This cross-party energy shows fight is still on

PUBLISHED: 10:56 19 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:39 19 April 2018

(l-r) Green MP Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, Labour MP Chuka Umunna, Conservative MP Anna Soubry and comedian Andy Parsons pictured at a rally to launch People's Vote - a campaign demanding a vote on the final Brexit deal, at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, north London on Sunday April 15, 2018. Photo: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment.

(l-r) Green MP Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, Labour MP Chuka Umunna, Conservative MP Anna Soubry and comedian Andy Parsons pictured at a rally to launch People's Vote - a campaign demanding a vote on the final Brexit deal, at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, north London on Sunday April 15, 2018. Photo: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment.

Matt Crossick/Empics Entertainment

‘Too much death...’ ALASTAIR CAMPBELL discusses the sad passing of his brother, the People’s Vote rally and ‘the masochism strategy’

A very bitty week, so a bitty column … cue sigh of relief from those who prefer the punchier style of my tabloid past to the mellifluous long reads of my The New European incarnation.

A highlight was the People’s Vote rally at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. There was a great energy in there, not least because people from all backgrounds and political persuasions were coming together. Indeed one of the loudest cheers greeted four MPs from four parties being introduced by compere Andy Parsons as “people putting country not party first”.

Amid talk of Brexit fatigue, all part of the government’s fatalism strategy, the sight of people queueing round the block to get in, with hundreds unable to do so, indicated the fight is still on despite the incessant drumbeat of ‘it’s a done deal’.

It is precisely because the dealing being done by the government is going so badly that more and more people are starting to think they, not the politicians, should have the vital say on the final Brexit deal. The most telling line of the whole event came not from the politicians or celebrities, but student Lara Spirit, co-founder of Our Future, Our Choice. She said she was watching on “shocked and horrified that the government cares more about the views of Jacob Rees-Mogg than the interests of the next generation”. Sad but true.

As Miriam Gonzalez Durantez said when I interviewed her for GQ “no country in history, democracy or dictatorship, ever built success by governing against the interests of young people”. Also true.

After listening to speaker after speaker making different arguments to illustrate the main point, that the people should be given a say on Theresa May’s deal, my partner Fiona said: “If Johnson/Gove/Farage/Rees-Moggs were to do a rally like this now, what would they have to say?… ‘will of the people, will of the people, will of the people’. Er, that’s it.” Andy Parsons pointed out that if there was a People’s Vote on the deal, and the People rejected it, then the Brextremists could go on all-out attack against the people – for going against the will of the people. The traitors, how dare they?

One year on from his stunning election victory, Emmanuel Macron sat down for a television interview with two media critics, Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel. It reminded me of ‘the masochism strategy’ we deployed before the Iraq war, including one especially masochistic women-only ITV grilling of Tony Blair. As I recorded in my diary “one or two of them were talking to him like he was a piece of shit on the pavement… as he came out he gave me a look that could kill”. Suddenly the great persuader seemed less enamoured of my strategy of confronting him with his harshest critics.

The French President could have chosen any outlet he liked so clearly la stratégie de masochisme was his choice on Sunday evening. He more than held his own over two hours and 39 minutes. Yes, you read that right, two hours and 39 minutes, uninterrupted by comfort breaks or commercials. It even went into added time, as they covered pretty much everything, from Syrian air strikes to schools and pensions, Muslim veil-wearing to strikes and jobs. Brexit is clearly not high up the French media agenda.

It was pretty compelling, as the French are unused to abusive UK-style television grillings of politicians. But in trying to be different, the journalists overdid it. For example, they had clearly decided in advance – heaven knows why – never to address him as “Monsieur Le Président”. Nor even “Monsieur Macron”. So the interview was peppered with them just stating his name aggressively. It was fine the first few times. Once it got into the hundreds, it became pretentious and infantile, not a good look for two men considerably older than their interviewee.

Indeed, I wonder if that is their real problem, that someone so much younger, better-looking, smarter, and with more energy for televisions marathons, is in the Elysée, while they, who have spent most of their lives thinking they could do a better job than any president, are reduced to not wearing a tie, and endlessly sneering the words ‘Emmanuel Macron’, as a way of trying to look cool.

Burnley, home of my football team and possessor of a large part of my heart, voted exactly two to one in favour of Leave in the 2016 referendum, a matter of sadness to me, if not surprise. Indeed it was partly on trips to matches that I started to feel the Cameron-Osborne confidence was overdone. Too many people I had down as probable Remainers were for Leave, with emotion rather than economics swaying them. I said as much to Osborne, who told me not to worry, the economic messages would win out.

But now the place is suddenly buzzing about Europe. Forget Manchester City winning the title, the real Premier League success story is Burnley’s. A small town team with a budget a fraction of ‘the big boys,’ yet as things stand, provided Southampton don’t win the FA Cup, we will qualify for European football for the first time in half a century.

Following Burnley has been a great roller coaster. League champions when I first saw them aged four. Twenty-five years later having to win our last game of the season to avoid becoming a non-league club. And now vying with Arsenal for sixth place. Incredible.

And all the more reason to believe that just as the Eurosceptics never gave up on getting back out once we were in, so we should keep fighting to be in now the country has voted out. I just hope it doesn’t take as long as it has taken my wonderful football club to get back into Europe. All together now... “we’re all going on a European tour... a European tour... a European tour...”

Too much death around. Fiona and I did a road trip to Florence earlier this month, partly to get over the loss of our dog Molly, and also because I was speaking to 1,800 experts at the Schizophrenia International Research Society, my brother Donald having died two years ago aged 62, after four decades living with what he called “this shitty illness”. While I was there, my second brother Graeme also turned 62, and we were in little doubt he would not be reaching 63. Indeed he had done well to get this far, having had a double leg amputation three years ago, his legs and ultimately his life another triumph for the addictive power of tobacco.

He died last Friday.

So now, my parents both having left us in their eighties, there is just me and my sister Liz of the original Campbell clan, she thankful she never smoked, me grateful I gave up when our first son Rory was born 30 years ago and that he later helped turn me into a fitness fanatic.

It was clear by Wednesday that Graeme was fading so at least Liz and I, and most importantly his son Mike, were able to spend time with him on his deathbed. Hours later, we were getting ready for the marriage of Liz’s son Jamie, the first wedding of the next generation, which went really well.

Odd how life often works like that. Also the reason why, as I indicated at the start, it has not been the easiest, or the most normal, of weeks.

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