Am back from Ireland, a bit tired after a late night after The Late Late Show. I do love the Irish, who seem to loathe the idea of a Tory government in Britain as much as I do, and most of whom seem to think Nick Clegg is a pseudoTory, as I do. So it was a nice little escape.
Too tired for too much original thought – or even unoriginal thought – so how about I just reprint the English version of the interview I did with La Repubblica. There might be one or two things in there people find moderately interesting. Have a nice weekend.
What do you think of the Cameron-Clegg government?
We will have to see how it develops, but the sense we got from the talks with the Lib Dems is that many of their activists and supporters did not want this arrangement. Of course Cameron and Clegg will try to make it work, but I fear the fundamental differences between their parties will become a big problem. They will have a honeymoon period – all new governments do – but I don’t think it will last long. Neither of them won a mandate alone and this is like a marriage of convenience between two very different parties and philosophies. Personally I hear they get on very well – they both come from privileged, private schools backgrounds so they speak each other’s language. That may help them as a relationship develops but the political differences and personal similarities could become a problem. Ultimately policy is the most important thing and one of the reason the talks with us broke down is that the Liberal Democrats have some pretty crazy ideas and our sense is the Tories were so desperate for power they offered a lot more than we would have done.
Why the Labour-Libdem initiative failed? Mandelson says it’s Clegg fault, but Clegg and several newspapers say it’s also or completely Labour’s fault. Was it Ed Balls and company thinking of their future?
As you know, it is not sensible to equate British newspapers with the truth. The reality is that by the time Clegg wanted to set up talks with us, his negotiating team were already wanting to recommend a deal with the Tories. I trust the word of the Labour people in the talks who tell me the claims by the Lib Dems that we did not take them seriously are nonsense. There was good mood music but there were big differences on policy on the economy, energy, the environment, crime and terrorism. But more importantly we had the sense they were going through the motions. Towards the end of the discussions, Clegg was asking for more and more time from Gordon but it was obvious he was just trying to delay the inevitable and use the Prime Minister to get more out of the Tories and buy more time with his Party. By then it was becoming discourteous to the Queen for Gordon to hang around unable to form a government and the country wanted clarity.
How will be GB be remembered?
As with all big figures, he will be remembered in different ways by different people. He was a key player in the development of New Labour. He was a brilliant Chancellor. As PM, he cemented the Northern Ireland deal won by TB. He brought the troops home from Iraq. He led Britain superbly through the worst global financial storm any of us can remember. As I have said before, there were times when he made our life very difficult when TB was PM, but for all the difficulties I would rather have him as PM than Cameron any day which is why I went back to help for the campaign and the handover. He is someone of enormous strengths and some frailties but he will be remembered as one of the giants of the most successful period in Labour’s history
Brown called Blair before leaving, it must have been an emotional moment: how to sum up the relationship between these 2 men that you know so well?
I was there when they spoke and it was a very warm call. It is no secret they had a great relationship in the early years, which deteriorated in government. But even in the bad times they were a formidable team. I wish we had not had the bad times, but in the end politics is about human beings who believe things very strongly. It was a very odd moment when TB called because the other people in the room were Peter Mandelson and myself. All four of us have had enormous ups and downs and relationships have never been easy, but I felt an incredible sense of pride and privilege to have been part of the New Labour story from beginning to the end of this period of power – which is not incidentally the end of New Labour.
What role Murdoch and his medias played in the election? Did Sky try to push the negotiation toward a Cameron-Clegg agreement and, in doing, so, lost its pretence for impartiality? In retrospect, it looks like a leader who would go to battle without spin doctors, with such medias, would be dead before starting…
I do believe the British media had a very bad election. We have a massive but unfortunately trivialised and sensationalist media. Unfortunately, my fears about the TV debates were borne out – they energised the campaign in many ways, but the media became obsessed with them almost to the exclusion of all else so there was very little policy debate outside the TV debates themselves. I am not convinced these debates are actually good for a Parliamentary democracy, at least not one for each week of the campaign. Ours is not a presidential system. As for the role of the press generally, they do not have the influence they did. People know they all – almost without exception – have their own agenda. Their impact comes from the influence they have on the broadcasters who are overly influenced by the papers. Most 24 hour news is two journalists talking to each other. In the last year in particular it means they have been reporting government, and particularly GB, through a negative prism, whereas Cameron had the media so far up his backside it is a wonder the journalists could breathe. Even with that, he could not secure a majority. My advice to the next Labour leader is not to worry too much about the media. You can get a message out these days with or without their support. Obama showed that. We managed to stop the Tories winning a majority with almost all of the media against us. As for Sky, I think if people google or youtube my encounter with their political editor which took place on Monday, they might get a sense that there was something of an agenda going on there. Online there was a lot of comparisons by British people between Sky and Fox News – not to Sky’s reputational benefit I would say. There is also no doubt Murdoch stands to gain hugely if the Tories implement their media policies as set out in their policy plans before the coalition. If Clegg goes along with them, it will be a further sign he has totally sold out and there will be a further political price to pay for that.
Finally: what are your personal feelings at the end of such a long period for Labour in office?
I was sad that we were out of power, because I think the last thing Britain needs is a Tory government. But immensely proud to have been part of the team that helped TB get elected and begin 13 years of Labour government which has changed Britain massively for the better.
* Buy The Blair Years and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php. Apologies that we have not been able to get post election orders out as quickly as we would like. We have had record demand, many from former Lib Dems