[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Sunday, 8 July 2007, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Spin doctor's revelations
On Sunday 08 July Andrew Marr interviewed Alastair Campbell, former prime minister's communications chief

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell, former prime minister's communications chief

ANDREW MARR: If you're going to try and sell a book about politics there is a well worn path - you collect a large cheque from a newspaper for serialisation, then you dribble out the juiciest details which you've carefully hoarded to whet everyone's appetite.

Well, Alastair Campbell is an exception - there's been no serialisation, some of the most potentially explosive bits have been cut out and the book's been kept away from all reviewers (including this programme), it's simply going to be sold in the shops tomorrow.

And tomorrow morning therefore, those who loathe Mr. Blair's former right-hand man and those who greatly admire him will both have plenty of new ammunition. Will any minds, however, be changed? Well the master of spin is here this morning. Alastair Campbell, welcome.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: There is a little bridge between nothing and something, there are extracts going up on the book's website...

ANDREW MARR: On the website...

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: ...very, very shortly. Yes.

ANDREW MARR: Very shortly. All right. You always said you weren't going to publish a book while Labour was still in power. What made you change your mind?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I had to transcribe the diaries over two years and there's about two and a half million words there.

And it's true that initially I thought, well I'll just wait, I don't know, ten, fifteen, twenty years, and then just put them all out there. And I think as the time came that Tony started to decide about going, I started to think about what I was going to do after that.

And actually thought it's a bit of a waste for that just to sort of sit there and we just wait until frankly Tony, I, and the rest of us are just, you know, people are no longer thinking that much about us. So what I decided was actually was to do this single volume of extracts covering the whole period but very, very sharply focused on Tony himself.

And bring it out now at a time when he is still fresh in people's minds, people are making a judgement about him now, and do it in a way that I hope will not just be good for Tony, and I think the book is good for Tony even though it is warts and all, and he knows that. But that actually would be good for Labour and good for politics.

ANDREW MARR: But the money must have been a factor too

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I think if the money had been a factor I would have done a big serialisation. And, look, I'm not denying that I'm getting, you know, very well paid to write a series of books, which is what I'm going to do over the next few years.

ANDREW MARR: So the whole thing will come out will it?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Eventually, yes. But I mean I'll do it, I'll always do it at a time that I think will not damage Labour. And I think that, look, when people see the book tomorrow and they'll be able to go to this page and that page, and say, oh my God, did he really say that, did he really do that, and all the rest of it. And there'll be plenty of noise and there'll be plenty of brouhaha and all the rest of it.

Once that's all died down, which it does, you know, hopefully, fairly quickly, I think what you'll be left with, what serious people who are interested in politics, will be left with, is a really intimate, authentic account of what it was like to be alongside somebody like Tony Blair at a period of enormous change. And to show, I hope, that politics for all the warts, for all the faults, that the people in it are driven by their values, by their beliefs, by wanting to make change in this country. Surrounded, and this is something Tony talked about recently, surrounded by this sort of extraordinary kind of culture that the media has become, of, you know, 24/7 relentless scrutiny and pressure.

ANDREW MARR: We'll come on to that in just a second. But, you cut out references to Gordon Brown and the rows there. What else were you asked to take out? Did you tone down Tony Blair's language, for instance?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I wasn't asked to take out anything about Gordon, I took it out. I'm not going to deny and, you know, you would think I was sort of trying to pull the wool over your eyes if I said that there weren't times when relations were pretty tense, and when some pretty harsh things were said - there were. What I'm not going to do is publish a book that allows David Cameron to think he's got a goldmine to use against the new Labour Prime Minister. And so, I, that was my decision, nobody else's.

And also, Gordon is a very, very big figure in the book. And you do get, at times you get a sense of the tensions that were there. You get a sight of tensions between me and Tony, between Prescott and Tony, they're there. But at the end of it what you've got is a collection of people who have actually delivered a huge amount of what was promised, modernisation of the party, modernisation of the country.

ANDREW MARR: One person who has seen the book is Tony Blair himself. What did he say when he saw it?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I guess Tony's actually seen more than the book because Tony, I mean, look, I was very clear about this. There are lots of people in government who probably think this is, I shouldn't be doing this.

There'll be people in the Civil Service who think it's wrong. Now I don't, and for the reasons I hope people when they see the book will see it's a book that's positive about them, as well, it's positive about government as well.


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I think Tony's reaction was basically - God, you know, this is quite an account.

ANDREW MARR: He didn't say it's a book about some great heroic world historical figure called Alastair Campbell with a bit part about a guy called Tony Blair?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No, he did not. And I think you'll see when you see the book, look there are lots of really big characters in this book.


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Tony is one of them. Gordon is one of them. John Prescott is one of them. Bill Clinton is one of them. George Bush actually, I think, you'll find, comes over better than people might expect. And what Tony said, I'll tell you what was really interesting about this, because he didn't actually take out, or ask me take out lots and lots of things that were, if you like, vanity points. There's lots of stuff in there where, you know...

ANDREW MARR: Were you quite rude about him?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well I'm quite - we - you know Tony and I have quite harsh words at times. Often I describe in a way that sometimes, you know, I mean. Look, we saw each other kind of in the raw quite a lot you know. Him saying, being, acting in a way that maybe most people wouldn't have seen him.

And he was less interested in that, and actually the stuff that he was really interested in was actually how other leaders are going to look at this, the fact that his right hand man, former right hand man, has produced this book. You know, what would, I mean he's dead now, but what would Yeltsin think about the fact that you've recorded that exchange between us, and you know, what would...

ANDREW MARR: Because that's what the Civil Service is worried about isn't it, they think so much has come out about internal conversations that it's very, very hard in future now to say to Civil Servants, or to anybody else, you can't publish your diaries because they'll say well that Alastair Campbell did.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well, look, there's been a debate about that that I'm aware of, where there is a view that actually you shouldn't keep a diary, and if you do keep a diary you certainly shouldn't write a book. Now, that's a perfectly legitimate view and I understand people who have that view.

I do think in a way, I mean this is maybe, you know, I was kind of treated quite differently, and I was different in a way, and I accept that. But if I was coming along having had a decade working for Tony Blair and saying, right, there was me, that was my job, saying what a great guy he is. I'm now producing a book saying actually I don't think that at all, I thought it was all terrible.


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I mean, it is not that sort of book. It's an attempt to say to people, forget all the stuff you've read and you hear and the rest of it, some of it's accurate, some of it's not. This is kind of ...

ANDREW MARR: Your take on it...

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: This is my perspective, what it was like when I was there.

ANDREW MARR: Let's go through a few of the specifics in that case. Let's talk about the famous comments about Diana, and the People's Princess. Because it was said at the time that that was your phrase.


ANDREW MARR: Was that your phrase?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Ah, no, and, well put it this way, when you see the book, I mean that night was extraordinary. You know...


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: ... you're in bed, you get woken up. Diana's dead. And he's the Prime Minister. He's up in Sedgefield. He's got an awful lot of things that he's going to have to do very, very quickly. Practical things. When does he speak to the Queen? When should he speak to Prince Charles? These are all things that, you know, he's bound to discuss with the people who are closest to him.

And the other thing that he was going to have to do, we had to discuss in detail, you know, when should you speak publicly for the first time? It can be a really important moment because the country, at a time of shock, is going to be looking to him, the Prime Minister, to kind of express what they're feeling. And so we batted things around all night. But when you see the book I think you'll realise that it is, it is pretty clear that the People's Princess was Tony's idea.

ANDREW MARR: Was Tony's idea. I've always thought of you as a bit of a Republican. Do you think you collectively helped save the Royal family?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well I certainly, I reflected actually at the time, because then what happened was the Lord Chamberlain asked Tony if, you know, we could sort of be involved in the planning of the funeral. And I mean I did think at the time it was kind of odd that I, having written some of the things I used to write about the Royals when I was a journalist, I was trooping down to Buckingham Palace every morning to help them. And it was an incredible week. And it was, you know, it was big professional challenge which I took on.

ANDREW MARR: OK. What about the psychological flaws? It was said by some people afterwards that you'd taken it - that was actually Tony Blair's phrase and not yours?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well, I have denied that so many times I get fed up of denying it. And all I will say to you is that episode is not in the book.

ANDREW MARR: Very good. OK. We will read into that what we do. Let's turn to what is perhaps the central charge against you, made by your critics, which is that you're an angry man. You're very angry. And that as Tony Blair's press officer you were too angry, too much of the time, and there was too much aggression particularly in those early years but then returning at the time of Hutton. And that overall the result was bad for Tony Blair, and for the Labour government not good.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well, look, the most important think you've got to remember about Tony Blair and the Labour government is that we went from opposition into power - he won three general elections under the most severe scrutiny and criticism at times - and he did so because he made certain promises about the economy, about public services, about the constitution, about foreign policy, and he delivered. Now that's the most important thing, and it's more important than any of the stuff about me. Now, you know, I accept...

ANDREW MARR: But since we are talking about you.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Yes, fair enough, and I accept that that is a kind of an analysis that can be made. I disagree with the idea that at the start there was all this kind of anger flowing around. At the start, to be absolutely honest, we could do no wrong. We came along and you guys in the media basically were saying, you know, oh this is amazing, they've got that together at last, you know.

They've really sort of understood that they've got to have a new way with the media, and we did that, and we brought new support on board. And it was never about getting the media on board, it was about reaching the public. And we made a lot of change. And I made a lot of change in the way that we communicated. It wasn't just me, you know, it was Tony who is a brilliant communicator, it was Gordon who's a brilliant strategist, it was Peter who understands this stuff as well as anybody and it was myself. And we understood we had to do it in a different way.

ANDREW MARR: But you were a very aggressive character.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well I guess I am. I guess I am. I don't actually feel, this thing about, look, there were points at which I got very, very angry.

ANDREW MARR: I've noticed!

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: And it will come through in the book when and why. And it ended very, very badly for a lot of people. And I, you know, I do reflect, I've reflected a lot on that whole business at the end with the BBC and David Kelly and the Hutton enquiry and all that.

ANDREW MARR: So how do feel?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well I still feel, it's the one period when I go over it, where I can still feel very angry because of, frankly because of what was being said about us. And also, because it ended as badly as it did.

I mean, it was such, it was in so many ways, just a, it was like a collision course that perhaps we all should have, all have seen coming, I don't know.

ANDREW MARR: Can you remember, and have you recalled what you felt when you heard that David Kelly had gone missing?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I certainly can remember it, and I do recall it. And it was, I'd say that, you know with the possible exception of family deaths and, you know, possibly my own breakdown in the Eighties, it was the worst period of my life, without any shadow of a doubt. And the point is, you see, I think what happened in that period...

ANDREW MARR: But, so did you feel some personal responsibility for what had happened?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I felt, look, I was a player in a series of events that somehow or other led to a man deciding he had to kill himself. At every stage of that process I can say at this point I did this because of this.

And I can defend every single thing that I did, and every single thing that I said. But we all of us have to accept that as that was happening there was stuff going on that frankly was leading people, leading that particular individual David Kelly, to feel despair.

Now I've got to say, Andrew, I won't buy this line that it's kind of, you know, well we're all as bad as each other. I think the Hutton enquiry came to the right conclusion. I think a piece of reporting that should never have been broadcast was not handled properly by the BBC. But I'm very, very sad, obviously, that he died. But I'm also sad that it led to the... ANDREW MARR: But did you not... but you were raging at that, I mean you know those performances, everybody perhaps was a bit out of control including you? ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Yes, but just understand why I was raging. Understand what was being said. And I think the problem is that, look, a lot of news now, it's just become kinda journalists chatting and they talk and they get... I was being accused of deliberately lying, falsifying intelligence, so that the Prime Minister could persuade Parliament and the country to go to war on a lie - that is a heavy accusation, Andrew. Don't make it unless you're absolutely sure of your ground.

ANDREW MARR: Well, moving on from that. There's a bit of the book you might like just to read out to give people a flavour of it, which is a Cabinet meeting, and it's just, well I won't make you read it out because it goes on too long. But the point about it is ...

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I don't mind reading it out, I'll do it if you want.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: ...towards the end of it you quote, I think it's John Reid.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No, it's Paul Murphy, what it was. This...

ANDREW MARR: Just before Paul Murphy, you quote John Reid saying we'll be judged in the end by what happened in Iraq.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: That's true, he does say that. And this is one of the extracts that's going up today. And I think that's right, I think that's right.

ANDREW MARR: So, when you contemplate what happened in Iraq after the war...


ANDREW MARR: ... do you have any second thoughts yourself? Do you think because we read that you had doubts during the process.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well I think, look what I say in the book is that on the day of the parliamentary vote, which was an extraordinary day, and I think that day Tony's Commons performance was as good as any I've ever seen.

And that day I recorded the fact that pretty much everyone around him, at some point, had had some sort of doubt. But I never sensed that he did. Or if he did he hid it, even from us.

ANDREW MARR: Did you have doubts?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No, I'll tell you, look I thought it was the right thing. I thought it was the right thing.

ANDREW MARR: But do you think that now?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: And I do think that now.

ANDREW MARR: Despite all 600,000 people dead?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well, you know, there are cameras there now Andrew, there weren't cameras there when there were a lot of people dying before. And I think provided people stay the course, I don't think the aftermath was as well planned as it should have been, I would accept that. I think that the, I was alongside Tony as he made what was clearly the; most difficult decision of his life, and of his career.

And it's one that he's going to have to live with for the rest of his life. And I still believe that it was the right thing to do, and I think he was driven by the right motives. And all that this diary does, in a sense, is it does give you, I hope it gives people a sense of just how seriously he took that decision. And, I mean, I can remember on the day of the march, for example.

You know, if you were the Prime Minister and you were hoping to get re-elected in the future, and you know how many people are opposed to this policy, at least give him the credit of understanding he did it because he thought he was doing the right thing and he was doing the right thing for the long term. And I still think in the long term it could be the right thing.

ANDREW MARR: But do you look back over that episode with personal regrets of any kind?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Oh yes, absolutely. Because at that time when Tony was dealing, not just with Iraq, but with so many difficult issues at the time, you know, I had become maybe it was partly because the media decided I was going to be the story, and that's in a sense what did happen. But, you know, along the way you've got to accept in any kind of relationship...

ANDREW MARR: Something had gone wrong?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: ...of course it did, it went horribly wrong. And, you know, I wouldn't be human if I didn't look back at that and think well it can't just have been them, there must have been something there.

But it's, you know, and I do think about it, and I think there's kind of two sides here. You see, I can say to you that, I've got people who work for me, in Downing Street, including civil servants and special advisors, and they would have walked through walls for me.

And I can inspire that kind of loyalty and that kind of commitment from people. So they're there on one side of it, and on the other hand, the people over there who somehow hate you. And I get under their skin. And I do something to them which frankly I've never really understood.

And there's another bit in the book where I had this discussion with Bill Clinton who said, who's a brilliant advisor on, a brilliant strategist and all the rest of it. And he said maybe you're missing something, and you know, may be I was.

ANDREW MARR: All right, Alastair Campbell, thank you very much indeed for joining us.



NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

Your comments

E-mail address
Town or City

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific