Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

Alastair Campbell transcript

On Sunday 7 February Andrew Marr interviewed Former Government Communications Director, Alastair Campbell.

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

ANDREW MARR:

Now one thing the Iraq Inquiry made clear in recent weeks was the central role played by Alastair Campbell in the run up to the war. His appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry was as robust and unapologetic as that of his former boss Tony Blair's and continues to occupy an important Labour Party role in the back rooms. It's reported that he'll be in there, coaching Gordon Brown, and that he helped the Prime Minister in that interview we were mentioning with his friend Piers Morgan. In the meantime, Alastair Campbell's found time to write a new novel, one of which many reviewers claim has intriguing similarities to his own life. Alastair Campbell. It's a book, it's called 'Mayor', and it's about an obsessive following of an actress whose life is coming apart in the hothouse of the media. And I guess the reason some of the reviewers have said there's certain similarities is the main protagonist is quite an angry, driven guy who loathes the British media, and they're thinking, hmm, who does that recall?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Yeah. Well I don't loathe the British media. I have a bit of a problem with the current media culture, and I think … You mentioned the Iraq Inquiry. I think the coverage of that has perhaps underlined my views of it. But I mean the novel is basically a novel novel. It's not a kind of issues novel. I've read the reviews saying that it's about me and Tony, and I have to be honest it never crossed my mind writing it. It's a story of a film star …

ANDREW MARR:

Well I'm relieved to hear that …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Yeah, it would have been a bit odd.

ANDREW MARR:

… because the main protagonist then makes love with this actress …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Andrew, don't give it away. Do not give it away. (Marr laughs) I'm sorry I haven't got a copy, but Alan Johnson has just nicked mine for his wife, which is a very good sign. But it's just a story … It's a story of a film star and it's how fame changes people - not just the famous people but those around them. It's narrated by a guy that she's known since she was a child, and as her fame develops so I guess does his obsession with her and with her fame. And then all these sort of characters come in and the media is quite an important part of it.

ANDREW MARR:

Because it also looks at the psychological effect of being in that media bubble - I mean I think of Princess Diana a bit in all of this …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Yeah.

ANDREW MARR:

… whether it's possible to go otherwise than nuts when you're inside that bubble.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Yeah. The starting impulse for the novel was a question I asked one day when I was out with my daughter and she was getting angry at people staring at us. And I had this notion, is it possible to be you know quite well-known and then decide you don't want to be well-known again …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Nooo! No.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

… and get away from it, and the answer is probably not. Simon Dee did it a long, long time ago. But …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Yeah, at great personal cost.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

So then it sort of just developed from there into just being a story of two characters that I invented and all the people around them. And I think it is … You've been talking in the papers about John Terry or it's Gordon Brown … Once you reach a certain level, I'm afraid you are in a bubble, and how to cope within that bubble whilst trying to keep contact with the outside world is a very, very important part now of being at the top of any walk of life.

ANDREW MARR:

Was it a coincidence that this came out at the same time as the Chilcot Inquiry, your appearance at?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Andrew, I cannot believe … You know a little bit about publication. I saw that The Mail yesterday was suggesting that I timed it to Chilcot. My powers would be even more legendary than they are had I been able to plan publication according to my appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Is that what we call a segue?

ANDREW MARR:

There was a key question at the Chilcot Inquiry, which I do want to ask you about. When you were asked by Sir Roderick Lyne whether if they discovered in the intelligence - when they looked back at the intelligence, the JIC intelligence - that it was not the case that there was clear evidence that Saddam Hussein had been building up a WMD programme - if they found that, would it then follow that the Prime Minister had misled parliament. And you said no, but you then retracted that without quite saying yes, so I wonder which it is?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

As I said in the note I sent to the inquiry afterwards, I misunderstood what Rod Lyne was saying. I thought he was saying that if the JIC reports had led them to believe that there was … they could not say beyond doubt there were WMD, does that as it were totally cut away Tony Blair's case? In fact, what he was saying … what I thought he was saying was if it said in the JIC reports there are no "beyond doubt" words. So I misunderstood his question.

ANDREW MARR:

Right, so I come back to the original question then. If beyond doubt was not established in the intelligence when this inquiry looks at the intelligence, does it then follow - yes or no - that the Prime Minister misled parliament?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

The Prime Minister didn't mislead parliament.

ANDREW MARR:

Even, even if the intelligence, when it's looked at, does not confirm that assertion that it was beyond reasonable doubt?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Yes because … Look, as I said … I mean forgive me for this. (sighs/hesitates)

ANDREW MARR:

Because this is the question. I mean this is the thing; that people say you can't answer this question.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

I've been through a lot of this, Andrew, and I've been through a lot of that inquiry. And er … (hesitates) Tony Blair, I think is a totally honourable man, and I also think that what we've taken on this is, what I've taken on this constantly - you did it again this morning, which is probably why I'm a bit upset - this constant sort of vilification.

ANDREW MARR:

When did I vilify you?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Well you compared the novel to the dossier, and it's all fiction and all the rest of it. It's not. And I just think the way that this whole issue has developed now where I don't think people are interested in the truth anymore, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Well let's …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

I think you're all interested in settling your scores and setting your own agenda. And I'm sorry if I do get upset about this, but I was there alongside Tony. I know how that decision weighed on him. I know the care that we took, and I just think it's …

ANDREW MARR:

But you surely must un… 600,000 people died after that. Now you may say people would have died if the war hadn't happened, but nonetheless an awful …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

(over) And you can't prove those.

ANDREW MARR:

… an awful lot of people … Well I'm taking internationally accepted UN figures on that. An awful lot of people died. That's why people are upset. They're not answering scores.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Andrew, I know why they're upset, I know why they're upset, but ultimately Tony Blair and the government made a decision. And he has to stand by that decision and I know, I know …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) What we're looking at is the basis on which he took that decision …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

(over) Yes … No, I know. Andrew, you're not.

ANDREW MARR:

… and if the intelligence doesn't suggest that there was unequivocal proof or evidence that WMD programmes were being prepared by Saddam Hussein, then Tony Blair went to the House of Commons and to the rest of us and to the world and said something that he had no evidence for. And that's why it's an important question.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

No, I'm not saying it's not an important question, Andrew, but I think that the reason why it's being asked again and again and again is because those who - for reasons … I do understand how you reach a different opinion. I do understand that.

ANDREW MARR:

I don't have an opinion in this. All I'm asking …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

(over) No, okay, how others reached an opinion. But what I'm saying, Andrew, is that the reason people are going over it again and again and again and again is because those who do disagree with the judgement that Tony Blair made actually don't even want to see the other side of the story. And I just think it's … I think look this has gone on now for however … 2003. There's been inquiry after inquiry, and I just think it's … Ultimately, as Tony said when he gave his own evidence, it's a judgement that he had to make. And it wasn't just about the dossier. It was also about the history of the regime. It was also about the importance of the transatlantic relationship.

ANDREW MARR:

Well let's put … If you're upset about that, let's put the dossier entirely to one side then and simply come back to Sir Roderick Lyne's original question, which was: if the original intelligence did not support the view that there was clear and unambiguous evidence that WMD were being prepared by Saddam Hussein …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

(over) But the original intelligence …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … then surely Tony Blair was misleading parliament?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

No, he wasn't Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

There can be no other conclusion.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

No, Andrew, he wasn't because …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Why not?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

… the original intelligence was the basis of the dossier that Tony Blair in very good faith presented to parliament. He was not misleading parliament. And I also saw the care and the meticulousness that not just he but everybody involved in that process presented that case. And it wasn't the case for war. It was the case for why he was more concerned.

ANDREW MARR:

It was this phrase "beyond doubt". And it wasn't beyond doubt, was it?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

(over) And, as I said … And as I said to … Well, look, it was beyond doubt that he'd used them.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) It wasn't beyond doubt.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

It was beyond doubt that he'd had chemical weapons and he'd used them.

ANDREW MARR:

It wasn't beyond doubt that he had a live programme for WMD.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

It was beyond doubt, according to the analysis …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) In fact, it wasn't true.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

… that Tony Blair had from the intelligence services that he presented to parliament. And, look, we can go round it again and again and again, Andrew, and you know you and I are not going to agree. There are lots of people who totally believe - and you know, as I say, I do understand how they come to a different view …

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

… but I also ask you and others …

ANDREW MARR:

Alright.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

… to understand why Tony Blair came to the view that he did.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's, let's just ask one … You said in a recent interview that there's nothing in life, nothing in life that you don't regret or think you could have done differently.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Yeah, that's different to regret.

ANDREW MARR:

Now is that true? Is that … Well nothing you feel you should have done slightly differently.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

No, there's nothing …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So apply that to this.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

If you apply that to this or to which stories you chose this morning or to what tie you put on, you can always have choices. That's the point I was making. And ultimately the difference between being a commentator or giving a question in an opinion poll is that when you're the Prime Minister, you have to make decisions.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I understand that. Speaking of prime ministers, you're back in there, are you?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

I'm not back in there as much as people say I'm back in there, but I'm back in there a bit.

ANDREW MARR:

Did you help the Prime Minister with his Piers Morgan interview?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Well I think this is no secret. I've been involved a little bit more than I was in helping Gordon with PMQ's and there was some discussion about this interview.

ANDREW MARR:

I'm quite interested in that because I mean he said in the course of that interview, I read, that there was a deal with Tony Blair and he didn't think that Tony Blair sort of lived up to it properly. And he also says that yes he has a temper and there have been pretty tempestuous scenes behind the scenes. Now I just wonder to what extent this is because there's another book coming out detailing all of this and it's getting it out first.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

I very much doubt that. Look, I think that Gordon decided to do an interview with Piers Morgan because it will probably be watched by the kind of people that maybe don't watch this programme or don't watch some of the other political programmes, and therefore he'll reach a bigger audience.

ANDREW MARR:

And they're friends.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

And that may be part of it. But I also think that as you get up to a General Election … I mean I've said to you before, the only communications that works now really is where people are being utterly authentic because the public, they hear all this stuff about spin, they know that the media spin, the politicians do it, and they can see when people are being authentic. And I think if Gordon … I've not seen the interview because I was at a football match yesterday, but if Gordon just sort of talks about some of these issues as he really feels them, then maybe the public will see a different side.

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah. But this business of 'Brown weeps on television', I mean it's not what we'd really want in politics, is it - that kind of heart on sleeve? He never wanted to do that.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

No. But I mean I've heard in private Gordon talk about some of the things that have happened in his life. And you see the headlines. I don't believe Gordon went on television with the purpose of crying.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay. Final question: your role in the election campaign, exactly what's it going to be?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

I think it will just evolve from what I'm doing now. I'm doing quite a lot of fundraising, I'm doing a bit of helping with Gordon and Peter and Alistair and David Miliband and others. I've been clear with Gordon, I don't want to do a full-time job, I don't want to be involved in doing the kind of media side of things, but I will help on strategy. And I'll help them take apart a Tory Party that under the slightest pressure, I think is beginning to show signs of crack.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright, Alastair Campbell, thank you very much indeed.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS



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