First of all, thanks to the Independent on Sunday for devoting two pages to an interview pegged to the publication of Prelude to Power, which also mentions (and has pictures of the front covers of) All In The Mind and Maya, my two novels.
But … and I think journalists know me well enough to know there is likely to be a but after such lavish thanks … a modest grumble if I may about its presentation in the rest of the paper, which rather lends support to my argument about the real spin doctors being the editors, reporters and headline writers.
Here’s a quote (and to be fair to interviewer John Rentoul, who had one of those old-fashioned tape recorders, I am sure all the quotes are accurate) from the section of the interview where we were talking about the four former Cabinet ministers vying to succeed GB as Labour leader, David and Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham …
‘They have all grown. I got on very well with Ed [Balls] during the campaign. But in the end you’ve got to make a judgment. Of all of them, I think David [Miliband] has got the most rounded political and policy skills that you need. I’m a pragmatist about this. I think about who can take on Cameron best. They’ve all got strengths. I think the thing with Ed Miliband is that he’s a really nice guy, but you’ve got to differentiate between making the party feel OK about losing and actually then making the party face up to what it needs to do to get into shape again. It’s the latter that you have to look for, and I think David’s got that.’
And here is a Page 1 strapline … Alastair Campbell exclusive interview: ‘Ed Miliband is a nice guy but he’d only make Labour feel OK about losing.’
Now, if you can bear with me, go back to the actual quote, and note the subtle but significant change secured by inserting the word ‘only’ in the strapline. I was trying to explain why I was backing David M over the other three, without denigrating his opponents. The quote just about achieved that, I think, but the strapline moves close to denigration territory. And it is in quote marks. Therefore you would be entitled to think I said it, exactly in those terms.
Then there was a small news story on Page 2, and here the headline is even starker … ‘Campbell: Ed Miliband isn’t up to leading Labour.’ Again, I think you would be hard-pressed to say that I actually said that. He has many strengths and there are clearly serious people in the party who think he is the man to lead Labour into the future, and I can see why. I just happen to have reached the view that his brother would be better. It does not mean that he ‘isn’t up to leading Labour.’
I go through this in some detail not because it is that important but, in a way, because it is so typical, the kind of mild misrepresentation that occurs almost routinely. Indeed, in the interview, when discussing the row with the BBC caused by Andrew Gilligan’s untrue report seven years ago on the WMD dossier, I make the point that an awful lot gets written that is wrong or misleading, and you just let it go, as I will let the Ed Miliband story go, but sometimes the allegations and the misrepresentation are too serious to let lie.
As it happens, I think John Rentoul is one of those journalists who would acknolwedge that the media-politics breakdown that happened under New Labour was every bit as much the product of changed media attitudes and tactics as the product of our determination to do things differently. And this is not a big whinge, just an observation of the kind of small, quite subtle editing change whose overall effect can be to create a misleading impression.
It meant that last night, as Fiona and I came back from a night out, and someone alerted me to the headline, I was texting Ed M to say the quotes were accurate but the headlines were not. Small whinge over …
… Good luck to those taking part in Soccer Aid at Old Trafford tonight. I am moderately gutted not to be there, as the two I have taken part in – especially the first when I lined up alongside Diego Maradona – have got to be among my top lifetime experiences.
Plenty of reminiscing about the experience last night because I was seated at a party next to Peter Schmeichel, who was our goalkeeper in the first one, and a volunteer coach for the second one at Wembley a couple of years ago.
We spent part of the evening comparing notes on our best all time Premier League team … I went for Schmeichel: Neville, Stam, Terry, Cole: Ronaldo, Keane, Scholes, Giggs: Shearer and Rooney.
My main doubt was right back, where Lee Dixon was in the frame, and at one point I was bringing Dennis Irwin over from his usual left-back berth. I also felt Tony Adams and possibly Ricardo Cavalho might push Terry out. Hard to beat that middle four (all United) which meant the likes of Beckham, Vieira and Gerrard have to fight for a spot on the bench, and hard to leave out Henry and Bergkamp too, not to mention all the Chelsea and Liverpool strikers but Shearer and Rooney would have been quite a pairing.
Schmeichel was too modest to put himself in goal, so he left it blank. Yet I have never met anyone who has not put him between the sticks in a best ever team. He was torn between Pallister and Adams alongside Stam, and had both Irwin and Evra ahead of Cole. He toyed with Gerrard sneaking ahead of Scholes, but then club loyalty won the day. He reckoned Ronaldo was simply the best ever player in the Premier League, but also felt Shearer was not far behind.
Andy Gray was a a few places away down the table. He had Ferdinand and Adams at centre back, and Beckham instead of Giggs with Ronaldo switched to the left, and he put Henry ahead of Rooney.
No Burnley players made it, but I could tell they were both thinking Tyrone Mears might make right-back if Neville got injured.
*** Buy The Blair Years and raise cash for Labourhttp://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.
*** Buy Prelude to Power here at Amazon.