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‘I still get people asking me to stand as an MP’

'I still get people asking me to stand as an MP'

Alastair Campbell might have been Prime Minister by now, if he had adopted his pal Charlie Falconer’s recommendation.

The previous Justice Secretary had lunch with Campbell on 19 February 2009 and outlined his ten-year plan to Quantity 10: win a seat the next yr “while the party almost certainly loses, then watch things get worse under the next leader… then go for the leadership. ‘You should be Prime Minister’.”

Campbell data the assembly within the newest quantity of his diaries, From Crash to Defeat, overlaying the Gordon Brown years of 2007-10, a time when multiple senior Labour celebration determine needed the previous Downing Road director of communications and technique to stand for workplace himself.

“I just don’t think it was realistic,” Campbell says. “Charlie was adamant – and still believes that. I could be completely wrong, but I don’t think it was realistic. I always felt in all the jobs I’ve ever done, starting at the Tavistock Times, whoever I was working for that I could do your job – the boss, editor, whatever. And there were times looking at Tony and Gordon when I thought ‘I could do that’. But actually, the whole totality of the job… I’m not sure I could.”

The diaries spotlight the three-year tug-of-war between Brown and Campbell, with then then Prime Minister continuously asking Campbell to return to Downing Road full-time in an try to replicate the success he shared with Tony Blair – and Campbell resisting, up to some extent. Guilt would shortly set in if he ignored Brown’s frequent calls, however he might by no means actually keep away and was still an integral a part of the workforce, serving to with speeches and technique, PMQs and, lastly, Brown’s resignation assertion, which paved the best way for the primary Coalition authorities within the UK since 1945.

“I can remember back right at the start [of the Brown government] when it felt like we were really on form and everyone was together. I remember thinking ‘I wonder if we’ll become like one of those Japanese parties that just stay in power for decades’. Even though we won three terms, it was the longest we’ve ever had a Labour government and all that, maybe you do just eventually run out of time and run out of road. So it was always difficult for Gordon where he essentially was at the end game, as it were.”

Campbell with Tony Blair at Southwark Cathedral, London, for the memorial to former tradition secretary, Baroness Tessa Jowell. (Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Nevertheless, many people – together with Tony Blair – by no means thought Brown had it in him to be a profitable Prime Minister. Weaknesses and management considerations are scattered all through the diaries, from Brown’s failure to name a snap election then happening TV to say he had by no means thought-about it, to the overall election marketing campaign itself in 2010 and his encounter with Gillian Duffy in Rochdale when he was caught off digital camera – however still on microphone – calling her a bigot.

Campbell data the extraordinary aftermath when a devastated Brown calls him to his 14th flooring suite in Manchester, the place he was supposed to be getting ready for the third and remaining TV debate, and witnesses a rage in contrast to something he has ever seen.

“At one point he sat down and put his head back and I could see his eyes fill with tears and a look of abject pain creased his face. It was pretty horrible to watch,” Campbell writes. “This is the end, he said.”

Campbell was urged by many Labour colleagues to inform Brown to his face that he was not succesful and to stand down and make means for another person.

“I got pretty close at times. As I mention in the diaries it was always about getting the balance right between being truthful, but not in a way that it shatters his confidence. And often Gordon would raise it himself, saying ‘I know people don’t think I’m up to it’, and he would say if he thought any of the younger guys could do better…”

Demon inside

Talking to i on the day Theresa Might gained her no confidence vote, some might draw parallels between the chaos the nation is in now and the seemingly chaotic nature of the Brown years. Campbell suggests that could be true, however says that his personal up-close perspective might have been clouded.

“Was it chaotic? It did feel more ‘strong and stable’ than today,” he says. “But it never felt quite like the ship was going in a clear direction. This is where no one person’s perspective can tell the whole story, because even though I was in there a lot and recording everything [in the diaries], partly because my mood wasn’t good a lot of the time, I was probably seeing the negative a lot more as well… Listen, it wasn’t the happiest period of my life for sure.”

Campbell’s psychiatrist, David Sturgeon, informed him that Brown and different senior celebration figures have been making an attempt to draw him into doing issues and enjoying to a “demon” inside him.

“I say: ‘what is the demon? What is daemonic about feeding the sense of duty and responsibility when the Labour Prime Minister or big Labour guy is trying to get you to help him to win an election? David’s view would be that you know deep down, and they know as well, that this is probably going to damage you. Because he was constantly trying to get me to break free of the whole thing and say ‘I’ve done my bit’ and go away and do new things.”

The architects of New Labour: Campbell with Peter Mandelson, left, Margaret Beckett, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the course of the 1997 common election marketing campaign.
(Photograph by Tom Stoddart/Getty Pictures)

Campbell has struggled with melancholy for many of his grownup life and the diaries report many “Tony Soprano moments” when, both at residence alone, on stage at a public occasion or in entrance of TV cameras, a panic assault or “mild meltdown” would set in. He still frequently encountered hostility from the general public or press over Iraq, with the Chilcot inquiry in full swing and an extraordinary encounter on The Andrew Marr Present the place the presenter questioned him over the proof Campbell gave days earlier to the panel.

“I thought at one point ‘I had my last breakdown relatively privately [in 1986]. This is live on the fucking telly,” he data within the diaries.

Wanting again, Campbell says: “It was the period when I really had to tackle my mental health and get it sorted. It probably hadn’t been good for a long time, in terms of the depressive episodes. The gaps were getting smaller, the intensity at times was getting worse.”

Psychological well being

By 2008, he has created a psychological well being equal to the “five a day” authorities marketing campaign on fruit and veg, specifically: sleep, household/residence, train, greater trigger and laughter – a regime he rigorously adheres to.

“When I was a journalist I used to think sleep was a waste of time. I thought ‘how much sleep can I get away with not having?’” he says. “Now I sleep as much as I can. Diet, exercise – incredibly important. Music – really important to me now, much more than it was, both with my bagpipe playing, writing my own stuff and listening to music.”

Considered one of his current tasks has been making a documentary for the BBC, Melancholy and Me, popping out within the spring, specializing in what analysis is being carried out into melancholy at residence and overseas.

“The dream state of affairs was that I’d discover some new technique that I’d by no means heard about and stroll off into the sundown glad ever after. I knew it was by no means going to occur, however one factor that did make an impression was this lady who had this principle that there’s solely a lot you are able to do about what goes inside your head as a results of your upbringing, your background, and there’s solely a lot you are able to do to unpick the stuff you’ve carried out in your life – each good and dangerous.

The Duke of Cambridge speaks to Alastair Campbell at a reception on World Psychological Well being Day to have fun the influence of the Heads Collectively Charity at St James’s Palace. (Photograph by John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Gety Pictures)

“She says to think of your life as like a jam jar, and your life is inside the jam jar. People spend all their life trying to unpick what’s inside but you can’t – you have to grow your own jam jar. It’s such a simple thing but I do it all the time now. So for relationships, just taking care of them, understanding which relationships matter and which really don’t. For me, work is important – work that pays me a living, but also work that motivates me. When they’re together that’s great, but I’ve found that most of my life that’s not been the case.”

The final three months of his life have been dominated by Brexit and common battles with Nigel Farage, from telling him to “own your shit” on Irish tv, a two-way debate on Channel four Information the place he challenged the previous Ukip-leader to provide you with his personal 535-page withdrawal treaty, to the pair just lately showing on Good Morning Britain when, 4 minutes in, Campbell appeared like he would fairly be anyplace else.

“That was probably more to do with Piers [Morgan] and his neverending questions – he loves the sound of his voice so they just go on and on,” he laughs.

People’s Vote

Campbell’s willpower to safe a People’s Vote has led him to turning down only a few of the media bids on Brexit that come his method – 112 in complete for the earlier month, three of which pop up on his telephone throughout our interview – albeit none for the In the present day programme as he takes to Twitter later to level out.

“I still really feel motivated [by politics] and this People’s Vote marketing campaign has obtained my political juices flowing once more. I do assume that’s the solely method the nation might be introduced again collectively once more round a referendum – and I feel we’d win it.

“Even within the People’s Vote marketing campaign there are disagreements as to what we expect the query must be – clearly all of us assume stay ought to be on it. I, nevertheless, additionally assume that you’ve to discover a approach so the general public understands that doesn’t simply imply established order, slightly, numerous change at residence and overseas, right here and in Europe.

“However the depart aspect have to have a reputable, deliverable manifesto as to what depart truly means, as a result of final time they have been in a position to promote the delusions, the lies and the unicorns. I used to be telling Nigel Farage within the inexperienced room [before the GMB inteview] that he ought to get on the People’s Vote bandwagon, as a result of that’s the one method he’s going to get an opportunity to get [Brexit] accepted as a result of Might’s deal just isn’t Brexit. He stated ‘you’re in all probability proper’, however then stated there can be extra referendums after that.

Campbell holds his canine as he’s interviewed at an anti-Brexit march referred to as ‘Wooferendum”, in London, on October 7, 2018. (Reuters/Henry Nicholls)

“I do really worry that if the Brexit that the Brextremist wants happens, that means the country going into serious decline. And if we have Theresa May’s Brexit that means decline as well. Our country at the moment is just projecting a sense of itself to the world that is awful.”

He has little probability of persuading the present Labour chief over to his away of considering, given the one dialog Campbell has ever had with Jeremy Corbyn was at a GQ awards night time when he requested Corbyn if he might interview him for GQ about psychological well being, “something you and I both care about”.

Campbell says: “The next thing I know he’s agreed to do GQ provided I wasn’t interviewing him!”

He appears to be on higher phrases with John McDonnell, given how heated it obtained between the pair once they appeared on Query Time in 2016, and talks to Sir Keir Starmer who “comes over as one of the really serious guys”, however needs their chief can be rather more vocal on Brexit. “If you look at the Labour front bench, Corbyn does a bit [on Brexit] but he’s hardly omniprescent in our lives is he?”


The battle inside stays, nevertheless, over how a lot time he needs to dedicate to Labour, and doubtless all the time will.

“I think I’m in an OK place now. It’s not perfect at all. I’m 61 now, which I know is not old, but for a decade now I’ve really been saying ‘I don’t know about going back’,” he says. “Even immediately, strolling down right here [to his office in central London] I had two people outdoors Pret saying ‘why don’t you stand on the subsequent election?’ It makes me really feel dangerous each time, as a result of a part of me thinks I ought to do one thing like that, however a much bigger half doesn’t need to.

“Typically I feel I’ve wasted my life, typically I feel I’ve had an awesome life. Fiona [Millar, his partner] says to me ‘why can’t you simply be content material?’ As a result of I don’t need to be. I don’t assume I might ever be absolutely content material.

“We’ve got to the stage where we think happiness is about having a nice time, having a great craic in the moment. Whereas I think that happiness is something you try to build all the time – and gets challenged and threatened all the time, because life throws stuff at you. But if life stops throwing stuff at you, you just stagnate. It drives Fiona mad because I say things all the time like ‘what am I doing?’ or ‘I’m not changing the world’, and she tells me to shut up,” he laughs. “But I think I’ll be like that forever.”