The soundtrack of modern British government has been given another slightly depressing spin on the media turntable this week. How, according to Alastair Campbell, does it sound?
Well, apparently members of Her Majesty’s government were frequently in fuck-it mode. A former Labour leader expressed his concern that stockbrokers now had the party by the fucking balls. There were worries about the media, in particular lobby correspondents who were wankers, although the Prime Minister found time to see Rupert fucking Murdoch. In conversation with President Bush, Mr Blair had revealed that his press secretary was to run in the London Marathon and had had to apply a lot of Vaseline to his testicles.
On the whole, a bit of light vulgarity adds to the rhythm of life, but it is difficult not to be mildly dismayed by the tone of Campbell’s diaries. As carefully as they have been edited, selected and publicised, they still manage to reveal rather more than one wanted to know about the Blair years.
Once, for a brief period, we wanted to be governed by people who seemed in touch with the rest of us, unlike the besuited Home Counties androids – the Normans, Kenneths and Johns – who had preceded them. With New Labour, there was emotion back in Whitehall and, from 1997 onwards, emotion was increasingly in fashion.
The approach that Campbell exemplified better than any of his colleagues was, in many ways, commendable. He had his core political beliefs, and was utterly determined to see them prevail. He worked loyally with those who were with the programme and ruthlessly against those who were not. For him, the rightness of his mission justified a degree of robustness – bullying, if you like – and a few presentational cut corners.
Those qualities would have been assets had they been deployed on behalf of the creative director of an advertising agency, the editor of a newspaper, the programme director of a TV network – any profession, really, where someone who uses whatever means necessary to achieve his ends is deemed to be effective.
Politics, one can now see, is different. In government, the same approach produces the kind of character who would be useful as a Minister of Justice in a dictatorship where unpleasant things are happening to members of the opposition.
Cynicism is contagious. When, in interviews and speeches, Campbell and Blair – who seems to have been his front-man in these matters – have accused commentators of being unremittingly negative, over-analytical, feral, it is surely a classic case of psychological transference. The sexing up, and then the cynicism, began in government – and this is how it looked from the inside.
Diaries kept by a press secretary are never going to reflect the more serious aspects of government. All the same, the portrait of the Blair administration that emerges is unflattering. Policies and issues are seen hazily in the background while the real, important drama, involving personalities, clothes, image and press stories, unfolds centre-stage.
Can Peter Mandelson really have taken a swing at Campbell over the question of whether the Prime Minister should wear a tie? Was Cherie Blair’s friendship with Carole Caplin really such a big deal? Was it truly worth recording the endless discussions about what Blair should wear, including off-putting details about his “yellow/green underpants”?
The New Labour administration turns out to have been as angry, giggly, silly and emotional as the nation which it was supposed to be governing. It was, truly and depressingly, in touch with the people.
One recalls a previous press secretary’s complaint that Mrs Thatcher could never be bothered to read the daily papers with a rather worrying pang of nostalgia.
Planes, trains and, er, cows
Now here is a tricky one for the Live Earth warriors. One of the worst offenders when it comes to global warming turns out to be our old friend, the cow. Every day, each of the UK’s 10 million or so cows emits, front and rear, an impressive 100-200 litres of methane, a gas which causes more atmospheric damage than carbon dioxide.
A single cow, it is claimed, harms the planet by as much in a day as a large 4×4 being driven 33 miles – a yummy mummy’s school run plus a trip to the gym, say. It is a statistic that Jeremy Clarkson might use when next criticised for churning up the salt pans of Botswana in one of his silly cars. Of course, many of us would actually prefer to watch footage of a cow farting than Top Gear.
* Psychotherapists tend to get a rather bad press. Some are said to be every bit as unbalanced as those they are supposed to be helping. Rather too often, it has seemed as if sleeping with their patients forms an important part of the therapy.
Those who have a sceptical view of the profession will not have been entirely surprised by a court case in Cologne. Psychotherapist Peter Blaeker is alleged to have taken advantage of one of his patients, who was usually Monika Mirte but occasionally became Leonie, Finja or Kathrin. It is claimed that Blaeker’s treatment of Miss Mirte’s multiple personality disorder was unconventional. He allegedly got Leonie to pay for his holidays, Finja to do his shopping and he went to bed with Kathrin. WhenMirte complained, the therapist refused to comment, claiming that he had a duty of confidentiality to the other three.
This is such a strangely brilliant alibi that one almost warms to the busy Dr Blaeker.