what the EU were saying. Dreadful ministerial appointments – Johnson, Davis, Raab, two wasted years, now this mess. No sympathy, no respect.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT IN ALL OF THIS?
Vital. Tragic that they are putting it at risk. Failing to understand Ireland is not just Ireland but the EU. Only UK-EU land border. Hundreds of crossing points. Crucial to peace and prosperity. No deal = hard border. Every MP should see the video by the NI branch of Our Future Our Choice – the first generation to grow up in peace spelling out their fears.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF NEGOTIATING WITH THE EU?
It can be a nightmare. Late nights, complicated politics, often difficult people. But that is because the issues matter. For all the talk of unelected bureaucrats, in the end the big decisions are made by the leaders. Amazing to hear all these foreign politicians often in a second or third language – who are way more eloquent and across the detail than ours. The EU has been strategic and united throughout. The UK has been a rabble.
HOW HAS JEREMY CORBYN HANDLED BREXIT?
Not well. Half-hearted in the referendum campaign. Largely disinterested on the detail since. Pretending there is a version of Brexit that will create jobs. Seems to me determined to get Brexit through but in a way that when it goes wrong the Tories get the blame. Says he listens to members – they overwhelmingly want a People’s Vote but the hard-left coterie round him say over their dead bodies. But if Labour facilitate Brexit they will be in real peril. Cameron the father of Brexit, May the mother, Corbyn the midwife – not good for any of them. If it does go well, which it won’t, Tories get the thanks. If it goes badly the blame gets shared. And if Labour did win they will not be able to do a lot of the things they want to because the economy is going to take such a hit from Brexit. Dishonesty on both sides.
HOW ARE YOU PREPARING FOR NO DEAL?
Stockpiling my anti-depressants. Writing a new lament for the bagpipes, Farewell to Britain as a great and serious power...