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Cameron has learned wrong lessons from TB: they should read the books more carefully

Posted on 21 June 2012 | 10:06am

A version of this appears on The Huffington Post site today

To the splendidly New Labour King’s Place on Monday, and an onstage interview with Steve Richards of the Independent as part of his ‘Politics Rock and Roll’ series.

Steve, one of the less cynical UK commentators, is doing his bit to try to re-engage the public with politics by putting on talks like this, and the fact that we had a full house on a Euro football night suggests he is not wrong in saying people want deeper debate than they get from day to day media coverage.

Once he had led me through the main themes of my new book, Burden of Power, which goes from 9/11 to the war in Iraq and my resignation from Downing Street, he threw it open to q and a, and as I said at the end, they were a cut above many of the question and answer sessions I have done. I didn’t keep a note, but here are a few examples, with answers shorter than the ones I gave:

What is Rupert Murdoch like ‘as a man’? (complicated)

Will broadsheet newspapers still exist in 20 years? (Some but not most)

Did GB support TB properly over Iraq? (He certainly did towards crunch time)

Why did Boris beat Ken and will he one day beat Cameron? (The fact that is the choice suggests the Tories are in trouble)

Are TB’s reputational issues over money a failure of spin? (To some extent perhaps, given he employs 100 people or so, and spends millions on charitable projects)

Do I think lobbying is a problem?(Only if politicians and civil servants allow it to be)

What more could we have done as a Government to stop the Tories getting back in? (Pushing back even harder against ‘forces of conservatism’ and staying united at the top)

Was it a turning point for mental health that four MPs spoke about their mental health problems in the Commons last week? (I  hope so but I was disappointed their speeches did not get more coverage)

Should Leveson not suggest a ban on the reporting of the children of public figures and does the media reporting of politics not put people, especially women, from going into politics? (Spot on)

But my favourite question came from a young man I later learned was Steve’s son Jake. He said that I had spent part of the evening criticising David Cameron’s government ‘but it is well known that he, Michael Gove and others hero-worship Tony Blair, you and the Blair team … does that alarm you or are you secretly flattered?’ Cue laugher from the audience.

As for the answer, I refer the honourable Huffington Post reader to my answer re Murdoch above – it is complicated.

At a personal level, I don’t think I have much in common with Cameron at all, whose life and background is closer to the play POSH than it is to the values I hold, and the background I come from, a different middle class to the middle class he purports to be.

As for the politics, he has a funny way of showing any residual and grudging respect for any abilities I might have, fairly regularly taking potshots, whether in the Commons – where he has twice made statements about me which were untrue – or at Leveson.

Yet it is also true, whenever you talk to his key people in Number 10, that he and Gove, and to some extent George Osborne, do try to model a lot of their approach on the Blair government. When they sit around discussing problems, it is not unknown for them to say ‘what would The Master have done in these circumstances?’ and they are talking not about any Tory PM, but TB.

Likewise, though rhetorically Cameron seeks to distance himself from the approach we took to communications, he has maintained many of the changes we made.

And of course on policy, though I believe Gove’s policies are somewhat to the eccentric side of potty, he is a sassy enough politician – unlike Andrew Lansley with his NHS reforms – to dress them up as ‘heir to Blair’ reforms.

So I went through all of the above in answering young Jake, but concluded by quoting from a recent article by right-wing commentator Fraser Nelson. He too was aware of the extent to which Cameron and Co have read all the New Labour books and manuals, and sought to learn from them. He is also right to point out that they have learned the wrong lessons.

Both Cameron and Blair, he said, were obsessive in going out to persuade the media to support them. But the big difference is this: we did the strategy first – New Labour, New Britain, modernization as a message that held everything together – and then went out to persuade. Cameron is a good persuader but is coming unstuck because he lacks a clear strategy. It is why he failed to win a majority in the most benign of electoral circumstances for an Opposition. It is why he is struggling now. He is all persuasion no strategy.

I listed some of the many themes and ‘top priorities’ he has thrown out there as possible core strategies. From The Big Society to the decontaminated brand to the greenest government ever, he has stuck with none of them, with the possible exception of ‘dealing with the deficit to avoid a double dip recession’, on which he and Osborne are failing.

Of course ‘all in this together’ has had to bite the dust too on the back of a Budget tax cut for the rich which exposed not just their true POSH colours but their strategic ineptitude.

So the answer to Jake’s question is that I feel neither flattered nor annoyed. I am pleased they are reading the books, and even more pleased they are not heeding the central message.

Because I think a careful reading of the diaries, whilst showing the huge number of events and personalities and clashes which had the capacity to throw us off course from time to time, also show that whatever was happening day to day, we did more or less manage to stay focused and strategic most of the time. Never easy, but only possible if you know, understand and believe in the strategy.

Cameron remains unclear about his overall strategy, and Fraser Nelson was spot on about the difference between the two men and the two teams. Long may it continue.

And for those Tories who do want to learn the proper lessons, Burden of Power is available in all good bookshops, and dedicated signed copies can be ordered via

  • Ehtch

    I looked and listened to Cameron’s interview in Mexico this morning, well after all the rest of the G20 leaders had left to run their own counties, and thought, don’t we employ staff to do trade missions, and to have our PM doing comes across as a bit desperate as a country? Think Dave is hiding, and doesn’t want to come home and do his job.

    Anyway, at said interview, I looked between his eyes, as I have a somehow an ability to do, and I saw a man starting to lose it. What is Cleggy up to these days, why wasn’t he filling in for Dave the other day, why was that eight pints of yorkshire ale Hague filling in, dray horse drawn or not? Many questions have arisen suddenly.

    I agree to have a go at people tax dodging, but why jump on the Times bandwagon and victimise Carr? Surely there are better worse examples. Vodaphone is the obvious. Do Vodaphone still supply phones to MPs?

    Ach, Cameron at the moment is finding that the honeymoon is finally over, and he has got to get the garden implements out of the shed and actually do some back breaking work – he has put it off for long enough.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, sorry not to get to the book plug – King’s Place is very civilised.  Did hear you on Midweek, though – and whilst most of the questions were a bit humdrum, the interesting nugget was your comment on the Tories’ manipulation of the Leveson enquiry, attempting to put themselves on the side of the press (with whom they will presumably try to do a deal).  

    To describe Cameron as a lightweight would be way too charitable.  He doesn’t have Blair’s guile and he certainly doesn’t have Brown’s intellect.  You talk about his absence of a strategy – but without underestimating his slime quotient I honestly believe he is too thick to understand what government actually is.  You would have thought even the Tories could have come up with somebody else.  

  • Christine E Brand

    Got a signed copy of your book today, thrilled!  And to be continued…I see..good news, excellent reading ahead thankyou

  • Anonymous

    Footie off topic, but this vid on youtubby has taken off, in what is happening in Gdansk this evening, comments pilling in, the vid is on fire with commenters, and through today, will be white hot. Placed a comment, that rumour control has told me that Franz Beckenbauer has been dropped, maybe true since I have heard he is drawing an old age pension, these days, and his knees are knackered…

  • Anonymous

    Glad to hear Nicole Cooke has been selected for the GB cycling road-racing team, but it is still undecided who will be the number one mama… : )

    Song for Nicole, again : ),

    She competes, I see it in her eyes, doesn’t feck about, oh no.

  • Chris lancashire

    Let’s face it – ANY lesson learned from Blair (other than don’t do what he did) is going to be bad.

  • Anonymous

    This remids me of the main story line of Big City Bright Lights, with Michael Fox,

    Beeb story diverting us from what, as this is not day to day unusual, from then cocaine sniffing NYC? Clip of said film here,

    Reagun time, with help from the Thatch – 1980’s – suck my dodah!

  • Michele

    ……………….. “What more could we have done as a Government to stop the Tories getting
    back in? ……………

    Not sure about as a Govt but I hope some donors of block votes are wondering what the hell they were thinking of re the party when they opted for someone that has no consideration for it.

    We need to get this problem sorted out very soon, we’ve heard a lot about the wrong choices EM thinks others made, he seems oblivious re how he came to be where he is, PKB – he’s another example.
    I’m not qualified to state that he has no concept or care about ‘things in the round’ but I’ll post it anyway, as an opinion.

  • Christine E Brand

    Alastair . Re: your comment days ago, about House of Commons Mental Health debate 14th July 2012, (for others recommended reading, excellent for awareness in scope of issues in mental health but also vital giving many areas where simple progress can be made; anyone wishing to read this can find it in Hansard). I have sent you a more detailed email at Rethink where your support could help this debate material, as mentioned, be given to the right peoples desks! This not automatic that people in relevant fields get vital information, or/and for you to be aware of an issue, I percieve as current.

    As a volunteer in this work myself, I have little power/voice to get gaps I see and highlight at high end levels that I am working with, take on these issues because they need a set process in forums to exist in the new system in Public Health to make admendments!!!!! and of course because of such vast changes to personal roles, flux is playing a huge impact on early stages of the development – which will later entail delaying ….. progressing consequences!

    Hope for getting changes in society from this outstanding debate, documented ready to work with – is too much to of an opportunity to pass by – for those who work and care about improvements that will make a difference to millions of people with mental health conditions. One of those myself too! Implementaion in right places vital and urgent.
    Christine E Brand

  • Michele

     So, this morning we had EM pretending that anything could have been done differently than it was re immigrant workers from EU.
    This Any Qs there has been Peter Hitchens stating that one Andrew Neather, ex-speechwriter for TB, had ‘disclosed’ (after leaving #10) that it had actually been TB’s policy for immigration levels to reach such that the UK indigenous would be outnumbered. 
    Apparently Melanie Phillips got quite excited at the time.

    Peter Hitchens went on to say ‘it’s all there, published’.
    He forgot to mention something else he must have known, that Andrew Neather has corrected the distorted summarised version of what he had ‘disclosed’.

    I wish I could work out whatever EM’s motive was.
    He’s been applauded by Migration Watch so will they be advising him what could have been done differently and legally?
    MW have been described as feeding a certain phobia ….. I hope EM isn’t basking in their approval.

  • Ehtch

    The sound of the video above is quite appropriate for road race cycling I think, but the lyrics might be not, he says….

  • Ehtch

    Off topic, as usual, rugger, up early – well, here we go Cymru vee Oz from the land of strange animals, third time of asking this summer, for a possible win, should be interesting, while no doubt my blood boils and vessels of blood bulge. Eight minutes to kick-off, pirated pc viewed.

  • Ehtch

    .. furthermore, to my previous. bollocks, Bollocks. BOLLOCKS! CRAIG JOUBERT – bluddy whistled Cymru off the park again, the CUNT!

    Survived without have a stroke yet, but it is only time, blood pressuse must have hit 300 over 70 in that game. Fucking southern hemisphere reffing twats.

    Wales lost by one point, by the way. Bastard reffing, bastards, BASTARDS! Sean Bean favorite vid I post at fuckhead times like these, the Ozzies think THEY are so clever, well I am still living in my original land butties, and never been to prison and neither killed an aborigine in my life, pricks!

    Do I apologise for my profanities? Do fuck I will! Colonials, they get my tits they do, oh yes, hypocritcal fucking arse breaths they are, the bunch of .

    Anyway, got that out of the way, so, more tea Vicar?

  • Ehtch

    …even furthermore, I couldn’t give a fuck about England now in these euro champs, I hope you totally fuck up against the Ities – I am presently fucked off with organised sport what I have experienced in the last few weeks, FA – do so! Germans, as Alastair on twitter predicts, will tear your english a new arshole, if you have a chance to meet them. God help brit competitors in this years Olympics, the media will all over them like a dose of pubic hair crabs, making them think, “why the fuck am I bothering?”.

    Anyway, song for Italy – did I ever mention my pen friend since fifteen, Isabella, from Senegallia, Ancona, on the north east coast? Excellent teacher she is these days – I had a part in her education, she was thirteen when we met, pen palled – I think she wanted to marry me. If only I could buy back time… I could have been a catholic, easily,

    Song for Isabella la luna/the moon, of mine, as I look above, on a clear night, that is if rain isn’t coming in, which is often, up by here, Isabella,

  • Ehtch

    Amoure, Italiano, Rita Pavove, Torino, la signora dai miei sogni giovanili, mai nel tempo che può essere possibile recuperare, il tempo …

  • Ehtch

    quite hanky time above vid, ey englishmen, if it is still possible…

    : )

    Only joking about lads, by the way, if you might have not noticed, a song for you english lads for Sunday evening, but umm, it has to be sung from Wales, since I sense you lack actual passion, so I import it to you England, with some sort of love, I suppose, surely,
    Go Shirley, Cardiff Bay, Tiger Bay, several of them best from that shore, over marvellous time, as long as, yes, good neighbours, looking after on you, without no need asked reflect, just time remembered, the care….

  • Ehtch

    Ryan Air, from Torino, to Gatwick, mid-day, seeing over alped, only a dozen in flight, swopping seats, to see alpine glory, in sunlight, blue sky lucky. Down the sides, ski lifts and skiiers, early January, I feel I was priviliged. Song about it, dog called Donke,

    Why am I living where I am now?

  • Ehtch

    road racing whatever is happenning today in Britain, I have heard, but i might be wrong with my dates, another song for Nicole, for motivashun!

    well, no, not that one, this one,


  • Anonymous

    What could have been done differently:
    1. Leave the EU
    2. Ignore the EU rules on immigration, threaten to leave the EU if they kick up a stink (remembering that the EU needs us a hell of a lot more than we need it, ie we bailout and subsidise it and net buy its products, not vice versa.)

    What could happen, would they send an EU gunboat up the Thames? Luckily if they did it would be armed with the EU standard pea shooters so would soon find itself at the bottom of the Thames.

  • Ehtch

    Isabella Bruini, dispiace, mi hai inviato il tuo numero di telefono, ma con British Telecom loro sarebbe costato uno stagno un momento, senza dubbio. Isabella, spero che tu avuto una buona vita finora, hanno sempre pensato a te, ragazza dolce, i miei occhi stanno innaffiando le lacrime agli occhi ora, che cosa avrebbe potuto essere, se solo ho telefonato a quel numero ti ha dato, segretamente. Spero che stanno facendo bene.

    Acshually, I know she is doing well, married, teacher, couple of sons, so there. Another song, for my Isabella, o Senegallia, Ancona,

  • Michele

     And your more constructive solution would have been?
    Go ask EM, he obviously knows :-s

    Did you bother with the link btw, Neather’s refutation of the reports Hitchens repeated the lies about?
    For someone claiming the Christian credentials he does it’s a good job he’s not RC, he’d never be out of the booth!

  • Ehtch

    OOPS! did it again, the dog Donke,

  • Ehtch

    going down on the black run into Zell am See, ’91, the german girl I helped, when she was falling down every ten yards, my god, beautiful 24 year old loner girl, what I like, and we got on well. We got to the bottom of the slope when I showed not to panic, just stick you ski pole in and and turn around it quick, and do the same opposite, and soon we will be down the bottom. My god, did she she give me a big kiss at the bottom, and then she disappeared, as I knew she would. Told me her name was Heidi, from about twenty kms outside Munchen. jeezuz, she had a fit arse, as I followed her down, looking at her technique.

  • Anonymous

    No I did not bother with the link and do not need to. I am merely refuting the ridiculous lie that nothing could be done about immigration. Note I am not saying something should have been done (because maybe immigration was the right policy), I am saying that something could easily have been done if people had wanted to. Again, read it slow:

    1. Leave the EU – quite easy, legally simple and democratically popular.

    2. Threaten to leave the EU if they do not allow us full control of our own borders.

    Devastatingly simple.

  • Nic careem

    Well Alastair I think your ‘master’ TB was quite open about his admiration for Maggie Thatcher and George W Bush. When you and TB were discussing a crisis did you not say to yourself – ” Now how would Maggie and George have handled this?

     BTW I am on the final chapter of your diaries – an interesting read.

  • Michele

    1. Got the figures and the link to prove them?

    2.  Would that in turn mean no British could emigrate?

    Your suggestions are devastatingly something else.

  • reaguns

    1. Common sense. All politicians love the EU. All politicians run polls. They do not offer a referendum. Therefore quite clearly the polls tell them leaving the EU is democratically popular, or we’d have done the referendum already.

    2. Of course not. What a stupid thing to insinuate. Don’t we have British people emigrating to USA, China, Australia etc and none of them are in the EU, likewise we take in thousands upon thousands of africans who are not in the EU. Ridiculous assertion, probably the stupidest thing I’ve heard from you.

  • Michele

     If a country closes its borders to certain nationalities it will be breaking international, not just EU law.

    Was your lower case for what should have been ‘Africans’ intended?

  • Ehtch

    flipping ‘ell – 1.4 million more views since Friday!

    Monty Python Lives!!

  • Ehtch

    Strange result from the weekend in the Brit Champs, wonder what team tactics there was for the ones in the top three places… Nicole looks to have had to run on her own, again…

  • Ehtch

    oops – Torino to Stanstead it was, not Gatwick, of course.

  • Anonymous

    and it was a twin prop aircraft, Ryan Air,amoure, felt, yes I felt I was leaving a lover behind, a lover not again ever found. Just for me, looking for trudge of usual life, with memories of you, haunting my mind, as I shagged the next girl that came along.

    Sorry, had to be done… : ))) Song,

    Ok, Ok, I know I would have been barking up the wrong tree there, but excellent song. Notice her brother hitting her up her arse with the guitar, which she was daggers about. Great Dusty clip.

  • Anonymous

    Think that is one of the best songs I have posted ever on here. But it might just be me feeling it. So what if it is from the 1960’s?

  • Anonymous

    …suppose I should fill in more, as it was not as simple as that – on transversing, I told her to head across slope for the next pile of snow, no matter how small it was, and when your skis are on top of it, stick the downslope pole hard in, then turn, fulcrum-like, but before arse go down, then up and a bit of a jump and turn at the same time. Bit like ballet I suppose.

    Heidi was in a right mess when I came across her, panicking like buggery because she kept on falling down, and it was getting dark, end of the day. I sorted here, knight in shining armour and all that bullshit. Think she was a feminist to tell you the truth, maybe. That’s her problem, but I didn’t come across macho at all, that maybe why she gave me a right lip smacker on my lips, but pity, no tongues, though quickly she no doubt wished, for a change….

  • Ehtch

    furthermore, know it is not Rita, Gigliola Cinquetti I believe, piuttosto una bella ragazza, ey? E per quanto riguarda il viso tizio, piuttosto!

  • Ehtch

    Gigliola Cinquetti, as here,


  • Ehtch

    oh god how I love you…

  • Anonymous

    Garbage on all counts. A sovereign nation can decide who comes in and who doesn’t.

    And yeah I said “african” not “African” because being such a racist and all I decided this would be a clever way to belittle the entire population of that continent. The fact I eat African food with my African friends every week is just a cover up. Grow up.

  • Anonymous

    Quite a good version here, nice photos…

    Sì, una versione abbastanza bene lì, foto molto belle.

  • Anonymous

    Good clip of Mesut Ozil here Alastair, from a couple of years ago, before he got poached and headhunted to Spain. Beats me where the spanish find their footie money from. South London imports? : )

    Germany should win it, but footie is a funny game. Just waiting for one of the other three teams to turn latin nasty, he says, red card like….

  • Anonymous

    bollocks!, got it wrong again, Özil
    Last updated 8
    hours ago
    plays for Real Madrid of course. Knew I should have checked before I posted. Ach – both got dodgy accountants, I think.

  • Anonymous

    Have a theory, again, that is why english/british/irish ladies lose their inhibitions when they go to a latin country for hols, it is all about phermones, since men sweat more in the more heat, and our naive ladies don’t know what has hit them, nasally. They seem to go a bit bonkers, jumping in and out of various lads beds, greasy or not.

    Well, that is what I think. And it works the other way too, oh yes…

  • Anonymous

    oops again, thought I said he went to Barca, but I didn’t, just thought it.

  • Anonymous

    Think Özil would like to play in the Premier League at some time Alex, I can tell. Healthy, umm, such community around there, isn’t it Alex?

    You never know – think he would be happier there than playing somewhere else in England, name no cities…., especially ones beginning with L, alright alright, beginning with Lo…

  • Anonymous

    well acshually, it wasn’t her brother, her brother was on the right, the third one was not related, and wanted to get into her knickers, the fool he was, Dusty since me four realised she was, how I can put this politely, liked the minge. Remember Dusty bach when my mother was hoovering our then house in Carmarthen, sounds coming out of the grand wooden, on sixties hp, shilling a week, stereophone bought,

    And was absolutley glad that Pet Shop Boys got her out and about again in the late 1980’s. always like those lads. Many had made fun of me of my love of them, but they don’t understand life, could be due to experiencing my lesbian great-aunt and her girlfriend, cough! Lovely couple of people, I was one of the few they hugged when I went to visit them. Dusty with the Pet Shop Boys,

    Who says I am liberal minded? Grow up! I am a realist.

  • Anonymous

    ok, ok, ok ok. So I am well known to be in the “beautiful club”, and have a brain, so that makes me extra dangerous, to some, disturbing the balance.

    Well, I used to be, when I was young, maybe still so, ladies looking for fun, since I have hit fifty.

    My eyes, I have been told, are deep and magical, they see the ladies say, things they have never seen. I live with it, in my limited time, wise growing, advice I freely give, to say don’t mind anything, the seven sins avoid at least, as best as you can.

    Song for ME, averice, grabbing what I emptionally see. : )

    grow up, put your hanky away, are you a man or what?

    : )

  • Anonymous

    What makes you think us celt welsh and romano italiano still have some emotional connection from 450AD, ey?

    Alan Whicker explains,

  • Anonymous

    Told you Alastair, between the lines, the Ities was the ones to notice, while you played with your germans. It some it is some days like these days, I am glad of being some sort welsh merlin through. I have old roman west garrison blood in me from very old times, honest! Just look at my nose you english fuckers. Very, umm, distinct in dicnity.

    not bullshitting here, I have had a dna test, honest…