More exclusive extracts from Alastair Campbell's diaries
PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 September 2017
In the second part of the our exclusive serialisation from his latest diaries, ALASTAIR CAMPBELL describes how internal Labour opposition to Gordon Brown crumbled, tensions with Cherie Blair and Muammar Gaddafi’s incredulity that Tony Blair was stepping down
Become a Supporter
Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only continue to grow with your support.
Tuesday February 27, 2007
To lunch with Rebekah Wade. Chatted re her situation. (In 2005, Wade, now Rebekah Brooks, had been arrested following an alleged assault on her then husband, Ross Kemp). After the fight with Ross they tried to get back but it didn’t work. Now living alone in Chelsea. OKish.
She was very down on GB [Gordon Brown] but so were a lot of people at the moment. She was on generally good form. She felt TB [Tony Blair] really hated GB but differently to how he was hated by GB. I said I wasn’t so sure about that. He found him maddening, frustrating, difficult, impossible, but I had never heard TB say he hated him, and even now he still tried to make it work. She was a bit closer to the JP [John Prescott] view that there was a load of guilt in there.
Friday March 2, 2007
In to see TB. He was in remarkably good form. He said David Miliband had done a brilliant presentation on climate change at Cabinet yesterday. He could sense people watching him in a different light. It wasn’t just that he was so on top of the detail, but he had real passion, and a real ability to explain it, and especially set it as a huge challenge in which we could play a leadership role. He felt if David stood (for the leadership) he would get at least half the Cabinet. The point was that people were looking over a cliff and now realised there was a signpost giving the option of a different direction.
He felt David M was thinking about it. He hadn’t talked to him, felt he shouldn’t. If he did stand he would stay neutral. I said I had spoken to David, and he was right that he was thinking about it, but I don’t think in the end he will do it, because he thinks GB has it stitched up.
TB said GB showed not a sign of changing. TB said he sometimes felt that he shared his premiership with two crazies constantly in the corners of the room, GB and the press. He really never imagined when he and GB started out that it would end so badly between them. They were like brothers and because he doesn’t have that bitter side, “because in the end I am only ruthless when I really have to be”, he never really imagined GB would be quite so bitter, so destabilising.
Tuesday March 6, 2007
[David] Cameron getting quite big licks for a speech on Europe, same old same old in one way, need to reconnect, need to redefine, all the stuff everyone has been saying for ages, but the whole focus on “a new EU” felt like a bit of a moment, even if he was stealing clothes on the language again.
Sunday March 11, 2007
David Miliband called later for a chat. TB had told me he intended to talk to him tomorrow, not press him but maybe check it out. He said the party was beginning to realise GB was just too big a risk. David was still not going for it but he was sussing out what I thought about where everything was. GB was out trailing that he was going to be pushing a much more green message, which was seen as taking on DC [David Cameron], but it might also have been with David M in mind.
Wednesday March 21, 2007
Day 4 of feeling complete and total shit. Waking on empty. Falling asleep on empty. Empty in between. Tearful. Edgy. Seeing DS [David Sturgeon, Campbell’s psychiatrist] for first time in a while. I talked him through recent days. The suddenness of this one. Not the usual build-up at all. Normally I feel it coming. This was like an instant hit. Feeling dead inside. He said he felt it was a feeling from way back but I couldn’t remember the last depression let alone the first. He said normally these things do go back to childhood or trauma or both.
He felt it was a tension within me about what sort of person I am and what sort of person I want to be. The conflict between public and private, duty and desire, fame and anonymity, work and freedom not to. Definitely there was something about belonging or not belonging in all this. He felt we should really work at trying to get it worked out, where these dead feelings came from. Another discussion about medication.
I missed the Budget. To TB strategy meeting. GB 2p basic rate tax cut from 22 to 20 next year the top line from his Budget. But 10p rate scrapped so he was getting hit on give with one hand take with the other. His big figures on growth – best in G7 countries – and inflation were good. He had his usual big numbers for schools and other public services, a cut in corporation tax, also did a big number on the need for more for intelligence and the military which was another PM-in-waiting move. Overall TB felt it was a good New Labour budget but Sally [Morgan, now Baroness Morgan, adviser to Tony Blair] was saying people over 38k worse off. ‘Say goodbye to swathes of the south-east,’ she said.
Wednesday March 28, 2007
I took Fiona Millar (Campbell’s partner) with me to see DS. This has been a long, bad run now. The good news was I had managed to stay more or less civil with her, but it was really hard for her to live with this when the gaps between the plunges seemed to get so narrow. The bad news was the feeling of non-happiness and the feeling of death inside persisting.
The book [Campbell was preparing for publication of The Blair Years, the first of his series of Diaries] was definitely playing around with my head, no doubt about that, though as they both said, these feelings pre-dated all that. So things like this made it worse but didn’t cause it. I was finding writing it all down quite helpful, but of late I hadn’t even been doing that. I just wanted it all to end really, and I found myself saying that, and then crying. David felt maybe medication again, F and I not so sure. Maybe give it a few more days.
Monday April 2, 2007
Sarah Brown [wife of Gordon Brown] round to see Fiona for a chat about ‘wife of PM life’ so I chatted to her for an hour or so. Fraser [her young son] was with her. Very cute and smiley. She said though cystic fibrosis kids were living longer, “it gets them in the end”. I had drafted a letter to send to GB, setting out whens and whys re the book, and thought I might give it to her, but Fiona felt not to send, better to speak. Sarah was keen for me to talk to him anyway about the kind of things he should be thinking of operationally, good personnel to keep and so on. I couldn’t quite decide whether she was excited, anxious, a bit overwhelmed, maybe all of the above.
Sunday April 8, 2007
Though it was weeks from my birthday, we had a birthday dinner for me. I ended up a total emotional basket case. It was all Philip [Gould, another adviser of Tony Blair’s]’s idea and he stood up and made the first little speech, and said – news to them – that everyone would say something. He said the three qualities he looked for in people were courage, loyalty and humour. I had all three in spades and he had had cause to benefit from all three. I was the bravest person he’d ever met, never scared of anything. He said he felt privileged to have worked with me and to have become a friend. Georgia [Gould, Philip’s daughter] then went through some of the key moments in her life. First football shirt, first QPR game, first campaign, how I had always been there for her. How after parents and grandparents I was the one she looked up to.
Then our Gracie [Campbell’s daughter]. Read out a wonderful little speech that she had prepared, how she loved me even though I could be grumpy and being grumpy was part of being me so it was fine. Sometimes she got mad at me because I could be quiet or angry, but then she remembered how much I did for them. She said she knew there were people out there who hate my guts and “they should be hung”. She was then in tears talking about me being in tears at Dad’s funeral, saying how she had hated to see me cry, and it felt like a terrible thing because I was the one she looked at to be strong, and she realised that grown-ups need parents too. And it made her angry because the people who attack me don’t know me and she does and she loves me more than anything. Fiona, that it had not all been plain sailing, that she had felt our life been a bit of a roller coaster but it was a good life together and she knew it would get better in the next decade, and we were blessed to have the kids and the friends we had.
My speech – I started OK but I was a basket case pretty quickly. I said I was really proud to have raised kids who felt and could express the things they had said. I was blessed with the life I had, the kids we had, the job I had done, the opportunities to come. I told them what I had said in one of those theatres Q&As I did, that so long as my parents felt I was a good son, Fiona thought that on balance life was better with me than without, and the kids were as proud of me as I of them, and knew how much I loved them, all the rest could go hang.
Sunday April 15, 2007
In to see TB. Up to the flat. Leo [Blair, Tony’s son] showing me his frogs. Father [Michael] Seed [Catholic priest] leaving as I arrived and was trying to keep me for a chat. TB friendly enough but steely. We went out to the terrace. TB chatted a bit re GB. He said he was worried the public just were not going to buy him at any price. Truth is he should have stayed another year and handed to someone younger. If DM stood he thought he would have a chance of winning because the party is beginning to realise the truth. He did not intend to interfere but it was the only way we had a chance. If DM stood we would have a week of him wall-to-wall and we would rocket in the polls because there would be relief. Then the party would see there was a potential winner there.
Sunday April 22, 2007
I called TB. He felt very depressed. David M had ruled out standing. He felt the party was moving back to a position where it ducked the difficult decisions to avoid having to respond to the public. People felt it was GB’s turn even if they felt he was wrong for it. It was easier just to let it happen. He said he really felt we were heading to disaster.
He had been through the book (Campbell’s first volume of Diaries) and said he had been pretty savage in his suggestions for cuts, particularly Bush calls and meetings. He said the trouble was they were compelling and complete but you were talking about a serving American President. Cherie [Blair] came in, hostile. “What are you doing here?” She was in near rage mode.
She said what I was doing was appalling. TB was trying to shush her. I said maybe I should send her some of the stuff I hadn’t put in there, or get Fiona to write something given the way CB treated her in the end. TB said there was no point falling out on this.
One thing I had realised from writing this thing was that we did not always pay sufficient heed to the pressure on families. I had been too hard at times, because I saw so clearly what your interests were, and how to protect them, and I expected people to see things the same way.
I was also sad CB and Fiona had fallen out towards the end. He said it was hard because they always felt a bit on the outside.
Wednesday May 2, 2007
Lunch with Jeremy Paxman at Orso’s to discuss his MacTaggart memorial lecture. They had wanted TB and he was second choice, he said. He said he wanted to deliver a few home truths and took notes on my general thesis, much of which he said he accepted. Jeremy always tended to get lumped in with John Humphrys but I never saw him in the same way. I don’t think he is a cynic. He is also good at self-mockery. He said he was 57 now and thinking of whether to pack in. He said Robert Harris had said to him, “Do you really want to have on your tombstone – He presented lots of Newsnights?” He felt TB was formidable, truly exceptional figure and didn’t think GB would be in same league.
Sunday May 6, 2007
John Reid effectively cleared the last hurdle for GB when he announced he would not be staying on in government under him, and certainly wouldn’t be standing for the leadership. He [TB] had finally gone snap on announcing his departure this coming Thursday in Sedgefield.
Thursday May 10, 2007
Home then Newsnight, and having been asked to do a one on one, which I did, I got talked into staying for a panel discussion after it.
Michael Howard one of the panel. We went through TB and Britain, then Iraq and foreign more generally, then general style where Michael Howard really went for me. It was clearly totally pre-prepared, he said he had written in The Spectator that I was single-handedly responsible for lowering political debate, a bully and a liar, that TB was probably OK but I had turned him into something he wasn’t. I could see Paxman looked genuinely taken aback, and was looking to me to see how I wanted to react. I could feel myself losing it but held back, let Howard drone on, then said they were still in denial, Howard couldn’t bring himself to admit he was beaten by a better man and a better party so they preferred to persuade themselves we won through presentation.
Get over it. I waited till we were off the set, followed him out, took him to one side and said, “You ought to remember what Tony said to you once – there is a difference between being nasty and being effective”. He said he felt he had to say it because he had done this piece for The Spectator, and I said yes, and the reasons are as I set them out. Get over it.
Friday May 11, 2007
Texts galore on the Howard clash. Most seemed to think I handled it fine and he came off worse, as nasty and bitter when most people were being more reflective than usual. Fiona watched it on the net and felt I should have asked what lies he meant and now that I should send a lawyer’s letter. TB was against, felt best to ignore, especially if people felt I won.
Friday May 25, 2007
To GB at the Treasury. He looked tired. Hair a mess. Nails on right hand not so gnarled but on the left they were bitten right down. He was not in great shape, I would say. He went straight into a thing about how competence was the issue – “We have lost the NHS as a political argument. All that money but we have lost the argument.” He said he had to be the future. He could not just do the past. I said you have to do both. He had to be continuity and change. One did not work without the other. Also there was not enough of an attack on the Tories. I was in there for about an hour or so, and it didn’t feel great. I felt de-energised by it. He lost it at one point when he raged about how much the party was in debt, how the machine had been allowed to atrophy, “26 million fucking pounds of debt – that is the inheritance.”
He was pressing me to work for him and eventually he said he would either like a private arrangement where I offered advice from the background or – what he would prefer – where I would “run the Labour Party”. He went into a tirade about how since I left there was nobody bringing it all together, co-ordinating the message. Also he wanted me to help him put together a plan to communicate a new approach on health. He was very friendly but a lot of anger spilled out at times, and I was trying to persuade him he should be a lot more confident and optimistic. But not easy.
Tuesday May 29, 2007
Out early evening to speak at the Shine [charity] event at the Locarno Suite at the FCO. Gus O’Donnell [Cabinet Secretary] had asked me on behalf of Jim O’Neill [Goldman Sachs economist], and was fine if smallish audience. Went well. Long chat with Gus. He thought it was crazy for GB to be going on about the “end of spin” when he had Damian McBride on his way in to No. 10. He said GB had a blind spot about some of his own people.
Thursday May 31, 2007
Home to a rash of messages asking me to comment on [former editor, News of the World] Andy Coulson’s appointment as Cameron’s new communications director. I stayed out of it. The media would focus in on the phone-hacking scandal but the key question was whether he was really political and if he really knew how that world worked. I had my doubts. I had always thought he was sharp, but never had the sense he had deep politics.
GB was still not making much of an impact, and the deputy leadership contest was dire. Too much tacking leftwards which to be fair GB picked up on and pointed out in warning against, particularly as Osborne and Cameron were both making ‘heir to Blair’ noises.
Saturday June 2, 2007
Off solo to Chequers dinner, where TB was bringing together a lot of the original team. Anji [Hunter], Kate [Garvey], me, PM [Peter Mandelson], PG [Philip Gould], JoP [Jonathan Powell], DM [David Miliband], Liz [Lloyd], Tim [Allan] and Peter Hyman, Sal [Morgan], Pat [McFadden], James Purnell, Geoffrey Norris, Sarah Hunter [special advisor], also Roger Liddle [former special advisor on Europe], Patrick Diamond [ex-Policy Unit] and Ben W-P [Wegg-Prosser].
A few of us met at the Russell Arms in Butler’s Cross first. It was a lovely warm evening and an OK mood. We watched the film [made to commemorate TB’s exit] which worked really well. Proper Ten O’Clock News intro, Sopel with the top lines about a man released from captivity, then Adam Boulton in Africa, followed by me as a shrink talking about how hard it will be for him to adapt to freedom, Anji talking about how he would need to re-learn about using money and stopping at red lights, PG in a shop doing a guide to what credit cards are and also people, saying he had made up all the focus groups, Geoffrey N on the need to get back to normality, Kate on how you made your own phone calls. Went down really well.
Dinner. Nice food, good chat. DM and I talking about GB and DC. He felt the public were working out Cameron without too much help from us but agreed there ought to be a bit more punch going in. He was hoping GB might make him Chancellor but felt GB would go for AD [Alistair Darling] or Jack S [Straw].
TB basically said he could not have done it without us. He said did we really ever imagine back in ’94 we would be here at Chequers after three election wins? What we achieved we achieved because of this team here and we should all be proud. Said he loved his people and we should know it, and he hoped there was lots we would all do together in the future.
Anji was in tears for part of it then stood up to say she felt it had been fantastic and would any of us change anything?
I did a number about how in fact though it was nice of him to say all that, in truth so much of what was achieved was down to him, the fact so many people saw something different and special, also the basic optimism that he managed to keep despite it all. I said he had an ability to make people leave a room feeling better than when they went in. In the end he must take the lion’s share of the credit and whatever else we do in our lives, this has been a big part and we will always owe him. He seemed genuinely touched, said several times afterwards it really moved him. My sense was that he was now rather dreading going, told a funny story of how Gaddafi kept pressing him on the real reason he was going.
‘Why? Why, Tony? Why are you leaving?’ And he concluded TB was not telling him the truth. He said we should all help in any way we can for GB to get it right.
Wednesday June 13, 2007
DS. Good chat mainly about what I felt as the end of TB’s time was nearing. Relief? Sadness? Did I feel I got enough credit? What was I to TB? He to me? Brother rather than boss he felt. Did I ever think it should have been me? No, I don’t think so.
Saturday June 23, 2007
TB been at the EU summit for two days and seemed to get an OK deal. GB’s lot briefing against him, saying they had to sort a capitulation to Sarkozy that TB was about to make. TB called around 7. He was just back from Rome. He had had 45 minutes’ sleep after Brussels then off to the Vatican. He said he was definitely converting some time in the future. I said, ‘Soon?’ He said you don’t just do it overnight, has to be a process. But as soon as feasible. It clearly meant so much to him, but I still couldn’t fully understand why.
Wednesday June 27, 2007
Pretty big day really. TB out, GB in. David S first thing. He asked how I felt as TB left. Privileged to have been there. Proud at what I was able to do. Unique in having been central to the TB–GB transition, but anxious about it. Regretful I didn’t see it all through but above all privileged. Still not ready for a real proper job, and conflicted about politics. I needed the freedom I had and I needed the space. Maybe when he went I would find something worthwhile to do, but part of me doubted it.
I had come to realise the family really was the most important thing, and I had to keep that in mind. Also, the mental health stuff was showing me there are different ways to make a difference.
I said I felt sure that if GB really wanted me to help him, I would find it hard just to tell him No, I won’t. I needed something in my life to fire my zeal and enthusiasm and even TB at times could cast me down, so with GB... not easy. These sessions with David had made me much more aware of the things that could hit my moods, for good and bad, and I just had to be careful, I knew that.
Then basically I watched telly all day. PMQs. Good stuff. TB’s Au revoir, auf wiedersehen, arrivederci. Swatting a Lib Dem who asked what advice would TB give to GB re relationship between state and faith by saying he can’t be bothered with answering. Had to acknowledge the latest Iraq casualties, and there were a few war demonstrations around, but he had a great ending: “That is that, the end.” Then a standing ovation from the whole House, started on our side, DC quickly up.
Great theatre. He went back to No. 10 and it was when he was doing the farewells that I felt I ought to have been there. Also that I should have done a proper farewell myself maybe. But it was not helped by the fact that CB and FM ended as they did.
Cherie had a little pop at the press as they left. TB off to the Palace and it all felt very different to when we went in ’97. Now just on my own watching at home. TB and GB the main guys. Yet I had been so close to one and responsible in part for getting him to accept the other as successor. TB then off to Sedgefield by train and lots of talk of the Middle East Quartet [UK, EU, Russia, UN] envoy job beckoning. Then GB applauded out of the Treasury and off to the Palace. In there 55 minutes. Looked good if nervous when he got to the street. He spoke really well. Without notes and good message. Change but rooted in values.
School motto – do our utmost. He looked OK too and Alison [Blackshaw, Campbell’s PA] said later he spoke really well to the staff and spent proper time with them. Lots of media calls. I decided not to do anything. I got a message from GB, just saying thanks for having helped him, and I decided to write a short note rather than call when I knew he would be so busy. I am not sure I fully believed every word, but it had happened and as TB said at Chequers, we had to do what we could to make it work now.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL'S DIARIES: VOLUME 6, FROM BLAIR TO BROWN, 2005-2007 ARE PUBLISHED BY BITEBACK PUBLISHING
Become a Supporter
Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter