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An everyday tale of modern journalism, plus All-Time Premier League team

Posted on 6 June 2010 | 11:06am

First of all, thanks to the Independent on Sunday for devoting two pages to an interview pegged to the publication of Prelude to Power, which also mentions (and has pictures of the front covers of) All In The Mind and Maya, my two novels.

But … and I think journalists know me well enough to know there is likely to be a but after such lavish thanks … a modest grumble if I may about its presentation in the rest of the paper, which rather lends support to my argument about the real spin doctors being the editors, reporters and headline writers.

Here’s a quote (and to be fair to interviewer John Rentoul, who had one of those old-fashioned tape recorders, I am sure all the quotes are accurate) from the section of the interview where we were talking about the four former Cabinet ministers vying to succeed GB as Labour leader, David and Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham …

‘They have all grown. I got on very well with Ed [Balls] during the campaign. But in the end you’ve got to make a judgment. Of all of them, I think David [Miliband] has got the most rounded political and policy skills that you need. I’m a pragmatist about this. I think about who can take on Cameron best. They’ve all got strengths. I think the thing with Ed Miliband is that he’s a really nice guy, but you’ve got to differentiate between making the party feel OK about losing and actually then making the party face up to what it needs to do to get into shape again. It’s the latter that you have to look for, and I think David’s got that.’

And here is a Page 1 strapline … Alastair Campbell exclusive interview: ‘Ed Miliband is a nice guy but he’d only make Labour feel OK about losing.’

Now, if you can bear with me, go back to the actual quote, and note the subtle but significant change secured by inserting the word ‘only’ in the strapline. I was trying to explain why I was backing David M over the other three, without denigrating his opponents. The quote just about achieved that, I think, but the strapline moves close to denigration territory. And it is in quote marks. Therefore you would be entitled to think I said it, exactly in those terms.

Then there was a small news story on Page 2, and here the headline is even starker … ‘Campbell: Ed Miliband isn’t up to leading Labour.’ Again, I think you would be hard-pressed to say that I actually said that. He has many strengths and there are clearly serious people in the party who think he is the man to lead Labour into the future, and I can see why. I just happen to have reached the view that his brother would be better. It does not mean that he ‘isn’t up to leading Labour.’

I go through this in some detail not because it is that important but, in a way, because it is so typical, the kind of mild misrepresentation that occurs almost routinely. Indeed, in the interview, when discussing the row with the BBC caused by Andrew Gilligan’s untrue report seven years ago on the WMD dossier, I make the point that an awful lot gets written that is wrong or misleading, and you just let it go, as I will let the Ed Miliband story go, but sometimes the allegations and the misrepresentation are too serious to let lie.

As it happens, I think John Rentoul is one of those journalists who would acknolwedge that the media-politics breakdown that happened under New Labour was every bit as much the product of changed media attitudes and tactics as the product of our determination to do things differently. And this is not a big whinge, just an observation of the kind of small, quite subtle editing change whose overall effect can be to create a misleading impression.

It meant that last night, as Fiona and I came back from a night out, and someone alerted me to the headline, I was texting Ed M to say the quotes were accurate but the headlines were not. Small whinge over …

… Good luck to those taking part in Soccer Aid at Old Trafford tonight. I am moderately gutted not to be there, as the two I have taken part in – especially the first when I lined up alongside Diego Maradona – have got to be among my top lifetime experiences.

Plenty of reminiscing about the experience last night because I was seated at a party next to Peter Schmeichel, who was our goalkeeper in the first one, and a volunteer coach for the second one at Wembley a couple of years ago.

We spent part of the evening comparing notes on our best all time Premier League team … I went for Schmeichel: Neville, Stam, Terry, Cole: Ronaldo, Keane, Scholes, Giggs: Shearer and Rooney.

My main doubt was right back, where Lee Dixon was in the frame, and at one point I was bringing Dennis Irwin over from his usual left-back berth. I also felt Tony Adams and possibly Ricardo Cavalho might push Terry out. Hard to beat that middle four (all United) which meant the likes of Beckham, Vieira and Gerrard have to fight for a spot on the bench, and hard to leave out Henry and Bergkamp too, not to mention all the Chelsea and Liverpool strikers but Shearer and Rooney would have been quite a pairing.

Schmeichel was too modest to put himself in goal, so he left it blank. Yet I have never met anyone who has not put him between the sticks in a best ever team. He was torn between Pallister and Adams alongside Stam, and had both Irwin and Evra ahead of Cole. He toyed with Gerrard sneaking ahead of Scholes, but then club loyalty won the day. He reckoned Ronaldo was simply the best ever player in the Premier League, but also felt Shearer was not far behind.

Andy Gray was a a few places away down the table. He had Ferdinand and Adams at centre back, and Beckham instead of Giggs with Ronaldo switched to the left, and he put Henry ahead of Rooney.

No Burnley players made it, but I could tell they were both thinking Tyrone Mears might make right-back if Neville got injured.

 *** Buy The Blair Years and raise cash for Labour

*** Buy Prelude to Power here at Amazon.

  • Ian

    Are you aware that it’s not possible to see any but the first box full of any blog entry on an iPhone or iPad. You’ll be losing a lot of readers.

  • Alan Quinn

    Oh go on then I’ll have to have a go.

    1 Peter Schmeichel

    2 Denis Irwin

    3 Paddy Evra

    4 Roy Keane

    5 Tony Adams

    6 Terry Butcher

    7 David Beckham

    8 Bryan Robson

    9 Alan Shearer

    10 Eric

    11 Paul Gascoigne

    Friedel, Pallister, Walker, Scholes, Giggs, Hughes, Ince

  • Lynda Davies

    You have highlighted why I no longer buy newspapers. I want to read what actually happened not what the media would like to have happened. The only way to get unedited news is online via all sources – freedom of speech does mean freedom to lie. Keep up the good work Alastair

  • Richard Burnell

    I do not know why journalists are employed at all: all editors should award you 500 words each edition to make your embittered rantings unopposed, and without comment.

    Brave new (labour) world, Al, but more the communist model.

    Do they not know who you are?

  • olli issakainen

    Well, we already know that the next leader of the Labour party will in all probability be a white, Oxbridge-educated man in his forties. But what other qualities are needed?
    Nowadays leader´s character is more important than his policies. New leader must possess emotional intelligence.
    Political brain is an emotional brain. People do vote for a person who elicts the right feelings – not for one who has the best arguments. People do not want reason – they want values.
    It does not help these days if you have moral and intellectual superiority and better policies. You can easily be too intelligent, your arguments too complicated.
    Dispassionate rational mind is an Enlightenment myth. People rely on emotion in decision-making process. They reach conclusions that make them feel good. Reason and rationality have limited role in political decisions.
    A good leader listens. He must also be able to persuade, convince and reassure. He must have substance and good presentation skills. He must be capable of uniting the Labour party after the Blair-Brown years. And he must be able to win back support for Labour.
    People are in politics for a mixture of high principles and self-interest. The next Labour leader must be in politics for high principles.
    Neil Kinnock has said that Ed Miliband has all the good qualities the next Labour leader needs. I agree with Neil!

    Ps. Alastair Campbell, an MP for Burnley? Why not? But what about your “cast-iron guarantee” of not accepting a high-profile job in media or politics?

  • Matthew Patrick

    FAO: Ian

    Hi Ian, you can actually see the blog on an ipad/iphone/itouch. All you have to do is hold two fingers on the blog and drag the page up. This means you can scroll through the blog rather than the webpage.

    Hope that helps.



  • Jacquie R

    Alastair, you probably thought quite hard about how you were going to present your reasons for supporting David M, and I can see how the paper’s headlines must have made your heart sink a little. On the other hand, when one says about any potential leader: “He’s a really nice guy, but….” it is pretty much the kiss of death.

    In fairness, those who follow this blog know that you have a high a regard for both Miliband brothers, although neither Ed nor we will be surprised you’re supporting the more Blairite David.

    In my opinion, both brothers are exceptional and, if an election seemed likely within the short term, I would have thought the more mature David the better bet. Since it now looks as if it could be five years away, my vote will go to Ed, who I feel will grow and grow into the role of potential PM. He seems to have the intellect, skills and commitment of his brother, but also an engaging warmth. He is, frankly, a much needed breath of fresh air who could connect well with young and old alike and even turn out to be quite inspirational.

    (On the other hand, now that he is coming out as an ace lasagne chef, perhaps Ed Balls is the one to watch. Somebody on Twitter suggested a Labour leadership Come Dine With Me.)

  • Charlie Reynolds

    So you feel that you’ve had your words twisted a little. Tell me how does that feel? Your whole career is based on twisting others words isn’t it?

    How much money will you make out of selling your story and harming the Labour party? Still you’re alright jack… and good old Mandelson and Blair will rake in their gold too. Isnt the world great?!! And the BBC supports you to do it. It all stinks to me.

    Must make your family proud.

  • Jane

    I have heard you on numerous occasions on the leadership candidates. I read John Rentaul’s article and did not read anything into it.

    Anyway, I think you are supporting the right person for the job. If David Miliband is successful, I will rejoin the party. I left after Tony Blair was ousted as I could never ever offer any support to his predecessor who was complicit in the coup. I wonder are there many others who feel like I do?

  • D J Hunt

    Your comments about Clare short could equally apply to yourself from my point of view.
    How did you and the two “B”s manage to cause so much damage to this country over the last 13 years and get away with it!

  • SMukesh

    As one of the shrewdest media men around,surely you knew exactly what would appear in The Independent` when you gave that interview…Infact,the headline is not as bad as it could have been.
    One could understand why you support David as he is the most Blairite of the candidates…However,his performance on previous Question time appearances have left little impression on me,and only reinforcing the impression that he is more comfortable on policy maters rather than expressing them…Ed,on the other hand and Andy Burnham have the ability to express policy in words the voters understand…If David was such an outstanding candidate,the MP`s would have gone for him a long time ago when GB was trailing a long way behind in the polls…However,they seem to have understood that to ditch one proven policy maker in favour of another unproven one wouldn`t make any difference in the polls and GB held onto his post…If the Labour party wishes to do better in the next elections,they need to find a candidate who is able to tell the voters how his policies would make a difference to them on a daily basis

  • MoveFX

    Hi Alistair – big fan. May I ask how you felt regarding Mr Blair apparently using interviews to ‘steal a budget’ and set a target to clear the ‘asylum backlog’. Do you feel it was off the cuff policy, or deliberate attempt to use public promises to hold departments to account? I’ve always felt that Mr Blair used the media to ‘grease’ the wheels of state to perform in the way he thought should it’s better nature triumph, and gently pre-empted such a triumph (ala Diana and the Queen’s statement)?

  • kathy

    I’m sorry I can’t see David Milliband without seeing that banana. He reminds me of Mr Bean. The thought of him being a future Prime Minister is just a joke. His brother makes a more credible candidate but he is too associated with the old lot. Ed Balls is just unthinkable, too connected to Brown and Whelan. I think the way these two have suddenly revealed they disagreed with Labour’s past policies just proves you can’t trust a politician. Why couldn’t they have been honest and spoke out at the time if they had reservations. They are just saying what they think the public want to hear. The only one with any credibility is Dianne Abbott and it looks like she wont manage the nominations. At least she did not always follow like a sheep and vote for policies just because she was told to by Labour Whips.
    I know she sent her son to a private school and some say she is a hypocrite. The truth is I’d be very surprised if any of the children of Labour Politicians go to bog standard comps as they manage to move to areas where there are better schools, so I do not think that is an argument.It would be nice to have a fresh face not tainted with the Blair/Brown years of lying and spin who would maybe regenerate faith in the Labour Party. Unfortunately it looks like more of the same so where will the incentive be to vote Labour.

  • Graham Jones

    Cameron’s scaremongering over the UK deficit is criminal, and further evidence of the great deception he is currently spreading, with the aid of the Lib-dem’s. We always knew we would need to pay back borrowings; but not when the economy is still in fragile growth.
    The Europeans have got the frights, due to a lack of leadership. Instead of taking control of the situation, they are panicking and reverting back to failed economics. They are stupidly cutting off the fiscal stimulus, despite the US Treasury warning against cutting too soon. It is perhaps fortunate, that the most powerful economy in the world has understood the lessons that Gordon was preaching, before the tories stole power. GB showed Obama and Geitner the correct path to stability, and they stayed on course, refusing to be panicked by the old right of centre economic dogma.
    As for Britain, our percentage of debt, compared to GDP, isn’t anywhere near that of Greece. The revised growth figures showed that Labour were making the right calls, investing in R&D. New jobs, that were in the pipeline because of this, could be lost to the country.
    Labour have to argue, to ensure their good work isn’t mischievously undone for the purpose of political maneuvering. How will the economy ever recover, if huge cuts to supporting business are implemented? If we are to see a full recovery to the private sector, then the hand of partnership must be there to encourage job creation. There will be time for cutting back, when the recovery is locked in place, and not before.
    It is understandable, that the public gaze has been diverted from the complexities of the economy, in a week that has made us all question our own mortality. It is right that we try to put these things, into some kind of proper perspective. These questions are about our future, and are important.
    However, it is also important, that this coalition government, are held accountable for the gross mistake they are about to make, just to score some cheap political points.

  • Tim

    Diane Abbott has about as much credibility as Burnley had as a Premier League club.

    The Labour leadership campaign has only gone to show how uninspiring politicians are thesedays. Both Milibands are too Blairish, Balls would be the biggest turn off (and has a slender majority so could be in trouble in the next General Election) and Andy Burnham has no profile outside the party, but looks like he should still be at school.

    I despair of the modern Labour party. Nice suits, shame about the people wearing them. Where are the Michael Foot, Denis Healey or even Neil Kinnock figures? People with presence who speak with true passion, rather than manufactured focus group followers?

    Diane Abbott might be a slight throwback to those times, as love her or loathe her she at least speaks with some fire in her belly, but for me she is the worst of Labour. Our equivalent of Lembit Opik.

  • Ben

    Who on earth was around Dianne Abbott when she decided to stand? Don’t get me wrong, I think its great that the Labour party have a broad range of leadership candidates but Abbot? Surely her intention to do so may reflect scrutiny on Labour MPs and their simple common sense….

    Why would any Labourite support a candidate who openly sits with Portillo and argues with a man who helped us win 3 general elections on television regarding party policy…I really think she is in the wrong party – and hopefully there will be no space for her within a Labour more in-tune and cohesive with its backbenchers…”what will you do be doing then Alastair” – “Well a lot more than you Dianne” – Nice one Al.