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Italian interview on Dick Clamberon, TB, GB, Murdoch inter alia

Posted on 15 May 2010 | 1:05pm

Am back from Ireland, a bit tired after a late night after The Late Late Show. I do love the Irish, who seem to loathe the idea of a Tory government in Britain as much as I do, and most of whom seem to think Nick Clegg is a pseudoTory, as I do. So it was a nice little escape.

Too tired for too much original thought – or even unoriginal thought – so how about I just reprint the English version of the interview I did with La Repubblica. There might be one or two things in there people find moderately interesting. Have a nice weekend.

What do you think of the Cameron-Clegg government?

We will have to see how it develops, but the sense we got from the talks with the Lib Dems is that many of their activists and supporters did not want this arrangement. Of course Cameron and Clegg will try to make it work, but I fear the fundamental differences between their parties will become a big problem. They will have a honeymoon period – all new governments do – but I don’t think it will last long. Neither of them won a mandate alone and this is like a marriage of convenience between two very different parties and philosophies. Personally I hear they get on very well – they both come from privileged, private schools backgrounds so they speak each other’s language. That may help them as a relationship develops but the political differences and personal similarities could become a problem. Ultimately policy is the most important thing and one of the  reason the talks with us broke down is that the Liberal Democrats have some pretty crazy ideas and our sense is the Tories were so desperate for power they offered a lot more than we would have done.

Why the Labour-Libdem initiative failed? Mandelson says it’s Clegg fault, but Clegg and several newspapers say it’s also or completely Labour’s fault. Was it Ed Balls and company thinking of their future?

As you know, it is not sensible to equate British newspapers with the truth. The reality is that by the time Clegg wanted to set up talks with us, his negotiating team were already wanting to recommend a deal with the Tories. I trust the word of the Labour people in the talks who tell me the claims by the Lib Dems that we did not take them seriously are nonsense. There was good mood music but there were big differences on policy on the economy, energy, the environment, crime and terrorism. But more importantly we had the sense they were going through the motions. Towards the end of the discussions, Clegg was asking for more and more time from Gordon but it was obvious he was just trying to delay the inevitable and use the Prime Minister to get more out of the Tories and buy more time with his Party. By then it was becoming discourteous to the Queen for Gordon to hang around unable to form a government and the country wanted clarity.

How will be GB be remembered?

As with all big figures, he will be remembered in different ways by different people. He was a key player in the development of New Labour. He was a brilliant Chancellor. As PM, he cemented the Northern Ireland deal won by TB. He brought the troops home from Iraq. He led Britain superbly through the worst global financial storm any of us can remember. As I have said before, there were times when he made our life very difficult when TB was PM, but for all the difficulties I would rather have him as PM than Cameron any day which is why I went back to help for the campaign and the handover. He is someone of enormous strengths and some frailties but he will be remembered as one of the giants of the most successful period in Labour’s history

Brown called Blair before leaving, it must have been an emotional moment: how to sum up the relationship between these 2 men that you know so well?

I was there when they spoke and it was a very warm call. It is no secret they had a great relationship in the early years, which deteriorated in government. But even in the bad times they were a formidable team. I wish we had not had the bad times, but in the end politics is about human beings who believe things very strongly. It was a very odd moment when TB called because the other people in the room were Peter Mandelson and myself. All four of us have had enormous ups and downs and relationships have never been easy, but I felt an incredible sense of pride and privilege to have been part of the New Labour story from beginning to the end of this period of power – which is not incidentally the end of New Labour.

What role Murdoch and his medias played in the election? Did Sky try to push the negotiation toward a Cameron-Clegg agreement and, in doing, so, lost its pretence for impartiality? In retrospect, it looks like a leader who would go to battle without spin doctors, with such medias, would be dead before starting…

 I do believe the British media had a very bad election. We have a massive but unfortunately trivialised and sensationalist media. Unfortunately, my fears about the TV debates were borne out – they energised the campaign in many ways, but the media became obsessed with them almost to the exclusion of all else so there was very little policy debate outside the TV debates themselves. I am not convinced these debates are actually good for a Parliamentary democracy, at least not one for each week of the campaign. Ours is not a presidential system. As for the role of the press generally, they do not have the influence they did. People know they all – almost without exception – have their own agenda. Their impact comes from the influence they have on the broadcasters who are overly influenced by the papers. Most 24 hour news is two journalists talking to each other. In the last year in particular it means they have been reporting government, and particularly GB, through a negative prism, whereas Cameron had the media so far up his backside it is a wonder the journalists could breathe. Even with that, he could not secure a majority. My advice to the next Labour leader is not to worry too much about the media. You can get a message out these days with or without their support. Obama showed that. We managed to stop the Tories winning a majority with almost all of the media against us. As for Sky, I think if people google or youtube my encounter with their political editor which took place on Monday, they might get a sense that there was something of an agenda going on there. Online there was a lot of comparisons by British people between Sky and Fox News – not to Sky’s reputational benefit I would say. There is also no doubt Murdoch stands to gain hugely if the Tories implement their media policies as set out in their policy plans before the coalition. If Clegg goes along with them, it will be a further sign he has totally sold out and there will be a further political price to pay for that.

Finally: what are your personal feelings at the end of such a long period for Labour in office?

I was sad that we were out of power, because I think the last thing Britain needs is a Tory government. But immensely proud to have been part of the team that helped TB get elected and begin 13 years of Labour government which has changed Britain massively for the better.

* Buy The Blair Years and raise cash for Labour Apologies that we have not been able to get post election orders out as quickly as we would like. We have had record demand, many from former Lib Dems

  • softmutt

    The Irish love blarney. Pity you didn’t notice. I know the Irish & they had no love for Labour, I can assure you. They have far too many problems as a result of being part & parcel of the Euro & having the Lisbon treaty shoved down their throats.

  • jonathan

    “”Will I ever join with the conservative party? No. I refuse to be merely an annex of another government.” – Nick Clegg, 2008

  • Colm O\’Hare

    Loved the show last night. I think Ryan was a bit scared of you cos he never did his usual hyper side with you. Loved the text from yer rugby pal, and the way the audience clapped you at the end of the Boulton clip shows you’re right to keep hitting the media hard. The public are with you more than the media people think. Good luck and God bless

  • Paul Harrington

    You will get a good welcome in Ireland because we like straight talkers who take no bullshit. Looking forward to the full diaries. Your Northern ireland episodes in your extracts in your earlier book were riveting. All the best

  • Charlie Anderson

    I have just written to my Liberal Democrat MP, incluyding all the anti-Tory statements made before and during the campaign. I intend to drive him crazy with it. His is Huhne. We now call him Tory sellout man.

  • daraghmcdowell

    As an Irishman myself, I’m sorry to say neither I nor anyone I know ever had much truck with you and your brand of politics. Don’t you remember all that business about driving the snakes out?

  • kathy

    Alistair, From where I am sitting your background was a very privileged one too. No bog standard comprehensives for you and the two Millibands are the same. Don’t you think this make you all hypocrites always banging on about toffs and their advantages. I come from a very rough housing estate and a working class family. Like all my family I worked hard brought up decent children who in turn worked hard and now own my own home outright and live in a nice area. I personally could not care less if the Prime Minister was born in Buckingham Palace as long as he was doing his job. Being wealthy does not mean you are unable to have consideration and care for those worse off. Most Labour MPs are like yourself from privileged backgrounds or like myself worked to get where they are. This too, does not necessarily follow that they have empathy for those worse off. In fact none of you have a clue what it is like in the real world, a world where you pay for your own food and housing and travel costs out of your wages.(I’d still like to know did any of them pay for anything out of their wages) or did everything go on expenses? Labour need to start listening to people and not ignoring their opinions and classing them as bigots when they raise concerns. No-one would like to see anyone who is in genuine need or who have lost their job in the recession penalised. We must help them all we can. However, we must stop this culture of generations of families with no work ethic and claiming everything they can get and more. This is what makes people angry. Labour lost the election because they stopped listening to the hard working people of this country. They feel like they are the ones to pay for everything. It is time now for you to step aside from Labour along with Mandelson and all the others like Balls, you are all tainted with lies and sleaze and have caused Labour to be discredited.Reading the Labour blogs it would appear that activists are really angry with you and Mandelson so you probably won’t be welcome anyway. . If Labour want to get into power again they need to find their way back to the values of Old Labour and admit New Labour caused its destruction. Don’t only listen to what you want to hear.

  • Pam Nash

    ‘My advice to the next Labour leader is not to worry too much about the media’

    My word, having read your diaries which detail your manic attempts to set the media’s agenda, you seem to have undergone a Damascene conversion. My recommendation is fresh pineapple. Guaranteed to remove the taste of sour grapes.

  • Patrick James

    I am Irish and I’m amused to see that “softmutt” (at bottom) knows what I think. Apparently I love blarney but I have no love for Labour!

    In fact I hate blarney and I’m a Labour party member 🙂

    In retrospect I confess I am glad that the deal with the Lib Dems did not happen even though we do have a Conservative government now.

    I don’t think the “rainbow coalition” would have been stable.

    Although predicting the future is a mug’s game I think that there is a chance that the Lib Dems will be enormously damaged by their alliance with the Conservatives. Everyone I know who voted Lib Dem feels betrayed.

    The Lib Dems have sort of taken to lecturing us (true to form) about how we have to get with the idea of a coalition, but a coalition is generally between two parties that have large areas of agreement. It is an absurdity when the two parties are miles apart policy-wise.

  • Filiz

    “Why the Labour-Libdem initiative failed? Mandelson says it’s Clegg fault, but Clegg and several newspapers say it’s also or completely Labour’s fault. Was it Ed Balls and company thinking of their future?”

    Well according to Diane Abbot on This Week, it was the fault of ‘The Unelected’, people like you, Mr Campbell and Mandelson. And she would know as she has her ear on the Westminster Village gossip.

    You would try and paint Ed Balls as the culprit because your and Mandelsons man is a Blairite, David Miliband.

  • kinelref

    fair dinkum, you’re in a position where you feel you have to spin Gordon Brown’s legacy but everybody knows he’ll be remembered as the PM who called one of his most loyal voters a bigot; the sooner you reconcile yourself to that, the sooner you can begin to help the rebuilding process.

  • Jane Dignam

    Thought you were excellent on the late late last night.

    It must be an amazing experience to be so closely involved with someone like Tony from the beginning, interesting times ahead for Labour, seems very odd to have two brothers fighting against each other for the leadership. It’ll make the Blair/Brown relationship look like Ant & Dec.
    I’ve read the Blair years, and am looking forward to the unedited diaries.
    Well done ‘v’ Boulton – what a plank

  • DCoakley

    Dear Alistair, Feel proud of what you and your team achieved from 1997. I am proud to be a Labour voter and, despite despondency about the election result, know that Labour will soon be back at the helm. Am re-reading the diaries (God JP and that bloody bus make me laugh at every mention) and well done at getting the inadvertant free book plug past Kirsty last week! Hope to be reading the unexpurgated version soon. Thank you for all you have done for the people of this country. Best regards, Deb Coakley

  • L. Richardson

    Oh dear Alistair, you’re still very bitter aren’t you ?

    Labour hasn’t got a divine right to be permanently in power you know .

  • Nik Khat

    I don’t often comment but felt I had to with regards to Labour losing.

    Lets start with the positives: huge investment in public services & more importantly infrastructure, Sure Start, Child poverty milestones, minimum wage & Northern Ireland.

    The problem is that firstly Labour always seem to be out flanking the Daily Mail, so we had the sustained attack on civil liberties & the strange authoritarian language against immigration. The central ethos for New Labour did not seem to be have been thought through so we had the sustained attack on “people on benefits” culminating in the ridiculous situation of announcing more attacks on “benefit cheats” two days before the Glasgow by election.

    How could a Labour government allow the ridiculous and regressive situation of the 11+ to be sustained in little enclaves while allowing it to be abolished in Northern Ireland because it was socially divisive?

    How could a Labour government to all intent & purpose eradicate Council Housing leading to a huge drop in social housing starts and feeding the housing bubble?

    How could the genius that is Gordon Brown force through the hugely costly tube privatisation which ironically is being “nationalised” by a Tory Mayor?

    To cap it all new Labour have a long running civil war that pushes out your most successful leader. I am no fan of TB, I think there is a lot more to come out about Iraq, but you can’t argue against him in electoral terms.

    The reason Labour lost of its core vote is because we felt you didn’t care about us nor were standing up for us. Think about the imbalance of the continuous attack against the people on benefits yet an American President is more radical in demanding controls and reform of banks.

    I hope Labour can learn these lessons but am not hopeful with the Millibands ( another ridiculous sight, a LABOUR foreign sec squirming on the use of torture & apologising regarding “rendition” flights). Ed Balls seems to have some progressive bones in him but is tainted by his supposed bully boy reputation. So good luck but it may take a while.

  • paul cocks

    The hypocrisy being expressed on is truly vomit making.
    Yes, David Laws was stupid; but isnt there a spot of homophobia going on here? Is dear sweet fluffly alastair implicated in this story in any way? Alastair Campbell and the Torygraph – what an unholy alliance.
    One thing stands out for me – namely, the difference between the dignity and speed of his resignation, and the grim determination of Labour wrongdoers such as Mandelson, Mandelson, Mandelson, Blunkett, etc ad nauseam to hang on by their fingernails.

    Pass the sick bag, Al

  • Andy Blanche

    Alistair, I thought you could have defended the Iraq argument better on Question Time. The WMD issue is simple in my mind. It was hard to find anyone before the war who didn’t beleive Iraq had them. They defintely had them at some point as they had used them against their own people and the Iranians. Saddam Hussein had every opportunity to explain what he had done with them and how he had disposed of them. He didn’t do it and his defiance of the UN and world opinion and his brinkmanship caused the war. The US and Britain rightly acted as someone had to. The UN is utterly useless. I’m fed up with hearing about the so called second resolution. I understand that there were about 14 resolutions he had defied with regard to this