Thursday 23 August 2007

Alastair's account

I have just finished reading Alastair Campbell's diaries. The 700-page tome is more rewarding than it might look. There are plenty of nuggets and surprises, as well as confirmation of quite a lot more about what was happening in Downing Street. His portrait of Tony Blair is credible and creditable, particularly on Northern Ireland and on the international stage. But on the domestic front, this is not a book for policy buffs: aside from his visceral belief in comprehensive education, there is little sign of the battles for policy reform that defined the Blair years - and what will be seen as successes in health and education - as much as what he achieved in Belfast, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. For me, the accounts of the internal meetings with Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley and David Trimble were the greatest source of fascination. For others, it may be the Washington visits. But what Alastair lacks in domestic policy detail, he makes up for in an obsessive dislike for the media, which was understandable but destructive both to him and, for a time, to the Downing Street media operation. As one who did some spinning in Labour's first term, I can also sympathise with his feelings of despair over how the government was covered after its initial honeymoon, so much so that you had to go abroad to get a sense of proportion about the extent of Blair's achievements at home. Nevertheless, this is a must-read book for anyone with an interest in the internal machinations of politics, though it is not the whole story.

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