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Alastair Campbell and ‘screwing up’

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Warning: This post was published more than 10 years ago.

I keep old posts on the site because sometimes it's interesting to read old content. Not everything that is old is bad. Also, I think people might be interested to track how my views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have mellowed and matured!

But given the age of this post, please bear in mind:

  • My views might have changed in the 10 years since I wrote this post.
  • This post might use language in ways which I would now consider inappropriate or offensive.
  • Factual information might be outdated.
  • Links might be broken; embedded material might not appear properly.

Many thanks for your understanding.

A week ago today, Alastair Campbell gave a comprehensive and well-argued defence of Tony Blair’s speech about the modern media.

Whilst I don’t agree with Mr Campbell, much of what he says in his post is interesting, and I’d strongly urge you to read the whole thing. But I just wanted to pull out this little bit:

The PM went through some of the many changes that we put in place when I was at Number 10 to try to improve things. On the record briefings, Freedom of Information, TB’s monthly press conferences … Nick Robinson made a very revealing comment about this a while back … The trouble was, he said, that TB was so good at them they became boring. In other words, unless the elected politician was screwing up, saying something hugely controversial, or fitting into the media’s preordained agenda, they can cut to some pimply youth in Downing Street telling you what the politician actually meant.

You’ll note that Alastair Campbell thinks Blair was good because he wasn’t controversial. He thinks that the fact that Mr Blair never says anything to offend anyone is a good thing. It’s an interesting point of view.

If your aim in life is to get elected and stay elected – power for power’s sake – then never doing anything to offend anyone is clearly the best way forward. If you want to get elected because you have real beliefs, and you want to change the country for the better, then you’re going to have to tread on some toes.

Undoubtedly, Tony Blair has trodden on toes. But wouldn’t he be a much better PM if he engaged with the issues, and argued for his point of view, rather than saying nothing controversial, not engaging with the argument, and just using a huge Parliamentary majority to perform his wishes whilst never offending anyone?

Is it not better to engage the electorate and convince them of your argument, rather than merely placating them? Sure, you’ll alienate sections of the population, but you’ll have a loyal following of those who believe in your cause, and who support you because they believe you’re doing the right thing, rather than supporting you because you ‘don’t seem too bad’.

It might be the bigger political risk, but surely it’s the more noble course – and certainly not indicative of ‘screwing up’.

The greatest politicians are, almost without exception, divisive in their time – either in their country or their party. Thatcher and Churchill are probably the greatest Prime Ministers of the 20th Century, yet both were controversial in their own way. They certainly offended people – and it changed the country (arguably) for the better.

Have we really come to a situation where the hunger for power is such that our politicians want it for its own sake? Have we really come so far from political idealism? I fear so, but dearly hope not.

This 1,152nd post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.






More posts worth reading

What I’ve been reading this month (published 3rd September 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 5th August 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 10th July 2017)

John Humphrys: Beyond Words (published 22nd June 2007)

BMA wrong to call for repeal of Health and Social Care Act (published 13th June 2014)

Politcal amusement (published 8th December 2005)

Dr Crippen’s career advice (published 3rd September 2006)


Comments and responses

Comment from Anonymous


by Anonymous

Comment posted at 12:03 on 12th July 2007.

At last we shall be able to know the honest truth of the events which took place during Alastair Campbell’s position as Press Officer to the Prime Minister Tony Blair.


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