Alastair Campbell Fri, 09 Dec 2016 08:17:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What Trump, Brexit and the rise of populism say about politics and media now and in the future Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:42:56 +0000 Yesterday I made a speech to a conference organised by Fremantle Media, the independent production company that has given us such delights – depending on your taste – as Pop Idol, The Price is Right, and The Bill. They wanted me to talk about Trump, Brexit, the rise of populism, and what it all said about politics and media now and in the future. On arrival at The Grove in Hertfordshire, I discovered that what I thought was a fifty minute slot was just twenty-five, and some of that was for Q and A. So I got out the red pen and set to slashing. It seemed to go well enough, but here, for those who don’t mind a bit of long-form, is the fifty minute version.

I do like an event where I get a good clear brief, based on clear questions emailed over to me well in advance to give me time to think.

So here goes with the questions you asked me to answer.

What will the Trump presidency look like? That one is easy. Fuck knows.

What are his priorities?  Also easy. No idea. They change from tweet to tweet. Today it seems to be the replacement of Air Force One.

 What do we know he’s definitely going to do? Normally it is what the elected politician campaigned on. So … Lock her up. No, he’s changed his mind, Hillary is a wonderful woman. Build a wall. Apparently it is going to be a fence now. Drain the swamp. Now the Goldman Sachs guy is in the treasury, several of Trump’s billionaire pals are in the Cabinet, and there is a confusing mix of politics and business, including taking his daughter to meetings with PMs so she can tweet pictures and tell the world where to buy her bangle.

 Who is on his team and what does this mean? Steve Bannon for one. It means the alt-right is normalized and part of the mainstream. As yet he still has no Secretary of State, and given the row over Taiwan I kind of feel he may be needing one quite soon.

 Who are his allies globally? Nigel Farage, Piers Morgan and Vladimir Putin, and none strike me as US Secretary of State material. It makes that other trio of Johnson, Fox and Davis look like Abraham Lincoln’s team of rivals … with China, it is fair to say, he has made a bad start. But rival superpowers apart, he knows other countries will want to get close. Power attracts power.

 What is Trump like and what can we expect from his leadership? You know the answer to the first part – you saw the horror show as much as I did – and the second part you know you don’t know.

 Next you asked me about the Global Implications of The New Populism. What is it? What is the emerging new world order and what does it mean? Why is populism becoming so attractive around the world? How we can expect the world to change – what is under threat? Nothing much – just the whole of Western civilization and the future of the planet maybe. What could go wrong with a leader who said climate change was a Chinese hoax? What could go wrong if two leaders like Putin and Trump went man to man, fell out, got the willies out and neither would back down?

 What should we be watching out for in 2017? My own hope is that we wake up to the disaster that is Brexit and change course, and Trump’s win turns out to be the most spectacular example of Fake News yet. Instead we shall look to see how Le Pen fares in France and Wilders in Holland. We shall in the main be praying Angela Merkel survives to win another term. And we will be watching to see who or what can tame Trump.

Certainly we are living through remarkable change. Recently I published volume 5 of my diaries, which cover 2003-05. Theresa May appears once. Jeremy Corbyn not at all. Trump not at all. The word Brexit did not exist. Now here we are, a tumultuous referendum come and gone, David Cameron – come and gone; a leader of the Labour Party seen as unelectable by many but unassailable in the Party, and Trump seen as unelectable by most members of the human race, but now president elect of the most powerful country on earth.

‘Love trumps hate’ goes the slogan. Oh yeah? Not in the populist age.

Feeling would seem to trump reason.

Anger trumps logic.

Direction trumps detail.

Simple messages trump complex arguments.

And the Oxford English Dictionary chose ‘post-truth’ as its new word of the year.

Hillary’s campaign wasn’t bad, you know. Experience. Knowledge of how the world works. Detail and understanding of complicated policy briefs home and abroad. Stability in a time of turmoil. Continuity from a widely respected President she had served closely and well.

These are all, to anyone involved in post war democratic politics, positives. And up against what? Someone with no political, diplomatic or military experience. A proven liar, sexist, racist, narcissist, misogynist and even – when it came to things like demonising whole races or religions, or saying he would only accept the result if he won, and lock up his opponent when he did – with tinges of proto-fascist in there too.

So what did he do well? He turned her strengths into weaknesses, and his own weaknesses into strengths – not in the eyes of most of the political, diplomatic and mainstream media classes, who became ever more convinced of his awfulness, but in the eyes of the people he decided he needed to win, for whom the reaction of these elites seemed to bolster his appeal. For experience, read Washington insider, part of, and indeed symbol of, the system that needs to change. The first woman President? That excited liberals. Helped by Bernie Sanders, who started with the ‘creature of Goldman Sachs’ thing, and by the email ‘scandal’, he turned her into something close to a witch. Does anyone here know what she did wrong with her emails? In the end it didn’t matter. No fire, lots and lots of smoke.

As for him, for billionaire businessman who won’t reveal his taxes, read smart success story. For a few Chapter 11 bankruptcies along the way, read resilience. For temperamental unpredictable firecracker, read someone who tells it like it is and says the things nobody else dare. Hillary’s supporters projected her as the perfect President. Trump supporters liked his flaws.

Also, his message was clearer. Make America Great Again. It is active not static like Stronger Together. It is a call to arms suggesting a better future. But it also relates back to what people can be made to think is a better past. Make says the future. Again summons up the past. Stronger Together says Now, trapped in time … Hillary seems to have forgotten the Fleetwood Mac anthem of her husband’s first win … Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. We had a similar theme in 1997, Things can only get better, remember. They did by the way.

Trump was change. He turned Hillary into continuity. People wanted change, at least enough of them did to get him over the line. She won the popular vote but he won the election by winning where he needed to.

To those struggling in the rust belt, there was a better past, the good old days seemed real. ‘Take back control’ in the referendum was a similar message. ‘Back’ is the key word there … let’s restore something we have lost because of others. Brussels. Immigrants. Globalisation. Elites. All easy targets. Then wrap in a few lies about NHS spending, and you’re away.

Brexit and Trump focused, with non conventional politicians in the lead, pretending they were anti elitist, on what a brand would call forgotten consumers. What is remarkable about this in the States is that the Clintons built their rise on an understanding of these people. Bill was of them. It’s incredible that a spoilt, rich, inherited wealth billionaire should now seem to understand them and claim to represent them better, but he made them think he did. What is more he used methods that our conventional wisdoms felt would backfire. This exposed the level of disconnect. Likewise with Brexit, the Big Lie that this was about taking on the elite – an old Etonian like Johnson, a City trader like Farage, media barons like Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclays – the elite of the Brexit Lie Machine.

Media change is important here. When reality TV first became a thing, one Christmas at Tessa Jowell’s house, she, her family and mine were all getting into Pop Idol or X Factor or one of those. I’m afraid I have never much liked any of them. Tessa was obsessed with a binman called Andy and kept pinging her phone to vote for him. And when I said you are playing with fire, they said I was a grumpy old man who didn’t understand the modern world. But I think I did.

To millions, voting in those entertainment shows seemed to matter at least as much as voting in elections. The increasingly nihilist papers would give you ten reasons to vote for singer X or comedian Y, made into instant celebrities by dint of being on the show. The same papers would tell you day after day ten reasons not to get involved in politics where they are all the same, in it for themselves, blah blah blah.

Trump is the perfect symbol for this change. An entertainer. A storyteller narrating his favourite subject – himself. If he spoke, the media felt compelled to cover it because they knew the public wanted to see him … see the next episode … what will he do next … mock a disabled person, insult a race, fight with a war hero, whip up anger against journalists in a pen, hit new lows in the attacks on Hillary, make policy promises no serious person believes will happen …? He got $4.2billion worth of free air time in the US, and media companies the world over need to reflect on their role in his rise. Oh, and guess who is on Question Time again tomorrow? Farage. I don’t know why he doesn’t just take over from David Dimbleby.

Even a few years ago, the Trump strategy wouldn’t have worked. It worked now, in the reality TV/ social media world that is transforming our politics in ways which Trump clearly fathomed better than Hillary, the media, the pollsters, the bookies. In my day, you needed consistency of message. But Trump’s inconsistency and unpredictability became part of the appeal. He was like a one man soap opera, and the next episode was likely to fascinate and shock even more. And we all thought there was no way the American people would fall for this. But they did. Someone once said politics was showbiz for ugly people. In Trump the two have fused. He even tweeted out, a week after he won, that only he knew who ‘the contestants’ were for the top jobs. In the reality TV age, the reality TV President. In the post-truth world, the post-truth President.

There is a very interesting social media analytical tool called EMOTIVE, which correctly predicted the outcome based on an analysis of the emotional depth of the many millions of tweets the two candidates were generating. It can analyse thousands of tweets a second to extract from each tweet a direct expression of one of eight basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, shame and confusion. It was first developed in 2013 to predict whether another riot could happen in London. It accurately predicted our 2015 election.

During the three weeks leading up to the vote, Trump led in terms of the consistency of the emotions he was arousing. What the model is seeking out is not numerical support so much as consistency in the emotional response. The more emotions fluctuate, the greater the uncertainty towards a candidate, and the fewer votes the model predicts a candidate is going to get. The model does not concern itself with the direction of the emotion or put value on one emotion over another – because an emotion such as anger can be positive or negative.

Another plank of populism is the demonization of people who know what they are talking about, their reason made irrelevant alongside people’s anger. Just as in Brexit ‘we have had enough of experts,’ (copyright Michael Gove) so in the US all voices of conventional wisdom were dismissed by those forgotten consumers Trump was chasing.

So anger was the key. He needed to express anger as a way of showing he got the anger of people. It became a virtuous circle for him. Say they are angry. Show he is angry. Make them more angry. And make them believe that the old ways and the old people who had been around for years wouldn’t be able to fix the reasons for their anger. Only he would. Saviour time.

Meanwhile in the media and political bubbles we all persuaded each other we knew what was going on. As the date neared I found myself increasingly emailing and calling my US friends – some working for Hillary – saying please tell me this isn’t happening. No way, they said, all of them, without exception, including on polling day. She will win. Fret not.

It was strange – during our referendum campaign in June, every time I ventured out of the UK I was met with people from other countries stunned that we were even thinking of leaving the EU. Then I would come back home and hear so many people here – particularly outside London – who were determined that it is exactly what we should do. It has been the same for Americans travelling abroad in recent months – nobody outside America (and Putin’s Russia) seemed to want Trump. But Trump is what the world now has. The people who create the conventional wisdoms – the political, economic and media class if you like, all in their own bubbles, barely speak to the kind of people who swung it for Brexit and for Trump. And when they do there is a disconnent.

Conventional wisdom says don’t go full frontal on the media. Trump did. Did it harm him? No. Because the landscape has changed so much.

24 news and social media have changed journalism out of all recognition. People just move on. All about impact. Straight to comment. Fusion of news and comment. It’s easy to see why this happened – papers not merely in competition with each other but with all other parts of the landscape. Fake news now a reality in this post-truth world.

And campaigning which disregards facts in favour of emotion having proved successful in the most followed democracy of all, we can expect more of it, and the media will have to adapt.

Also, be honest, what has most of our broadcast media become? Journalists talking to each other about what other journalists say. Commentators reviewing on TV what they and others have said in the papers. Newsreaders telling you what commentators are saying on twitter. Media outlets with more space to fill and fewer journalists to fill it with. This is tailor made for a Trump or a Brexit campaign, storming social media, overwhelming mainstream media.

Most reporting is done from the desk and less and less on the ground. The antennae picking up and understanding social change are less alive. Easy talk is prioritised over news-gathering because it’s cheaper – but not necessarily well informed. And in elections, it has spawned an over-reliance on telephone and online polls – now proven unreliable, yet still relied upon to fill the space.

Also, again be honest, media has become a largely white, middle-class profession with fewer ways into the business for those without connections. This reinforces insularity of views, attitudes and approaches – not simply along political lines but social lines of class, region, education.

As traditional media has struggled, social networks have grown. But through the lens of these two campaigns, Trump and Brexit, their shortcomings are clear. Facebook now a planet of misinformation, Twitter a planet of abuse and division. Mark Zuckerberg happy to take credit for two million more people registering to vote, but shunting aside any responsibility for monetized fake news sites which add to his power and wealth. And the power of algorithms, which so few of us even begin, or even try, to understand, creating sealed echo chambers where we are seldom challenged by views we disagree with –further driving polarisation. Angela Merkel made a fascinating speech recently in which she warned of the dangers posed by algorithms constantly pointing us all in the direction of views we already hold. I remember my daughter on the day after Cameron won … ‘but how did this happen? Everyone said Labour would win.’ No, everyone in our digital world did.

Obama advisor David Axelrod once said when Obama was defying the odds to beat Hillary for the nomination in 08, ‘conventional wisdoms are always wrong.’ But actually nearer the mark is that there is no conventional wisdom any more. There are just billions of people around the world and we all have our own world, our own view, our own bubbles.

So as Trump moved to make the sale, the Brexit comparisons were obvious. A divided country still healing from the scars of the global financial crisis for which working people felt they – and not those who caused the crisis – paid the price. A feeling that the pace of change was too fast and the system needed a kick up the backside to get the message. An anti-establishment and anti-politics and anti-mainstream media mood. The politics of identity being turned into the politics of blame and becoming centred on immigrants at one end of the social scale, vaguely defined elites at the other. Hugely complicated issues reduced to simple messages repeatedly hammered home by the campaign and endlessly ventilated on social media. And the reason I feel this is a scary time to be alive is because I see in all of the above – particularly with the possibility for the break-up of the EU – echoes of, and parallels with, the 1930s.

We had it confirmed that we are indeed now in the era of post-truth politics. Trump made statements that made the Johnson Red Bus lies look tame by comparison. He said and did so many things that would frankly have killed off any other candidate in the past. The ‘pussy grabbing’ tape was but the most high profile as the campaign neared its close, when only FBI director James Comey saved him from further embarrassment.

But the forgotten consumers he was chasing saw someone saying what he – and maybe they – thought. An actor playing to their emotions. His ‘locker room banter’ defence was not seen as abuse of women but an attack on political correctness.

‘I never said that,’ said Trump in one of the debates pushing back at his comments on climate change being a Chinese hoax. He did. It is on camera. Ten, twenty years ago that might have done for him. We saw similar here … Lies just accepted … The £350m a week for the NHS. The tens of millions of Turks flooding Britain. The end of the British army being nigh.

Populists the world over, not least in Europe, will take heart from this.  The insurgent has an inbuilt advantage. The more noise you make the more people seem to listen. Making people laugh, or making them feel, is as important as making them think. Getting down and dirty, despite what Michelle Obama said about the need to stay high when your opponent goes low, seems to have won the day.

As for what Trump will do, is it not incredible that normally we complain if politicians don’t do the things they said they would? With Trump, he is getting praise from the media, and we are breathing a sigh of relief, every time he looks like he won’t do something he said he would. This is politics and democracy turned upside down.

The red bus liar-in-chief is now foreign secretary, and in interviews and debates the Brexit lies barely seem to get a mention. What happened to being held to account? He says during the campaign we need to vote Brexit to keep the evil Turks out of the EU. Then goes to Istanbul as Foreign Secretary to say we support Turkish accession to the EU. Post-truth politics indeed.

This makes it so much easier for the liars and the charlatans of our world if they can just move on without properly being held to account.

We pride ourselves on the strength of our democracies. But if this is the way our politics is going, how long before we are not really so much better than the Putin we all claim to say is worse? Is it not perhaps just a question of scale? There is a great book about Putin’s Russia, by Peter Pomerantsev, called ‘Nothing is true and anything is possible.’ Invade a country, then say you haven’t. Poison your enemies on the streets of London. Say you didn’t. Bring down planes. Deny it. Interfere in elections abroad. Say it is a CIA lie. How fast has the world changed, that seeming direct Russian interference in the US elections actually created such little fuss?

And on fake news, Barack Obama made an interesting observation. ‘The new media ecosystem means everything is true and nothing is true.’ Perhaps he had also seen the Pomerantsev book. ‘An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll,’ the President went on. ‘And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.’

Trump eyes Vladimir Putin not just with a certain admiration as a strongman leader, but with envy too. He sees a leader who can get more done when he has no real opposition,  control of his Parliament, the media, civil society and all the other checks on power. This is the other worrying lesson to draw from the Obama years of gridlock – that democracies seem in some ways to operate at a disadvantage to non-democracies and pseudo democracies.

But if he had campaigned overtly for that kind of power, it is unlikely Trump would have made it. So, just as the Brexiteers had to do, he needed to dress himself up as the crusader for the common man, taking on the elites on behalf of those who felt powerless and left behind. Given who and what he is, it was of course a gigantic con, with many lies wrapped around it. But when people feel that they are powerless and left behind, a populist message and messenger will resonate far more powerfully than someone offering stability and continuity.

So what does it mean for how politics and campaigning now change. Most people, even at the top end of politics, are not gigantic personalities as he is. Most people wouldn’t get away with it. Boris Johnson is the nearest parallel, but when push came to shove, the Tories decided he was not the guy. Theresa May, fair to say, is no Trump. We cannot see Merkel changing her ways, thankfully.

But Merkel is outstanding in the literal sense. She stands out, and long may she do so. Europe needs her right now. But what recent events have shown is that people are looking for insurgence, for disruption, and incremental won’t do.

So does that mean we are doomed to see politics fought on the extremes, even if most people still live their lives close to the centre? It is certainly easier to do so from there.

It is not just about dumbing down. It is about the pace of events around us. It is about the death of journalism as a profession with real standards. It is about us being able to create our own media landscape.

Trump was there, present in all of our lives and minds for some time. Did people want HIM? Not so much when he started. But did they want what he was offering – change, disruption, yes. He was making the weather in a way that felt horribly tactical, but in the end it turned out to be a remarkable strategic success. Everything said Me not Her. Everything said Feeling not Reason. Everything said Big Change not Continuity.

There will be plenty of politicians hoping he is a one off, and plenty more aiming to learn and somehow adapt and follow. But will they have the nerve and the personality to emulate?

In the end this is about the public. We say we want politicians who tell us the truth. But do we? What were the American people looking for? A savior. Or someone to kick the system? What was Brexit about? As much about kicking the establishment as a thought through decision on the detail of an exit that will be as fraught and complicated as it is uncertain and dangerous.

Trump is going to be President. Brexit is likely to happen, even with most of our MPs and the loathed experts knowing it will be a disaster. Brexit means Brexit. And now that means it is going to be a ‘red, white and blue Brexit,’ says Mrs May, meaningless gibberish in the absence of a meaningful government strategy.

But remember this – just because something is happening doesn’t mean we have to accept it is right. I am reminded of former tennis champion John McEnroe’s brilliant observation ‘show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.’ Frankly there is too much good losing going on, and a lot for the losers on both sides of the Atlantic to get bad about.

Trump lost the popular vote by a fair old margin yet now conducts himself as though he speaks not just for the whole of America but the whole of the world. The Brexiteers won by a narrow margin, yet conduct debate as though the referendum means only one view is allowed. So Trump’s chosen Ambassador for the UK, Farage, in this era of post truth politics, struts around the place insisting 17million people voted to leave the single market when even those he campaigned with were clear at the time it meant nothing of the sort.

Here is where the losers need to stop feeling they have to pander to the winners, and keep calling them out on their lies past and present. And here, both with Trump and with Brexit our Prime Minister needs to take a lead in shaping a more nuanced response.

Accepted, Trump has been elected leader of the most powerful country in the world and Mrs May must develop a relationship with him. But pandering to rudeness and narcissism does not constitute a foreign policy. She should study carefully the words with which Angela Merkel greeted Trump’s election. She cited shared values, not least to remind the Americans these were as much their values as hers. Mrs May has looked by contrast somewhat desperate, briefing out of her phone call with Trump that he had confirmed his commitment to a ‘special relationship’ – so special (sic) that she was the eleventh leader he called and the transcript subsequently revealed his ‘invitation’ to visit was little more than ‘let me know if you’re ever popping by.’ Then came the notion, even before he is installed in the job, of a State visit to the UK with all that entails. God alone knows what Trump might tweet about the Queen and Prince Philip. If Air Force One isn’t grand enough for him, I fear the faded charms of Buck House and Windsor Castle might get the full treatment from the Tweeter-in-Chief.

Instead of saying ‘there is no vacancy’ as UK ambassador, Mrs May would garner more respect – not least from Trump, given bullies only understand the language of strength – if she politely suggested he get on with sorting out his own team and leave her to decide hers; and put talk of Windsor Castle on the back burner until he shows he understands that for all that he won as a change candidate, there is a purpose to diplomatic protocols and he would be wise to follow at least some of them.

There has been a lot of talk of Trump’s Presidency being ‘normalised’ and of course the good losing of Obama and Clinton helped with that. But both the manner of his win and much of his conduct since have not been normal and there should be far greater resistance to the idea that they are.

In both Trump and Brexit, we have seen victories secured by myth now being followed by fantasy. The myths were helped by the lies they told. The fantasies are that everything is going to be alright. Trump will be like Reagan, say the normalisers. But the evidence suggests he won’t. Brexit will go fine. But the evidence suggests it won’t. I thought businessman Charles Dunstone put it well this week … ‘What I feel about Brexit is that it’s a little bit like we’ve jumped off a 100-storey building and have just passed the 50th floor and we’re saying, “Actually this isn’t so absolutely terrible” — but we haven’t hit the pavement yet.’

In fantasyland not only do we have to accept defeat. We seemingly have to accept anything the victors throw at us. We have to let Trump think he can say or do what the hell he likes. We have to believe that anyone who dares suggest there may be a downside to Brexit is deeply unpatriotic, enemies of the people, their views utterly irrelevant.

Several months on from the vote surely there should have been a clearer path laid out to this bright shiny new future we are all being asked to believe lies beyond the triggering of Article 50? For Mrs May to be talking of cliff edges and red white and blue Brexit suggests that our government is no clearer about where we are heading.

But one thing I will say for Trump … he was, in many ways, the most erratic of campaigners. In fact, part of his appeal was you could never guess what he would say or do next. But he always returned to the same messages – making America great again, Crooked Hillary, life is rigged by the elite against you. Even when angry, which seemed to be most of the time, he didn’t lose sight of what would motivate the voters he needed to win.

He had a message. In his own unique way, he stuck to it. And those of us who believe he will take the world in the wrong direction, and those who think Brexit in the wrong direction, need to keep to our message too. Politics is not like sport, my other great passion. In football, the game ends, the final whistle goes, there is a settled result. Trump won, but he alone does not shape the future. Brexit won, but the Brextremists alone must not be allowed to dictate what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means in terms of the laws and practices under which we are governed.

So never stop fighting for what you believe in. Never stop calling out the lies and the excesses. And never stop reminding David Cameron that his referendum was a very very bad idea, the consequences of which will be with us for a long time, all of which makes me very angry that the ambitions and needs of my children’s generation have been thwarted by the shortsightedness, the fake nostalgia, the loss of historical perspective of our generation, gleefully exploited by the charlatans who led the campaign and the tax-dodging or foreign media barons who so happily and so loudly banged their drums for them.

Thank you.



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An essay on the poison to our national life that is Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:49:16 +0000 Some of you may know I do a monthly interview for GQ magazine. This month’s, out this week,  features Nicola Adams. But last month the editor asked me to take a different tack and use my usual space to explain why I so loathe the Daily Mail. Nice commission to have.

When the magazine put the piece online yesterday, amid the continuing controversy about the vicious attack by the Mail and others on judges daring to do their job, it had a big response. So I thought, having been so quiet on the blog front of late, that I would put it on here too. Be warned, it is around six thousand words long. But I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it makes you sign up to the campaign to stop British Airways and Virgin Atlantic giving out free copies and so keeping the Mail circulation falsely high. I hope the less mature among you will also join my #ripitup campaign, which I explain in the video on the front page of this site. All the best

There’s so much about Paul Dacre that I ought to admire. I like people who set themselves big ambitions as they start out in life, then make them happen; people who stick at the same task, with real energy and conviction; who know their own mind, don’t get overly buffeted by fads and fashions, locate themselves in strong beliefs, and stick to them. I’m a big fan of resilience, and within it the need to be able to treat criticism the same way you treat praise – with studied indifference, as a potential distraction from the task in hand, in Dacre’s case maintaining his and the Daily Mail’s pre-eminence as newspaper brands. For much as it pains me to say so – and probably pains him too, given that ‘brand’ is not really a Dacreland kind of word – that is what they are; The Mail the most penetrating mass market newspaper product, Dacre probably second only to Rupert Murdoch as British print journalism’s most influential figure.


I like British success stories too, and judged by his tenure at the helm – twenty-four years and counting as editor, sales doing reasonably well in a fast-changing and hugely challenging market, the online version he once lumped in with his dismissal of the internet as ‘’ now the most visited news site on the planet – it is hard to dismiss him as a failure. The Alex Ferguson of newspapers when it comes to longevity, the Pep Guardiola when it comes to salary, his basic pay well into seven figures, bonuses, allowances and share options into the tens of millions, sufficient certainly to own at least the three lavish properties that we know of (though alas I don’t know the exact multi-million value of each property, an obligatory part of Daily Mail reporting when anyone’s home is mentioned.)


There is the place known by his staff as Dacre Towers (not that many get invited by their overlord to drive down the mile-long driveway to this sprawling West Sussex cattle and arable farm for dinner, let alone stay the night). He has his main London residence in wealthy Belgravia. And he has the stunning 17,000 acre Langwell estate near Ullapool in northern Scotland, whose seven bedrooms and shooting rights, as if he doesn’t have enough in the bank, he rents out for up to seven grand a week, (extra if you kill lots of stags) when not there himself avoiding the locals who occasionally protest at his presence. This is a very pro-EU part of Britain, where two-thirds voted REMAIN, and where the Commission has helped fund roads and bridges – some of them required to access his property -, a new school, harbour developments, an industrial estate, arts and crofting support programmes. So they have not taken kindly to his pocketing huge EU grants for landowners, while playing a leading role in the Lie Machine that helped get the UK out of Europe; the claiming of such grants purely based on vast acreage which is home to just 100 cattle and 300 sheep, and two staff, is the kind of ‘CAP waste’ against which his paper would normally froth at the mouth. There is anger too at his setting himself up to make £15million and more from a new hydro scheme, against the wishes of many locals supporting a project which will plough profits back into the community, and in defiance of his own paper’s hostile editorial line against levies for renewable energy.


But here, we stray into the rich theme of his hypocrisy, and I digress from my hunt for the things that I ought to like in Dacre. I like hard workers. For decades, he has been something of a twelve to sixteen hour a day man, and even when home or on holiday, never fully off duty. A paper is a living, breathing thing, the next one always in development. As its living, breathing, dominant heartbeat, Dacre is always there, even when he’s not. That is leadership at work.


I like strategists too, and the fact that when you see the Mail, or hear it mentioned, you are likely to have an immediate view of it, good or bad, is a strategic success. More than perhaps any other newspaper, you know what it is. Love it or hate it, you know it’s there. Can the same now be said of my old paper, The Mirror? Or The Sun, which even if it still outsells the Mail in print, is light years behind online, and far from the force it once was? Or The Express, once the best-selling of all at over four million (check), now something of a pale imitation of the Mail, thinking that if it puts Princess Diana, bad weather stories and good Brexit stories on the front page with the same regularity as the Mail focuses on cancer, consumers being ripped off by greedy bastards, and the failings of the NHS, it will somehow replicate its success?


Strategy is about big moments of disruption as well as doing the same thing again and again. Dacre’s best strategic moment of disruption was his coverage of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, and his naming and shaming of his alleged killers under a MURDERERS headline and the challenge to sue. A bold move, and one which makes it so much harder to challenge them over their overt and their more subtle racism. Overt as when reporters used to be brought home from jobs on discovering that the murder they had been sent to cover involved black victims. More subtle, though not much, the analysis which showed that two-thirds of black people in the news and feature pages of the Mail were criminals; persistent linking of immigrants to crime and violence, the reporting of violent crimes as terror related when the police have been clear they weren’t, a cartoon in the wake of the Paris terror attacks equating refugees to rats, the dehumanizing, inflammatory language of ‘the swarm on our streets.’ How dare you suggest we’re racist? What about Stephen Lawrence then? The exception that proves a rule, perhaps, and mainly because it turned out his Dad did some decorating work for Dacre.


You don’t need to spend too long Googling around ‘’, or leafing through back copies to find examples of racism, sexism, homophobia – the last of these unsurprising given Dacre believes it is hard for anyone without children to be an editor because ‘they can’t understand the human condition’ – and hatred of immigrants, feminists, social workers, anyone and anything that doesn’t fit what Dacre believes human beings and institutions should be, with charities (do-gooders, bah!) a recent addition to his hate list. When Dacre allowed a New Yorker journalist to attend his editorial meetings for what turned out to be a fairly flattering profile, his white-panelled office fell into stunned silence when columnist Simon Heffer spoke favourably about France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Private Eye later reported that the shock was especially acute because ‘Mail hacks and executives had been ordered not to swear: there were to be no “fucks” and most definitely no “cunts.” As importantly, no one was to say a word that might be interpreted as sexist, racist or homophobic in the lady’s presence.’ In other words, ‘don’t act normal. This is all for show.’


I have a sense of the Mail’s strategic success, and admit to hating the sensation, every time I am boarding a British Airways or a Virgin Atlantic flight, and see the big newspaper trays at the door of the plane. Assuming I have not been able to get there first and cover up the Mails with Financial Times or Independents or any other freebies on offer – or bin them, as is my admittedly childish wont – I watch as fellow passengers approach, glance at the front page mix of screaming headlines and soft teasers for features or giveaways inside, I see the ‘I know I shouldn’t’ look come into their eye, and then they pick it up and take it to their seat. Richard Branson no less supports my campaign to rid Virgin Atlantic flights of the Mail, but those who run his airline day to day insist the passengers want it, just as the business guys up front want the FT.


I sometimes watch these passengers reading it too. Mail readers really read it. Not for them the idle page-flicking you might see of the airline magazines. Headlines draw them in. Pictures draw them in. Captions draw them in. Then the long reads begin. I want to take them by the neck – indeed, sometimes I do take them by the eyeball – and I ask, ‘why are you reading that shit? It’s a national poison. Take some heroin or something.’ And here is the greatest success of all for Dacre. Many say they know, they agree, but they don’t care, because it variously amuses, entertains or, more usually, angers them – ‘but I don’t take it seriously’; while others look at me like I am the one in need of rescue, not them, because they agree with so much of what they read.


We cannot give Dacre all the credit, but as a result we can certainly give him some, for how woefully misinformed the British public often are about important public issues, as revealed by a fascinating, and depressing, King’s College/Ipsos-Mori study before the last election.


To take just a few of Dacre’s special interests.

Teenage pregnancies – the public thought fifteen percent of young girls get pregnant. In fact, it is 0.6 percent.

Violent crime – more than half thought it was rising when the opposite was the case.

Welfare – around a third of people said the government spent more on Jobseeker’s Allowance than on pensions. In fact, pensions accounted for fifteen times as much as JSA.

Welfare fraud – the public estimated that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently. In fact it was 70 pence.

Overseas aid – it accounts for less than one per cent of government spending. Yet a quarter of British people believe it is one of the top three items of public expenditure, ahead of schools and pensions.

Religion and race – we think a quarter of the UK population is Muslim. (It’s five percent.) We think 34 percent call themselves ‘Christian.’ (59percent.) We think 31percent of the population are immigrants. (13percent. We think 30percent are black or Asian. (11percent.)


So when it came to the EU referendum, years of Mail-Murdoch-Express-Telegraph-UKIP lies and myths about Europe helped lay the ground for having the referendum in the first place – big mistake Dave – and helped Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage carry the ball over the line on June 23. We should neither exaggerate nor minimize the media’s role here. Without the high profile politicians leading the way, it is unlikely the campaign for LEAVE would have been won. But without the systematic press distortion about Europe over years, I don’t think we would even have had the vote. Even when it was over, the lies were still being peddled as part of the jubilation. The day after the referendum indeed, The Mail reported that now we would see an end to the ban on bent bananas (a myth); it heralded the day we could have more powerful vacuum cleaners, free from the interference of barmy Brussels bureaucrats; we could bring back incandescent light-bulbs, and so stop the epileptic fits caused by ‘supposedly eco-friendly fluorescent bulbs.’ And lo, let’s celebrate, we were taking back control of … the right to eat our pet horses.


But despite the campaign having been won on lies – £350million a week to the NHS, millions of Turks on their way to the UK, remember – anyone who dared to question the outcome was given the treatment, even if, like Patience Wheatcroft, they used to write for the Mail. Her call for a second referendum led to her being monstered as a ‘cheerleader for the moneyed Metropolitan elite;’ she was guilty of an ‘arrogant and brazen contempt for democracy’ by advancing a ‘ludicrous idea’ to prove the public were misled. One of the triumphs of the campaign was for Murdoch and Dacre, two of the wealthiest people journalism has ever produced, to portray anyone in favour of REMAIN as part of this Metropolitan elite, though Dacre could buy out Wheatcroft, with her ‘£1.5m home’ – poverty line stuff in Dacreland – many times over.


So Dacre was on the winning side, and quick to do what he could to stop Boris Johnson being the big political winner. Johnson has too many sexual and moral foibles to be on Dacre’s very short list of politicians he respects. David Cameron certainly wasn’t on it either – too young, too flash, too old Eton not new Eton – and my sense during the referendum was that Cameron loathed Dacre. Its mutuality became clear in the Mail’s near hysterical coverage of Cameron’s admittedly ill-advised resignation honours, as those who had played leading roles in the REMAIN campaign were showered with awards. But I wonder whether part of Dacre’s venom flowed out of a deep-seated belief that honours should be for winners not losers, and also perhaps that just as David English, Larry Lamb, Nick Lloyd, Simon Jenkins and other editors were given knighthoods, surely after twenty-four years at the helm of a broadly conservative newspaper, one of those Conservative leaders since Thatcher should have put him forward for one.


I don’t know if Dacre would like to be Sir Paul, but I suspect so, though in fairness, he doesn’t seem to use his editorship to get himself the best invites, court popularity or build relationships with the great and the good. Nor does he really show them that much respect, and that includes Lord Rothermere, nominally his boss, but who has Dacre run rings round him on a regular basis (though – hypocrisy alert again – he stops short of including the non dom billionaire in any of the occasional editorial blasts at filthy rich tax dodgers. This is my third favourite hypocrisy after the EU grants, and the constant use of pictures of young girls as online clickbait, while raging at the sexualisation of teenagers).


But on the subject of honours, I have a little confession to make. Dacre almost did become Sir Paul, back in our first term. Tony Blair took very little interest in honours (for all that Dacre played a leading role in hyping that ludicrous episode when the police responded to an SNP MP’s claim about so-called ‘cash for peerages’ to mount one of the most absurd police investigations of modern times.) As a long standing critic of the honours system, who believes that anyone who actively wants one should never be considered for it, I took even less interest. But as press secretary, I had to brief the media about the list, and as one of the Prime Minister’s right-hand people, I was among the small team he sent off to the Cabinet Office to check the list well in advance, argue for a better ethnic mix, press for more head-teachers, and a few more people the public had actually heard of – all so that he didn’t have to bother spending too much time ploughing through the list himself. So there we sat, with the team from the honours secretariat, and there it was, the media committee recommendation that Mr Paul Dacre be the next journalist in line for a K. ‘I am pretty certain,’ I said, ‘that the Prime Minister would consider it highly inappropriate for a serving editor to be given such an honour, not least because of the criticisms we have made in the past about Mrs Thatcher’s use of honours to reward media owners and editors for political support.’ I said I would check, and get back to them. Which I did. I think it was the Telegraph war correspondent and historian John Keegan, alas no longer with us, who was next in line and so able to benefit from this new Prime Ministerial edict.


He’s had plenty of other awards though, several as Editor of the Year, and Newspaper of the Year. Nobody could have survived so long without knowing his trade, and knowing his market. This is not the same thing as the claim often made, not least by him, that he ‘knows his readers.’ He doesn’t know his readers well at all. Why would he, when he meets so few of them, and frankly wouldn’t particularly like them if he did? What he knows is what he wants them to read, to think, to fear, to hate, to hope for, because on that is built the success that he has created. Former Mail columnist Peter Oborne puts it flatteringly, ‘He articulates the dreams, fears and hopes of socially insecure members of the suburban middle class. It’s a daily performance of genius.’


But even if once he did know Mail readers, growing up as the son of a journalist in Arnos Grove, London, privately educated on a State scholarship at University College School, then at Leeds University (his failure to make Oxbridge cut deep), always wanting to be a journalist, and always wanting to be an editor, Dacre has little in common with the people who imbibe his worldview day after day. He sees the world mainly from the back of a chauffeur-driven car and the inside of an ivory tower, where his editorial conferences are less discussions about what the reader might think, than competitions between executives to provide the story, picture, feature and comment ideas that chime with what Paul Dacre already thinks. Highly paid columnists queue to tell him what they intend to write and, guess what, nine times out of ten it chimes with what they know his views to be.


That these meetings have inspired the play ‘the Vagina Monologues,’ on account of Dacre’s fondness for dismissing as a ‘cunt’ anyone who falls short of his demands, philosophy and expectations, is an indication of how often his poor underlings fail in their desire to impress. He is not so much First Among Equals, as first, second, third, fourth, and forget any thought of equality – they are there to serve. He has little in common with his staff, let alone his readers. I have never met anyone who describes himself as a personal friend of Dacre’s. When Gordon Brown was constantly being described as such, he adamantly denied it, to me at least. In so far as they got on, I suspect it was a mutual respect for hard work, a dislike of modern celebrity culture, and a shared belief that Tony Blair shouldn’t be Prime Minister for too long.


Dacre’s wealth and lifestyle alone set him apart from almost all of his readers, though at 67 he is in the same age bracket as most, with eight out of ten over forty-five. He rarely uses the public services his paper regularly decries and condemns. When ill, and he has been seriously ill at times, though Fleet Street omerta has made sure it has been kept quiet, he goes private. His two sons both went to Eton, which reveals not just the everyday Mail-reading desire for one’s children to have a good education, but a desire too to be part of the establishment he claims to shun and even despise. Ditto the huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ landowner role.



He is a member of the Garrick Club, but in the days around the turn of the century when he and I had a reasonably civilized if spiky relationship, his choice of venue for our occasional lunches was Mark’s Club, where men in old-fashioned clothes with old-fashioned manners would call him ‘sir’ as they escorted us up a gloomy staircase, and he would be visibly irritated because I stopped to talk to Julie, the woman working in the cloakroom, whose children were friends of my children at primary school. I don’t know if she read the Daily Mail. I do know that Dacre found it odd that I knew someone like her, and even odder that I seemed to want to talk to her. He is not, it is fair to say, a people person.


Mark’s Club bills itself as an ‘elegant and traditional private members’ club, situated in a beautiful townhouse in Mayfair,’ and was opened in 1973 as ‘an alternative to the St James’s gentlemen’s clubs.’ This is classic Dacreland. He can pretend it is anti-establishment, ‘an alternative to St James’s,’ whilst being treated as a fully-fledged member of the ‘moneyed Metropolitan elite’ he professes to hate, with all the bowing and scraping, and a man coming along to sweep breadcrumbs from your crisp white tablecloth. Even better, the club’s website devotes more space what dress code, than it does to food and drink. So ladies must on no account wear denim, suede, leggings, sportswear, casual or cowboy boots or, perish the thought, ‘exposed undergarments.’ This is very much a Dacreland club. Exposed undergarments are always to be discouraged, unless in print, on the sagging breasts or buttocks of a fading celebrity being overcome by cellulite, one of the oddest of his fixations, or on the young girls on the Mail Online ‘sidebar of shame.’


We would always sit at the same table, and he would usually say the same thing, namely that Labour Party under Blair had it too easy, because the Tories were useless and because I had the press eating out of my hand. The first may have been true. As for the second, it never felt like it, but, almost apologetically, he told me that with the Tory Party so weak under a succession of ‘hopeless leaders’, and all these lickspittle leftie journalists at the BBC (the same lefties who became beacons of truth and honesty when they turned on me over Iraq of course) he felt he and the Mail had a duty to ‘be the Opposition.’ At least he was honest about it. I like honesty, for all that he and his papers have systematically employed dishonesty as one of their key tools of influence over the years.


Fair to say that these lunches stopped by what might be termed ‘mutual consent,’ and I don’t think we have exchanged a word verbally, civil or otherwise, since 2001 or so, unless you count the time he won an award at a lunch at The Savoy and, as he left the stage, gong aloft, snarled, weirdly I thought, ‘this is for Alastair Campbell.’


It was when Dacre’s honestly stated desire to ‘be the Opposition’ to what he saw as an all-powerful, over-bearing, arrogant, far too modern government and Prime Minister turned into systematically, strategically dishonest reporting, that I decided my occasional efforts to keep him a little tamer than he otherwise might have been, and indeed than he was when he had the calming, civilizing influence of his former boss Sir David English, were a waste of time and energy. Three episodes in particular, fairly close to each other, had the iron enter my soul so far as Dacre was concerned. None of them were personal to me, though there were plenty of those once his word went out that ‘Liar-in-Chief’ was the new label for his one-time lunch guest. They were the controversy over the MMR vaccine, the fuel protests of late 2000, and the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the spring of 2001 as we were preparing for a second general election. What became clear was that anything which might damage the government, and especially Tony Blair, was considered fair game, whatever the facts, and whatever the possible consequences.


I am fairly certain that if he ever met him Dacre would have little time or respect for Dr Andrew Wakefield, the single ‘expert’ swimming against the tide of science in making a link between autism and the MMR triple jab. But he knew his market well enough to know how easily mothers might be scared into believing Wakefield if he could be presented as a credible voice, and all other voices just part of the government spin machine led by the Liar-in-Chief. And if the price of this was a measles epidemic, and even deaths of children, well wouldn’t that be a good story, especially when we can say it only happened because Tony and Cherie Blair refused to say whether their own son Leo had had the jab, and it had nothing to do with the press fuelling the scare for all it was worth? Nor were the leaders of the fuel protest, with their desire to bring the country to a halt, natural bedfellows for a man almost always opposed to industrial action. But again, what could be better for the Mail as an election approached than the chance to present Britain as a modern version of Three-Day-Britain during the Winter of Discontent, where greedy government tax addicts took all this money in fuel tax so they could fund welfare scroungers, gays, immigrants, asylum seekers, overseas aid and all the other Dacre pet hates? Forgive the question mark. But the question mark is such an important part of the Dacre armoury. ‘Will there be panic-buying?’ he wondered at the time. No prizes for guessing what happened next. Out they went, those Mail readers who pretend not to believe what it says, to sit in queues at petrol stations.


With Foot and Mouth too, the new approach for a new century was clear – if it was bad for Blair, it was good for The Mail, even if it was bad for Britain. That was when I first coined a view of the Mail I have used many times since, and believe as strongly today as when I first said it. ‘The worst of British values posing as the best.’


As head of comms at Downing Street, at one point I instigated something called ‘Mailwatch,’ where our rebuttal team would prepare a note for publication each morning, on stories which were factually inaccurate, taken out of context, or failed to include any response from those who were being attacked, criticized or lied about. Sometimes this ran into dozens of pages. It did seem, for a while, to have the desired effect of calming them down, or at least – my real intention – of stopping the broadcasters from leaping Pavlov’s Dog like to follow up anything which Dacre deemed to be front page splash material. But Tony Blair was persuaded by David Blunkett and others that I was going too far, and it was stopped. I still think that was a mistake, that the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them, and this was one way of doing so; that in a modern media world where newspapers are more players than spectators, the rules of engagement have to change.


‘If you’re not a liar,’ someone asked me recently, ‘why have you never sued them?’ It is partly the old journalist in me, and the contempt I used to feel for people who resorted to the courts rather than a good old barney played out in the public arena. It is also very expensive, and even if you know you’re in the right, I have seen enough of the courts to know that does not guarantee success. Also, to be frank, The Mail are very skilful at dealing with complaints and wearing people down. The Leveson Report had several accounts of that – look up Neil Morrissey. Or ask Ed Miliband (son of the ‘man who hated Britain’).


To be absolutely sure of a win, it has to be so black and white even Dacre and his clever lawyers cannot wriggle out of it. I got mine in September 1999. Journalist Peter Oborne, then on the Daily Express, had written a book about me, which Dacre wanted to serialise. Oborne’s publisher was happy with that because the Mail pay more than most for book deals. Oborne’s employer on the other hand was not, and made clear he should do the book with them. Dacre, displeased, set a Mail team on the task of writing a ‘book’ in the few days left before the Express began their serialization. The Mail ‘book’ was never published, nor was ever intended to be, but the serialization was. And in part one, readers learned that the formative experience of my life, perhaps the one that had made me the vile, evil, twisted person that I am (sic), was the death of my father in an accident involving a farm animal when I was a child. Now my father was indeed a vet. He did indeed have a terrible accident when attacked by a sow when I was a child. But he wasn’t dead. He was alive and well when I reported back on the phone conversation I had with Dacre.


AC: This serial you’re running.

PD: Yes, over the top if you ask me, far too personal – I wasn’t in yesterday or I would have toned it down.

AC: No, I’m not bothered about that. It’s the thing about my Dad’s death.

PD: Yes, I hadn’t read that before.

AC: Nor had my Dad. He’s just read it now.

PD: (Gulp)

AC: I know you can’t libel the dead, but you can libel the living surely, by saying they’re dead, and I am about to read you the correction and apology I would like to see on a right hand page tomorrow.


It ended with the words ‘donation to Mr Campbell Junior’s children’s primary school.’ The Dacre Gates and the Dacre playground equipment have served us well.


His paper has regularly topped the table for the most successful complaints upheld against it, under the various so-called self-regulating media bodies, in which Dacre has often had a leading role, not least as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission editors’ code committee. This was, as Tony Blair forbade me from saying at the time, like putting Harold Shipman in charge of the ethics committee of the British Medical Association. While he explodes in synthetic rage if you dare to put the words Mail and phone-hacking in the same breath, it is worth noting that The Mail topped another league table – by a mile – when the Information Commissioner published a list of newspapers which hired private detectives engaged in illegal activity, with 958 transactions involving fifty-eight journalists. The Mail on Sunday was runner-up. Oh, and I’ll be interested to see if the boast of one of his journalists at a dinner party recently – that he has all my emails going back to 2002 – was more than bluster and, if not, whether they were obtained illegally.


Though I have only ever taken his money that once – the only time I asked for it – plenty of others have been beneficiaries of his commitment to pushing the truth to the absolute limit and beyond. Alan Sugar, Elton John, JK Rowling, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Rowan Atkinson, Diana Rigg, George Clooney – (that’s enough celebs, Ed). OK, there was also the Tamil hunger-striker they falsely accused of secretly eating McDonalds burgers, the dean of the RAF College, a Kenyan asylum seeker, the Prime Minister of Uganda, a Catholic Church spokesman … I could go on and on; it’s no wonder they’re so well insured against libel.


All of us are likely to stay in his little black book. His consistency also applies to his hatreds. I find it odd though, that he still bothers with me these days, given it is thirteen years since I left Downing Street (sorry, was ‘hounded out in disgrace for my role as Iraq War Liar-in-Chief,’ Mail passim) and I am not exactly a major part of the drive to get Labour under Jeremy Corbyn back in power. But, as GQ will no doubt discover for daring to publish this, he will still jab back if jabbed at. As recently, when neighbours of his in The Highlands invaded his estate by night and erected a banner (NB – I have a picture of this – AC), ‘Welcome to Langwell Estate, Subsidised by £460,000 handout from the EU #hypocrites out!’ complete with a European flag and a Daily Mail masthead. I was not involved in this splendid stunt (though would have been happy to be so), but I did tweet the picture far and wide and often, with plenty of comments on the afore-mentioned hypocrisy. How gratifying then, to find not only that he went berserk on seeing the picture of the invasion, but then published a huge spread about me, under the headline ‘MONSTROUS HYPOCRITE,’ and, lest anyone be in any doubt as to who the #hypocrite might be, a sub-head making clear this was about ‘Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Liar-in-Chief.’


I do sometimes wonder if we can make an assessment of people by looking at how they criticize others. It’s why my partner Fiona will sometimes raise an eyebrow if I condemn someone as a control freak or an obsessive, for example. Also, I have admitted above that there are certain characteristics in Dacre that in others I see as admirable. It is his values that appear to me to be askew, and his total lack of self-awareness, an inability to see why others might see him and his influence as they do. Above all, it is his cowardice that makes me view him with contempt. When he was interviewed for Desert Island Discs, and asked what he felt his staff thought of him, he said: ‘He’s a hard bastard but he leads from the front.’ But he doesn’t, does he? Leaders who lead from the front have their heads above the parapet. In the media age especially, transparency means opening yourself to questioning and scrutiny. His testy appearance at Leveson and select committees, and his refusal ever to engage in real debate, shows how much he hates having to answer to anyone. Even when the killers of Stephen Lawrence were convicted, he chose to comment in a frankly bizarre twelve minute in-house ‘interview’ which was actually a speech. He wasn’t leading from the front. He was continuing to live in denial of who and what he is, instead choosing to communicate in the manner of a third world despot.


I owe him for the cowardice though. It was my demolition of his then deputy Jon Steafel, sent onto Newsnight to debate because Dacre lacks the bottle, that prompted GQ editor Dylan Jones to call the next day and ask if I fancied a regular interview slot. Thanks Paul.


He once said this of me: ‘I think the way he has used spin and mendacity to manipulate great parts of the media has damaged both politics and the press. He’s a zealot … He believes in the cause and that the means justify the ends, and I don’t believe that’…..


Pot, Kettle, Black, anyone? Is my slight sneaking admiration for certain qualities in this sociopathic monster the fact that he is a superb spin doctor, someone who has manipulated opinion of virtually an entire class of British life over a generation? Dacre believes in the cause –the Mail as a vehicle for his worldview – and he certainly believes the ends justify the means. And as for zealot – Oxford dictionary definition ‘fanatical and uncompromising,’ Cambridge definition ‘a person who has very strong opinions about something and tries to make other people have them too,’ – then he fits the bill rather better than I do. Spin, mendacity, manipulation … Dacre has absolutely nothing to learn from me, or anyone else. He is the Daddy.










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Another day, another important mental health campaign – #StopTheCharge and end a scandal Tue, 11 Oct 2016 11:29:30 +0000 Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and I spoke about stigma – again – at the Leeds Community Foundation where the signs of change coming were all around. The city council’s brilliant CEO Tom Riordan speaking not only about his life growing up partly in foster care, with an alcoholic father and a bipolar mother often going through crisis, but also about the leadership role Leeds is taking in become a beacon council with regards to mental health and mental illness; the Yorkshire Evening Post launching its ‘Speak Your Mind’ campaign to tackle stigma and taboo; local employer Asda setting out a new approach to the way it approaches the mental wellbeing of staff; other employers wanting to get involved; the Leeds Community Foundation focusing on mental health.

Former footballer Clarke Carlisle and I both spoke both about our own experiences of mental illness, but also about the need to understand that it can affect any one of us. We both urged the moving away from the campaign message that ‘one in four’ of us will have a mental health problem in our lifetime, to ‘one in one’ – we all have mental health and some days it is better than others.

It feels like we’re making some progress –  things are getting better on the awareness front, even if the services needed are under pressure from cuts. The Time to Change campaign, and the work of the charities involved, can take a lot of the credit for the change in attitudes. The government can take a lot of the blame for the cuts.

Today, I am pleased to lend my support to another mental health campaign being launched, which relates to that thing that is either what makes the world go around, or it the root of all evil, depending which angle you come at it from – money!

For many people, living with a mental health problem makes it harder to earn, to stay in work, to progress in a career. It makes it harder to manage money, to open the bills when your anxiety is spiralling out of control, to avoid spending more to make yourself feel better. So it’s no wonder that people with mental health problems are so much more likely to be in debt.

And while we don’t like to talk about money sometimes it becomes a necessity. For people struggling in debt as a result of their mental health, telling the bank could be a wise move. There are often things they can do to help, send fewer letters if you struggle to open them, freeze the interest on your debts while you get things sorted out or even write some of it off.

When it gets to that point, banks often ask for evidence of your mental health problems – they’ll give you a form for your GP to fill in. So far, seems pretty reasonable.

So I was outraged to learn this week about the number of GPs charging to fill out these forms. An investigation by a new charity, Money and Mental Health, has found as many as one in three people being charged by their GP – and some as much as £150.

Think about it: you’re struggling with your mental health, in debt – can’t make your next payment. It’s stressful, you’re broke, and when you build up the courage and energy to do something about it, the GP tells you that’ll be £25 please. Or £50. Or £150 – it’s up to them.

People in real financial difficulty are going without essentials or getting more into debt to pay their GP. It’s totally wrong. There’s a list of forms GPs can’t charge for, things like sick notes – the debt and mental health doctor’s note should be on that list.

Money and Mental Health, backed by Mind, Rethink, Bipolar UK, StepChange and a bunch of other people, have written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his equivalents in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to ask them to sort this out. I certainly hope they do.

You can sign a joint letter to the Health Ministers here, and share the campaign on #StopTheCharge. This is one little piece of discrimination which has to go, and can be made to go easily.

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What’s not to like? A free copy of my new diaries for every new subscriber to the New European… Thu, 29 Sep 2016 15:40:34 +0000 I have a new book out next week and have found a new way of getting extra copies out there (good for me, good for the publisher) in a way that helps a good media/political cause (good for the world no less!)

It won’t be a surprise that I am still lamenting the result of the EU referendum and lamenting even more the shambolic handling of the aftermath by the three Brexiteers Theresa May has (sort of) put in charge.

Among the little rays of light to emerge from the disaster though was a new pop-up newspaper, The New European, which was launched without much marketing or any advertising in the wake of the June 23 vote but is already in profit. It is also a good intelligent paper with a lot of interesting stuff in it.

The owners have been proceeding on a week by week basis. But I think we can safely say they are going to be here for at least the next thirteen weeks.

And the reason I know that is that people who sign up to get the weekly paper on subscription for the next thirteen weeks – for 20 quid – will also get a free copy of the book. That is cheaper than the cover price, and postage is included! So get the paper tomorrow, see the first instalment of their three week serialisation of the book and if you like the paper and like the book you can subscribe and get a lot more of both. The first few hundred will be signed by me though as the Guardian’s Mike White often says, I sign so many books that maybe the unsigned ones are more valuable.

Here is the link you need to see the details of the subscription offer.

The book, my twelfth since leaving Downing Street, is called ‘Outside, Inside’ and consists of my diaries from my departure in the autumn of 2003 to the 2005 general election which I sincerely hope will not go down in history as the last ever won by Labour.

Fittingly given the paper that is serialising it the main story they have gone for to lead the paper tomorrow is a Europe one – the revelation that at one point in 2004, things got so bad in what we called the TBGBs that Tony Blair began to sound out EU leaders about the idea of becoming the president of the European Commission, which would have meant resigning and making way for Gordon Brown three years earlier than he did.

There is, alas, plenty of TBGBery on display but we did nonetheless manage to win that 2005 election and the second part next week will go through the tortuous process that led to the campaign being put together.

Meanwhile, from back then to now … and here is the piece I wrote for The New European a few weeks ago on the need for the 48percent to keep fighting for their vision of Britain in Europe against the muddle and mayhem currently on offer.

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Corbyn has won, the fundamentals are unchanged, non-Corbyn PLP must fill policy vacuum Sat, 24 Sep 2016 06:19:05 +0000 Ok first things first. WHOOSH BREAKING NEWS … Jeremy Corbyn has won and probably by a considerable margin.

In the hope some of the broadcasters read this – thanks for your interest in my views but today is not a day to pee on the JC parade. So thanks for the bids, but no I won’t be rushing to studios in London or Liverpool or anywhere else.

However nor should anyone imagine that the basic fundamentals which led to the failed challenge have changed. Indeed the real danger is that Corbyn takes his victory as a green light to continue as he has done since becoming leader in the first place.

Let’s be clear what that means. It means talking the talk of ‘reaching out’ while in most actions and deeds making clear that the real loathing of the Corbynistas is for non Corbynistas in the Party, not the Tory government. It means trying to deselect people like Peter Kyle, the one MP who won a seat from the Tories last time out. It means a shadow cabinet and PLP getting frustrated once again at the lack of leadership on policy making and decision making. It means further moves to policies, positions and a style of politics that are likely to alienate rather than attract people we need to attract to have any hope of power.

It means the consolidation in the Party of a hard left that has always seen Labour either as an enemy or as a vehicle for its own politics, not a force it wishes to see in government. It means more sway for the posh boy revolutionaries who call a lot of the shots in the ‘social movement’ being built around Corbyn. It means the boosting of the confidence and standing of the party within a party that Corbyn is keen to promote and is holding its rival conference in Liverpool this week. It means continuing denial about our dire standing in public opinion. It means continuing to attack New Labour as being all about spin while desperately portraying poll deficits as leads, council election failures as successes, profound disunity on policy and politics as agreement.

As to what happens now a lot depends on how Corbyn and his supporters react to his win. The pre-victory signs have not been good. He and his supporters will take this as vindication. It is fine to call for unity. But it has to be clear what we are being asked to unite around. As Labour MP Kerry McCarthy pointed out this week, he needs to start setting out policies that go beyond a slogan that fits on a T shirt. We all believe in equality of opportunity. We all believe in ending the housing crisis. We all believe in making sure everyone can go to a good school. We all believe in supporting the NHS. We all believe in strong communities. The question is what are the economic and other detailed policies that are going to deliver on these noble goals?

As we saw on Question Time last week it suits the Corbyn-John McDonnell agenda to portray New Labour as having been about nothing but spin and Iraq. One of the most radical and broad ranging list of achievements any government can boast dismissed as of little or no significance because it doesn’t fit the McDonnell-Momentum spin.

That being said the non Corbyn side of the party which continues to dominate the PLP also has to react in the right way. Above all that means going beyond saying simply that he is not up to the job and is never going to be elected Prime Minister. It means providing a policy debate and a policy agenda that goes beyond the platitudes so far. Some MPs say that is impossible whilst Corbyn is leader and John McDonnell is shadow chancellor. It is not. It is difficult. But not impossible.

In the end politics is about policy and ideas as well as the organisation which has helped Corbyn win again. Whether those who either refused to serve in the shadow cabinet in the first place, or left when they realised Labour was going nowhere under Corbyn, decide that is best done inside our outside the top table team – that is a matter for them. The signs are that despite his long held ‘belief’ in annual shadow cabinet elections among the PLP, Corbyn has gone off that now.

But though the Labour talent pool is not as deep as we might like there are enough people there to start commanding the policy debate in a way they failed to do last year. That has to change. Because I fear that very little else will.

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Guest blog from a ‘proper’ psychiatrist, on how the ‘nest’ can help the mind Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:28:48 +0000 Guest blog by Peter Tyrer, Emeritus Professor of Community Psychiatry, Imperial College, London

Most people who read Alastair’s account of his brother, Donald, and his eulogy at Donald’s funeral, will have been invigorated and cheered by such a positive biography of someone with schizophrenia. But I suspect that few would have come across similar stories, as the media has a general tendency to report only the bad news about severe mental illness.

As someone who has been practising psychiatry for 51 years I can truly say that Donald’s story is not an isolated one. But it could become much more frequent if we adopted new ways of looking at schizophrenia and all forms of chronic mental illness.

In the early 1990s I was looking after some of the most severe cases of mental illness in the country, when my catchment area included central London. There is a phenomenon commonly called ‘social drift’ which describes the tendency of people with severe mental illness to gravitate to the centre of large towns and cities, and London of course is a prime example of this. Most people I was involved in treating had been ill for years and, unfortunately, were in the ten percent minority who had made little or no response to standard treatments for schizophrenia. They were fed up with psychiatry, highly critical of what they commonly called ‘the system’ (the service that allegedly looked after them but which seemed to be primarily looking after itself) and had lost all faith in standard therapies.

At this point I introduced to treatment that subsequently became known as ‘nidotherapy’ (nest therapy). This is named after the nest, an excellent natural example of an environment that will adjust to any shape that is placed within it. So instead of trying more and more treatments that never seemed to work, the focus was changed to altering all aspects of the environment – physical, social and personal – so as to make a better fit between person and setting.

One essential part of this was the need for the patient to be the driving force. There is a tendency for paternalism to take over when deciding on environmental changes for patients – ‘we are the experts and we know what is best for you’ – but this is abhorred in nidotherapy. A large part of treatment is involved in getting to know the patient really well and to find out what changes in the environment are really wanted. These have to be realistic and be subjected to a reasonable timetable so that they can be monitored. This approach has been remarkably successful with some patients and supports increasing awareness that patient choice is an important factor in outcome.

Of course Donald did not receive nidotherapy in the formal sense. But the University of Glasgow practised it perfectly when they made him the official piper for the University. They knew he had schizophrenia, but they also knew he was an excellent piper, and so his illness was discounted. It is quite clear that this role was also what Donald wanted, and the fact that he was carrying out an important task on behalf of the University, not a token one that is so common in those with severe mental illness, meant that his self esteem was maintained and that in many ways he considered himself to be much more important than his brother.

We need more organisations like the University of Glasgow to be far-seeing and generous in their understanding of mental illness. We are trying to promote this by developing nidotherapy across the world, not just in the United Kingdom. To date, Sweden has been the most generous in embracing it. The Donald saga, for it is indeed a saga of considerable proportion, is an excellent example of the advantages of nidotherapy in practice, and should be a beacon for those who want to move the treatment of severe mental illness forward.

If you want to read more about nidotherapy go to , and, even better, registerto attend one of our nidotherapy workshops at Newark every February. You can also support nidotherapy by coming to ‘The Death of King John’ at the Palace Theatre in Newark on 19th October, the 800th anniversary of King John’s death in Newark Castle in 1216. If anyone needed nidotherapy, it was King John, but he was 800 years out of time.

PS from Alastair … I have had some inquiries about where people can buy copies of Donald’s bagpipe CDs. Glasgow University kindly donated all unsold stock to the family and we have donated several hundred of his CDs to the Scottish Association for Mental Health. The charity will be using them to raise funds.

We will also be donating his several sets of bagpipes to young pipers who cannot afford their own.

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Eulogy to my brother Donald, whose funeral was held today Tue, 30 Aug 2016 09:25:19 +0000 When my brother Donald died three weeks ago, aged 62, I posted a blog here, which had first appeared in The Sunday Times, and also said that come the funeral, I would post the eulogy. The funeral was today, and the eulogy I gave is below. Many thanks for all the messages of support, from those who knew him and those who didn’t, in recent weeks. Donald touched so many people, and I am hopeful that in keeping his memory alive, I can continue to help the Time to Change campaign to change the way that people, employers, the health service, the drug companies, politicians and governments think about mental health and mental illness.

This eulogy comes in three parts, one of them musical, as you shall see and hear.

This is Donald’s day but I want to start with a word about someone else. Liz – you have been the most amazing sister, always, but especially since Mum died. Helping Graeme with his health problems. And above all to Donald since we moved him down to be near you. The last few days of his life were not happy but his last year was and a lot of that was down to you, Rob, and the triplets. We all cared for Donald so much but the care you showed him was beyond any call of duty save love.

Now Donald did do God, so do you, and I know it pains you that Graeme and I don’t. But let me say if you’re right and I’m wrong – and there is always a first time for everything! – there is only one place Donald is now and there is only one place where you are going when your time comes. More important, for me, Mum said in the poem she left for the four of us ‘love each other for my sake.’ Liz, you have delivered for her and more.

Now to the star of the show. Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell, born Keighley, Yorkshire, May 3 1954. Not plain Donald Campbell, some Hebridean vet or some bloke who drove speedboats on lakes. But Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell. If there was no room on the form or hospital wristband he would allow Donald LC Campbell. But he preferred the full monty. He loved his name because he loved his Scottishness. Good job really, with names like that.

With names like that was he ever not going to be a piper?  Was he ever not going to join the Scots Guards? Was he ever not going to live most of his life in Glasgow, a city he said was home to ‘the greatest people on earth, Alastair’ in an accent so strong people doubted that we really were brothers.

Another thank you. Glasgow University. For understanding that it is possible to have a severe mental illness and do a good job well. Donald worked in the security team, mainly in the library, where he would often tell students ‘see that carpet under your desk? That’s where you put your feet! … Good lad. Now keep them there.’ Oh, he liked having authority. But what he loved was his role as the university principal’s piper. He played at hundreds of ceremonies and graduations. At his farewell party, retiring early because of his breathing problems, he announced proudly that among the tens of thousands of students he piped out ‘I did seven thousand two hundred doctors.’ Yep, I said, and you’ve seen quite a few of them since.

Glasgow University did not see him as ‘a schizophrenic.’ He was an employee, who had schizophrenia. Big difference. His illness did not define him. So often he rose above it. And his work was so important to his well being.He would have loved it that all of you are here and we’ll spend all day swapping stories about what a great guy he was, laughing about his little ways, recalling his countless acts of generosity. But he liked that status. He liked ritual. He liked performing. He liked being something. Twenty seven years in one job. A generation and a half of students. And when Liz and Kate and I went up for his farewell we saw just how much he meant there. So Stuart [Macquarrie, university chaplain], and others who have come down from the university today, please take back our thanks to an institution which gave our Dad his veterinary education and our brother so much purpose and meaning.

If he refused to let his illness define his life the same cannot be said of piping. Dad taught Donald and me when we were small, first over the kitchen table on the chanter then down in the cellar on the pipes. Then later we were taught by Tony Wilson, a former Scots Guardsman who led the pipers on Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre, and when Donald became a Guardsman himself he had a brilliant Piobaireachd teacher in Pipe Major Angus MacDonald. Donald loved not just the music but the culture, the camaraderie, the competitions. Mum and Auntie Mairi from Tiree worried we loved the drinking side of the culture too much and they had a point. But it was the music that drove Donald. When his breathing deteriorated so that he couldn’t fill the bag with air he got himself a set of electronic pipes. This was a problem for fellow pipers. With real pipes it is impossible to play and keep a phone to your ear. With the electronic he could. ‘Ali, I’ve written a new tune. Tell me what you think?’ Donald also spoke fluent piping when he was driving, as many of you know.

The last time he played the ‘real’ pipes was at the university’s memorial for Charles Kennedy, my friend through politics and Donald’s from when Charles was Rector. Charles has a son called Donald who, when he was young, on car journeys used to insist on listening to our Donald’s CDs. CDs incidentally, ladies and gentlemen, which you can and must buy at the end so we can make donations to MIND and to Good News Broadcasting to which Donald had one of his many direct debits (once we had finally settled his generosity to the bookmakers and got him off that particular bad habit).

Anyway – the whole political establishment of Scotland seemed to be at Charles’ memorial. Donald didn’t look well. He was struggling for breath even before we started. I said to him ‘listen; I can do this on my own.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I liked Charlie.’

We led the procession into the quadrangle. But a third of the way round he had to stop to fight for breath and I finished alone. He never played again. To lose his work and then his piping to physical ill health, after doing so well for so long with his mental ill health, that was cruel. But he never complained. He got the electronic pipes – in fact being Donald he got himself more than one. And he just banked the thousands of hours of pleasure gained and given from his playing days; and Donald, I know, would have been so happy that he having piped the lament at so many funerals himself, today it was Gavin, son of our cousin Susan, and one of his star pupils, who piped him into the crematorium, Donald’s pipes and glengarry atop his coffin. Don’t worry – he left his really good pipes to me in his will. These were his Number 6 set. The piping shops of Glasgow will miss him.

As Gavin knows, Donald was a good teacher. He loved the work he did for the children on Tiree. Of course it helped keep the connection with Dad. But it also kept him as part of that community and there are children today who will be adults tomorrow and hopefully keep piping alive on the island because of Donald’s teaching.

So … Worker. Teacher. Soldier. Piper. A husband, though not for too long. An insurance salesman too but money was never really his thing – unless you count giving it away to people you like. That quality made him much more successful in his role of uncle. He was never happier than when chauffeuring Kate around after she had her accident earlier this year and couldn’t drive. He was hoping her brother Graeme would lose his licence when he went to court recently so he could drive him around too. Graeme liked being driven by him because with the front passenger seat full of oxygen canisters he could go in the back and pretend he was Alan Sugar. More seriously, when Calum followed in the Campbell family tradition of alcohol dependency, Donald was his first visitor in rehab.

Rory, Calum and Grace, Kate, Jamie and Graeme, Mike … Donald loved you all to bits. He was proud of any exam you passed, any song you sung, any film you made, any game you won, any success at work, any act of kindness shown and above all any struggle endured. And though he never got round to rewriting his will – he’s left everything to Liz, Graeme and me – he only told us a few thousand times that he was planning to rewrite it for your benefit. The fact that several of you already have more in the bank than he ever did didn’t seem to trouble him in his pursuit of your enrichment.

Of course even if his illness did not define him we cannot talk about his life without mentioning his schizophrenia. But before I do that, I want to take a break, and ask our nephew Jamie to come and sing one of the remarkable songs he has written about mental illness, which we are going to use to raise funds for MIND, the mental health charity. This one, inspired by and dedicated to Donald, is called MY MIND. The lyrics are on the order of service. So read along as Jamie sings.

I’ve been in that place

Where the stars are blue

When it rains all day

Though you don’t want it to


Nothing bright to see

No horizon to find

All alone in this world

A world that’s borne of my mind


My mind has taken over

Over my life


The voices are so loud

Drowning out all other sounds

My mind’s a beating drum,

Tells me evil’s ways have won


The crowds, they laugh at me

Codes and words are all I see

Can’t share a joke, a laugh, a smile

While the world is in denial


My mind has taken over

Over my life


So listen to me now

I’m a person, not a clown

This life is not a game

It’s a fight I choose each day


So pick me up when I am down

Dare to turn my world around

Fight the demons here with me

Boy, I could use the company


My mind has taken over

But my life, it isn’t over

Hello world, give me a shoulder

That I can cling to


That I can cling to

Let me cling to ….

 ‘My mind has taken over … but my life it isn’t over.’ Jamie, that sums up Donald’s attitude to his illness so well.

One of his GPs from 15 years ago wrote to me after Donald died and said ‘we were best of pals.’ One of his Glasgow psychiatrists said to me ‘Donald is my greatest success story. Holds down his job. Owns his own flat. Drives himself around. Has a passion for his music. Has more friends than any of us. Has a positive attitude almost all the time.’

That last bit was certainly true. ‘It is what is it, Ali. I got given a bit of a crap deal, but you’ve got to make the best of it, know what I mean?’ It helped that he did do God and his faith was certainly a comfort.

We were counting up all the different hospitals he had been in the other night. It was like a map of the length of Britain, from the military hospital near Southampton, where it all started, London, Leicester in the Midlands, Hull in the north, and various wonderful places around Scotland. Donald had fantastic treatment from so many NHS staff right to the end, including near here at Millbrook and then Kingsmill in Mansfield, where he died.

Schizophrenia is a truly horrible illness. You can’t see it. No crutches. No sudden baldness. No bandages. No scars. It is all in the mind. People who have it often pariahs, shunned in the workplace, derided and abused on the streets. And because of the stigma, it’s at the wrong end of the queue for research so that the medication takes on average 20 years from the lifespan of someone who has it. Dad 82 when he died. Donald 62.

It is not a ‘split personality,’ that awful cliché, as awful as the way people use the word ‘schizophrenic’ when they mean there are two views of something, or someone has good moods and bad. Please don’t. It minimizes. It misunderstands. It stigmatizes. Schizophrenia is a severe illness in which the workings of your mind become separated from the reality around you. And it can be terrifying. Imagine a cacophony of voices in your head, screaming, telling you to do things you normally know you shouldn’t. Then imagine plugs, sockets and light switches, road signs and shop signs, talking to you. Imagine sitting in a place like this with a crowd like this and thinking every single word being said and thought by everyone is about you. Imagine watching TV and everyone is talking about you. And then imagine snakes coming out of the floor and wild cats charging through the walls and ceilings. Donald had all that and more when he was in crisis.

So imagine the strength of character it takes to deal with that in a way that had so many people love him so much, not out of sympathy – he didn’t want sympathy – but out of an appreciation of the real him, unclouded by illness. That is an achievement of epic proportions. Doctors and medication were a big part of his achievement. But he was the biggest part.

Also to have had that and never say ‘it’s not fair’. I said it, for more than 40 years, from the first day Dad and I saw him lying in Netley military psychiatric hospital, terrified, his eyes not the eyes I knew. ‘Not fair. Why Donald?’ I said it, he didn’t. Not then. Not ever. Not once.

Imagine being so keen to be a private in the Guards, making it, doing well but then with this illness, his career terminated, the prestige of playing in the Scots Guards First Battalion Pipe Band gone. Did he ever say a single word against the Army? No. He loved those years. He talked of the Guards with fondness, always, supported the Scots Guards Association, would be thrilled to know so many former Guardsmen had been in touch. It just ended badly and he got through it, got on with it, adapted, lived the best life that he could. And if you’re wondering why I’m not wearing a black tie it is because he said to me once, at Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow – ‘if you do my eulogy, make sure I’m in my kilt, my Guards jacket and tie in the coffin – don’t forget the glengarry – and you wear my spare Guards tie.’ We thought he was on the way out then. He kept going for years.

In the recent days before he was taken ill – one of the pictures is on the back of the order of service – he was looking as healthy and handsome as he has for ages. Rory, I am happy you saw him like that just before the final turn, and Grace that you recorded interviews with him when he was well and we were talking about making a film about living with schizophrenia. But sadly my last conversation with him, Kate’s last sighting of him alive, ditto Graeme Naish who was with him the night before he was admitted, and Liz who saw him in hospital shortly before he went to respiratory failure  — we were seeing and speaking to a Donald most of you never saw. That you didn’t is testimony to how brilliantly he and his doctors managed his illness.

He was violent when he was admitted to hospital a few weeks ago, so unusual for him, throwing himself around, refusing medication, tearing out his oxygen tubes, snarling and shouting at everyone. The staff on Orchid Ward  – that is the only Donald they ever knew. They were a new addition to his NHS map. But do you know what? – when we went from seeing his body at the bereavement centre to collect his belongings from the ward the nurses sought us out, not just to offer condolences, but to tell us how much they liked him. ‘Oh you could tell he was a character,’ said one. ‘I know I shouldn’t laugh but he was funny,’ said another. And Donald having listened to his piping CDs in there – loudly – other patients had said they would never hear the bagpipes again without the hair standing on their necks and thinking of Donald. They knew that beneath the crazy stuff that the voices and the visions made him do and say, was a great guy. The fact nurses could see it even as they had to restrain him, three staff members in his room round the clock, underlined that.

The letters and messages have been incredible. Both volume and content. There is so much grief for Donald because he inspired so much love. When we went to see the body, it was about saying goodbye, but I couldn’t say anything. I was in bits. Liz did say something. She stroked his hair and she said ‘you taught us more than anyone, Don.’ He did. Resilience. Fortitude. Courage. Kindness. Not letting even a horrible illness destroy zest for life and love of people. Thinking of others more than yourself, even when life was so tough. And as he lay there, bruised, a bit discoloured, I felt as sad as I have ever felt in my life that his eyes would never open again, we would never again listen to him playing the pipes, never again see our children in hysterics at his observations of other people; sad too that their children as yet unborn would never have the joy of knowing him; that I’d never see ‘Donald Mobile’ come up on my phone and I answer and say ‘Donald, you phoned me an hour ago. Why are you phoning me again?’ and he says ‘I just wanted to see how your hour’s been? You OK yeah?’

But I also thought at least he never has to hear those wretched voices in his head again. He really was at peace. Above all – and the next time I went to see him at the chapel of rest I did say this – I said you’re the best big brother anyone could ever wish for; and every single person who was ever touched by you had a better life, because Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell was a part of it.

One of the most touching messages I got was from someone who had never even met him. Sonia Kilby, the wife of a Burnley director who read my tribute in the Sunday Times and texted me to say having read about Donald, she thought his family and friends should ‘grieve with thanks and with pride’. We should. And we will.

My mind has taken over … but my life it isn’t over.’ It is now. But Donald can keep on touching us, all of us, every day, until our lives are over too.



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My brother Donald: please spread his story far and wide, and join the fight for better mental health Sun, 14 Aug 2016 23:03:02 +0000 I want to thank the hundreds of people who sent messages, direct and on social media, after I published a tribute to my brother in the Sunday Times News Review yesterday. And though I often slag off the Murdoch media machine, I want to thank the Sunday Times for giving me so much space, and for treating the subject so seriously and so sensitively. 

Of course, I could have just posted the piece on here and I am sure it would have attracted a fair bit of attention. But the kind of space the Sunday Times offered me was too good to miss, speaking with my Time To Change Ambassador hat on. And they agreed that provided I could give them a day’s exclusivity, then it could go anywhere. 

So this is an open invitation to anyone who wants it to use it as they wish. If you want pictures of him, email me via my website and I will try to help. The more people read about mental illness, and talk about mental illness, the better will be our campaign for more funding, improved research and services. The more people realize that mental illness is not incompatible with doing good jobs and having a life full of potential and opportunity, the better we will all be too. 

Donald was not ‘a schizophrenic’. He was a man who had schizophrenia. Big difference. He refused to let his life be defined by his illness. And he was a man who lived an amazing life despite it. I will be doing the eulogy for Donald at his funeral, for which we don’t yet have a date, and I will publish it here after the event.

 Here is the piece. I don’t expect you to love him as much as I did. But I do hope it makes you think both about the horror of this ‘shitty illness,’ but also the possibilities of overcoming it. I hope it might make people and employers sign up to Time to Change, and add charities like MIND and RETHINK to those you think about supporting.

My big brother died on Tuesday. It was a massive, horrible shock, even though we have always known that people with his condition live on average twenty years less than the rest of us. My Dad lived to 82, my Mum to 88. Donald was 62. His condition was schizophrenia.

His illness, not mine, is the real reason I campaign for better understanding and treatment of mental illness, not least because people who have schizophrenia do have such shortened life expectancy.

I talk about my own issues of depression and addiction partly because I am asked to and also because I think openness is better all round if we are going to break down the stigma and taboo and so win the fight for the services and treatments we need.

Till now, I never talked publicly about Donald’s illness in public mainly because our Mum didn’t want me to. Not out of the shame and stigma that many people sadly still feel about mental Illness. She was incredibly proud of him, because of what he managed to achieve despite having what he called ‘this shitty illness.’ It was more that, not enjoying having one son in the media spotlight, she worried that if Donald’s head was in any way above the parapet, it could have made him even more vulnerable.

Donald on the other hand was totally up for it. Like a lot of mentally ill people, when he was well he thought he ought to be famous. And when he was ill be thought he already was. In his prime, he saw Sean Connery as a suitable actor to play him in the movie of his life. More recently he wondered if George Clooney could do a Scottish accent.

He was competitive about his illness. ‘Saw you on the telly again talking about your psychotic breakdown, Ali. You heard voices once and you’re like Mister Mental Bloody Health. Why don’t they come and talk to a real expert?’ He was certainly an expert on living a good life with severe mental illness.

Our Mum having died two years ago, we were planning to make a film together – centred on him – on living with schizophrenia. He got the telly bug a bit when we appeared together in a film about bagpipes, one of our shared loves, of which much more later.

My daughter Grace, a film student, had begun to record interviews with Donald about the ups and downs in his life since he was first diagnosed – and later discharged – while serving in the Scots Guards in his early 20s. So he would sit and tell her about the time he was in a waiting room, and the wall-plugs were talking to the lights about him while he was surrounded by people who were all discussing terrible things they were about to do to him. Then he would laugh and say ‘absolutely mad innit Grace? And look at me sitting here now. Normal or what?’

The problem was that in recent months he has been on 24/7 oxygen to assist his breathing so the noisy buzz of his portable oxygen machine is a constant on the soundtrack. We were hoping – alas in vain – that he would get his breathing sorted and we would make the film free of the buzz and the nasal tube.

Here is the real bastard about his shitty illness. The drugs. Don’t get me wrong. Treatment  – in Donald’s case, medication – can often help restore someone to the person they are supposed to be, unclouded by the illness. Medication helped give him long periods free of the voices in his head and the hallucinations before his eyes that could otherwise reduce him to a sometimes terrified and other times aggressive human being.

He had a marriage, though it didn’t last. He had better luck in work, holding down a job he loved at Glasgow University for 27 years and at his farewell last year – alas because of physical ill health – the warmth and the turnout were evidence of the huge contribution he made.

Donald had two main roles at the university – he was the Principal’s official piper who played at dinners, ceremonies and graduations; and he was part of the university security team, mainly working at the control point in the university library. It meant he got to know hundreds of students, loved the banter, taught some of them the pipes, and regularly went round to order anyone with feet on tables to ‘kindly use the carpets.’

Glasgow University was a model employer for someone with severe mental illness, while his role as piper gave him a real sense of purpose and status which he loved. He piped out thousands and thousands of students from their graduations. One of the greatest sadnesses in his life was that latterly because of his poor breathing he was unable to play other than on electronic pipes – ‘second best Ali, but I’m still better than you.’

The very last time he played the ‘real’ pipes, we played together at a memorial service for Charles Kennedy, a former Rector of the University. ‘Good lad that Charlie Kennedy – always stopped for a chat.’ He had to give up half way through to get his breath and I finished alone.

It didn’t stop him adding this to his brotherly boasts: ‘Did you see Nicola Sturgeon nodding along to my playing? Alex Salmond isn’t the only one who knows I’m a better player than you.’ (Salmond had once said in an interview that Donald was the better player of the two of us  – on this, at least, he was right). Our sibling rivalry went back to the one competition when I beat him aged ten – I got gold, he got bronze -and to his dying day he swore the judges confused us. He was probably right.

So the drugs worked. Kind of. But decades of powerful anti psychotic medication take a toll. When it came to fighting ‘normal’ illnesses like colds and flu and chest infections the gaps between them got shorter and the quantity of ‘normal’ drugs required to treat them got larger. Added to which a recent change of his main medication for the schizophrenia – necessary to deal with the physical illness and weight increase – seemed to have sent him haywire mentally.

In the end something had to give. His life.  It is a source of real sadness that our last conversations were with the psychotic Donald, not the loving, giving, funny Donald who brought so much to our lives by making so much of his own.

Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell. You’d never guess our parents were Scots would you, giving their first born those names on May 3, 1954? Donald our Dad’s name. Lachlan his Dad. Cameron his mother’s maiden name. I got off lightly with Alastair John.

Like me and our brother Graeme and sister Liz, Donald was born and raised in England but an adult life that started in the Scots Guards as a teenager and once discharged on medical grounds was lived almost entirely in and around Glasgow, a lot of it in the piping world, meant that he had a 100percent Scottish accent (200percent when psychotic!). When we were interviewed together for the piping film, the interviewer doubted we were brothers because though I have tinges of a Scots accent when with Scots I have lived most of my life in England. We were brothers alright though. Living very different lives. But very close. No death have I ever dreaded more than this one.

He had little interest in politics, even less in sport. His passion was the bagpipes. He joined the Army largely so he could be in one of the Guards’ bands and hopefully spend more time piping than soldiering. He was serving in Northern Ireland however when his colleagues and superiors started to notice that he was behaving strangely. The next thing we knew he was in a now defunct military psychiatric hospital in Netley, Hampshire.

When we got the call, I travelled down with my Dad. Donald was in his own room, bewildered and scared, and had been drawing all sorts of weird things on the walls. In so far as he spoke, he talked absolute nonsense. Both my Dad and I just stood there, shocked to the core. Those eyes were not the eyes we knew.

It was a tough place. That is no criticism of the doctors and nurses. They were operating at a time when servicemen and women who wanted to leave service early had to ‘buy their way out’ and so amid the really serious cases evident to all, the medics were on the lookout for people feigning mental illness as a way of doing so. It was also a time when ECT was a favoured form of psychiatric treatment and Donald had his fair share of that.

My Dad was a self-employed vet and had to get back to work. I was in my late teens, on a long college holiday and decided I wanted to stay down there. I didn’t have a driving licence at the time but went north to collect Donald’s car and spent my days in the hospital with him and my nights either finding someone to put me up or sleeping in the car.

Donald reciprocated after my own ‘not as psychotic as mine, Ali’ breakdown in the 80s when we went on a road trip visiting friends and relatives around Britain. He was great company; a real glue in both close and extended family, and a very loving and supportive brother. ‘I want to kick that Michael Howard’s teeth down his throat,’ he said after a particularly unpleasant attack on me by the former Tory leader. When I say ‘after’, yes, I mean immediately after but also one week after, a month, a year, five years after, last month. He really didn’t like people who said bad things about his family. And he loved saying the same things again and again! He had a book full of mantras.

Donald was very clever but not very well educated (the reverse of a lot of people I know). I have no idea when his mind first started to go wrong, but I do know of all of us he was the one who found schoolwork hardest. I’ve often wondered too whether those times when he just couldn’t seem to get himself out of bed, which my parents saw as signs of teenage rebellion, were the first indications of an illness about which we knew absolutely nothing when that call from the military came, a call after which, our mother said many times, her life was never the same again.

He had many doctors, nurses and psychiatrists down the years, and to the end had fantastic NHS care in several parts of the country and several moments of crisis. One of them once said to me ‘Donald is my greatest success story. Keeps his job. Owns his own flat. Drives himself. Stays active. Has a passion for his music. Has more friends than any of us. Has a positive attitude almost all the time.’

That last bit was certainly true. I wrote a book about my depression and called it The Happy Depressive. If we had ever made the film about Donald we were going to call it The Happy Schizophrenic. ‘It is what is it, Ali. I got given a bit of a crap deal, but you’ve got to make the best of it, know what I mean?” It helped that, unlike me, he did do God and his faith was certainly a comfort.

He loved people and he loved life. If there were an extended family vote – we have around sixty cousins – to elect its most popular member, he would have walked it. He worked almost all his life. He didn’t like hospital for all the obvious reasons but also because he didn’t like to be a burden on the NHS which he felt had already given him more than most. He adored his nieces and nephews and was obsessed with the idea that he should have something to leave to them even though several of them already earn more than he ever did. He was a total giver.

The piping was a gift from our father who taught us when we were very young growing up in Yorkshire. Indeed if ever I do Desert Island Discs the first song will be ‘Donald Campbell by Donald Campbell,’ a tune written in honour of my Dad and played by my brother on one of the CDs he recorded for the University.

For Donald piping became a life-defining passion. He competed at a high level. The judges were aware he could sometimes be ‘out of form up top,’ as once when my sons Rory and Calum and I went to see him compete in a Piobaireachd competition – top end stuff – Donald’s mind was wandering and the judges smiled as he stopped prematurely, said ‘bugger it, I was away with the fairies there,’ saluted and left the stage.

But he was competing, composing, recording and teaching almost to the end. One of his proudest contributions was his role as a piping teacher – both by Skype and with regular visits – on the island of Tiree where our father was born and raised. Donald was teaching the next generation of young pipers on an island whose population has been in steady decline since the time my Dad, Donald and I turned out for the Tiree Pipe Band on summer holidays.

When I played – admittedly only because a Sky Arts programme wanted me to – in front of 2,000 plus people at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, I played well (including the Donald Campbell tune) largely because he had been keeping me on my toes. ‘Proud of you son,’ he said afterwards. ‘But I’m still a better player.’  Playing with him and top piper Finlay Macdonald in the bar afterwards, with our Mum, my sons, our sister and her daughter Kate, and our last remaining Aunt from Tiree in the family gathering listening to us, was one of the musical highlights of my life.

My sister Liz was the last person to visit him, shortly before the respiratory collapse which led to his death. In recent days he had become unusually violent as the voices became more and more unmanageable. After being admitted, he was initially refusing to take medication or even oxygen and was having to be restrained regularly. When he had been stabilised somewhat Liz took in some old family albums and also some of his own CDs. And though he had forgotten a lot about himself and some of the people in the albums, and in any event was back talking the same kind of nonsense we heard more than forty years ago in Netley, when she turned on the CD, Donald’s eyes lit up and his fingers started to play along with the tunes on the bed rail.

He lost his mind from time to time. Now, all too young, he has lost his life. But right to the end of it, he never lost the music in his soul. And though the Donald who died was the sick Donald, the workings of his mind divorced from people and events around him – which is what schizophrenia is, not the awful ‘split personality’ cliche which compounds the stigma  – in there somewhere was the real Donald.

The real Donald leaves behind so much grief precisely because he inspired so much love, and gave so much love to so many, not least his little brother.

– Alastair Campbell is an Ambassador for Time to Change, also for MIND and RETHINK, and Patron of the Maytree suicide sanctuary in London


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My film on the Mail – and why it is good for the soul to rip it up Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:48:49 +0000 I know, I know, I am almost sixty years old, a grown man even  … and yes, if my Mum was still alive, she’d say ‘tut, tut, Alastair, why are you bothering to make a film about that silly man from the Daily Mail that most people have never heard of, and none but his family and staff could pick out of an identity parade?’

That is partly my purpose, in fact, about banging on as I do about the Daily Mail, and its editor, Paul Dacre, for whom the old label ‘power without responsibility’ could have been invented. The public ought to know more about someone who runs such a commercially successful and influential organisation. He and his paper are the very worst of British values constantly posing and preening as the best.

We should neither understate nor overstate its importance, however. The Mail is culturally vile, for sure, and its most negative impact, in my eyes, has been its ability to influence other parts of the media, and so the broader debate. But part of the reason for my little ‘I’m still standing’ video is to emphasise to people who, willingly or unwillingly, are in the public eye, that the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. Of course, what a newspaper like the Mail says about you might at the margins have an impact on the way that some people view you. But provided it has no impact upon you, both your character and your determination to do whatever it is you are minded to do, then any power it feels it has is removed.

Name drop time. When Bill Clinton was talking to me about how he survived the Lewinsky scandal, when papers all around the world were hounding him to a seemingly inevitable downfall, he said that part of his survival technique was the insight that ‘you must give permission to people’ to bring you down, to change your mood for the worse. Once you see a thing like the Mail as comic, and an editor like Dacre as the comic-in-chief, worthy of pity, a source of humour and ridicule not fear, then you have the right approach.

So in these dark post-Brexit, Trumpian, Corbynista times, we must find reasons to keep smiling. I enjoyed making the #hatemail film, and I am pleased that in the reactions so far,  most have included the fact that it made people laugh or smile. A producer from Sky News asked me if there was a ‘deeper meaning’ to me doing it at this time? No. I had the idea, I made the film, bit of fun, hate the Mail.

But alongside the #hatemail hashtag is #ripitup, and I do feel that one day my campaign to stop airlines and other travel operators handing out free copies of the Mail will win. These freebie giveaways are all part of a scam to keep sales figures fraudulently high, so for that reason alone we should not play along. But as you can see in the video, the Mail’s paper is eminently tearable, it is a nice feeling, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is reading this in an airline lounge or about to get on a British Airways or Virgin flight. These genuinely great British brands really ought to know better.

For those who don’t know what the hell I have been talking about, and with thanks to Silverfish, here is the #hatemail #ripitup film Now let’s get out there and rip it up.



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The lesson of political history is keep fighting for what you believe in – including Britain in Europe Sun, 17 Jul 2016 15:10:48 +0000 Thanks for all the positive feedback for the piece I did for the second issue of The New European, an extract of which I posted a few days ago, and the full version of which you can read below.

The New European is a ‘pop-up paper’ which was launched into the UK national market with just nine days of planning. The spur was the EU referendum and the feeling that there had to be a voice given to the 48% who feel dismayed and angry that the country voted to leave the EU.

The editor Matt Kelly describes is as ‘an eclectic mix of expert voices all linked by a sense of loss about what just happened, and a celebration of why we loved Europe so much in the first place.’

It’s a weekly paper, published on Fridays and on sale through the week for £2, and available via subscription here and also as an app on both the android and Apple stores. The plan is to run four issues. I hope there are more. I hope too that the idea I propose at the end of this piece, in a memo to Theresa May, gets serious consideration. One thing is for sure – the vote has happened and must be respected. But the consequences, and the future decisions they will require, are far from clear, and there are going to be more votes, not least in Parliament, and possibly also in the country, ahead. Thanks for reading, and thanks to The New European both for coming into being, and for giving me so much space!

Can someone point me to that part of our great unwritten Constitution that says if you lose a vote you must immediately agree with those who won it?

Cast your mind back to the Scottish independence referendum. 55-45. A defeat for the YES campaign. Did the Nationalists overnight go ‘oh well, hey ho, we’re all Unionists now’? No. They accepted they lost the vote but declared that the fight for the cause they believe in goes on. The way they fought that fight contributed towards their success in the subsequent general election. Now the mess of the EU referendum means they may yet reach their goal, even more quickly than they imagined when that referendum was lost.

Or take something closer to home, my political home at least. When New Labour was in a long and winning (remember that?) ascendancy, did Labour’s Bennites put their hands up and say ‘sod it, might as well give up now’? If so, how the hell did Jeremy Corbyn become leader? And now that he is, have all those who see he cannot lead given up on the idea that he must be replaced? Far from it.

Similarly, did Nigel Farage, when he was in the small minority dismissed by David Cameron as fruitcakes, racists and loonies, vanish amid his succession of crushing electoral defeats? No. He kept on keeping on, until one day, alas, he won.

The lesson of all political history is you keep fighting for what you believe in.

So to all those who think the UK has made a decision of epically bad and dangerous proportions in voting to leave the EU – and they now include plenty who voted Leave – I say ‘do not give up the fight to make sure we are spared the consequences.’

Ah, say those who still believe they did the right thing, echoed by the same right-wing lying newspapers which helped lay the ground for Brexit, and the same right-wing lying politicians who helped take it over the line, but ‘the British people have spoken.’ Indeed. But can someone tell me what we actually said? Every Leaver I speak to seems to say something different.

In the Mad Hatter world of UK politics, and its dumbed down, personality obsessed media culture, where Dave v Boris morphed immediately to Theresa v Andrea and Jeremy v Angela, with the occasional broadsheet look at something called ‘policy’ or (perish the thought) ‘ideas’, we are now beginning to have the debate we didn’t have during the referendum campaign itself.

That is because after all the mind numbing speculation and the near meaningless slogans pre June 23, (take back control of what, precisely?) things have actually happened to bring home the reality of the Brexit decision and its implications. Business people and tourists have seen what the weak pound virtually every economic voice in the world warned of actually means. The decline of our political power has become visible in every humiliating encounter between ministers and overseas counterparts. And how nauseating has it been to see the chief cheerleaders of the Brexit Lie Machine – the Sun, the Mail, the Express, the Star, the Telegraph – filling their money advice pages with stories of Brexit’s impact on the cost of holidays, phone calls, food – oh no, not coffee too! – and the effect on pensions and savings. All those things the Leave Lie Machine dismissed as ‘Project Fear’ now unfolding across the same pages of the papers which lied the most. Let’s hope the foreign, tax-dodging media owners and their lying editors, get more of the kind of direct action treatment Paul Dacre’s neighbours to his vast EU-grant-supported Scottish estate have decided to mete out.

The Lies involved in the campaign are among the reasons there is now so much buyer’s remorse. I have been involved in some tough campaigns in my time, where claim and counter claim get pushed and tested to the limit by politicians and media alike. But never one in which one side, perhaps inspired by Donald Trump’s success in winning the Republican nomination in the US presidential campaign, made a strategic decision to build its campaign around blatant, provable untruths. £350m a week goes to the EU. No it doesn’t. We can build a new hospital every week with the money. No we can’t. Turkey ‘is joining.’ No it’s not.  There ‘will be’ an EU Army. No there won’t. We can have different immigration and customs policies without the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. No you can’t. We can be out of the EU but still in the single market without extra cost if we fancy it. Ditto. Even when the £350m figure was established as a lie, on they went with it, no shame, no backtracking, the more people talked about it the happier the Leave liars were.

But since the vote three very important things have happened. First, the full scale of the lying has been exposed. Second, by contrast, the sober reality of the Remain warnings is becoming equally clear. And third, the people who made this all happen vanished after the event. So not only have we voted for a pig in a poke; in scenes even George Orwell would have struggled to make sense of, the head pigs who created the mess immediately ran away to leave others to clean it up. The Prime Minister who decided to hold the referendum. Gone even earlier than he expected when he announced he would resign. Chancellor George Osborne. Gone. The deadly duo of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Leadership ambitions up in smoke. Farage. Gone. Andrea Leadsom. Her fall from leader-in-waiting as rapid as her rise.

Of the many sick ironies of recent events surely one of the sickest is that a campaign supposedly all about ‘we the people’ deciding who governs us, rather than ‘unelected elites’, set up the election of a new Prime Minister by 0.3 percent of the population, the largely old, white, utterly undiverse and unrepresentative section of the population that makes up the Tory Party membership. And in the end, even they didn’t get a vote. We got a new Prime Minister by a process of voluntary leadership euthanasia by incompetence as Johnson, then Gove, then Leadsom went up in the flames still burning from the fire they had set alight. If it had happened in Africa or Latin America we’d be trotting out banana republic headlines. Having been to Latin America last week, may I say much of the rest of the world sees us today at best as a country which has opted voluntarily for decline, at worst a global laughing stock.

Politics across the entire landscape has rarely been more fluid. Changes as yet unthought of may hove into view. There is time for the recent outbreak of national and multiparty madness to calm down. We can all have a say in this. By keeping fighting for what we believe in. In these circumstances, the political road to Brexit is littered with road humps and crossroads where choices have to be made. So is the legal road and good luck to all those lawyers doing their best to unpick the catastrophe the Brexit Lie Machine has delivered.

Meanwhile, a little note to our new Prime Minister, Theresa May. I wish you well. It is a very tough job. I have seen that up close. I note you have said ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ I note too that you think the Fixed Term Parliament Act means you can govern without a specific mandate from the people until 2020. On verra, as we multilingual Europeans say. You may find it less easy- and even less helpful – than Gordon Brown did (and at least people knew he was likely to replace Tony Blair when TB was elected in 2005), to resist the pressures for a national poll. I do not see how the politics of the situation will allow you to cruise to 2020 while negotiating the most important decisions in modern UK history with a mandate as PM that came not from the people but from Tory MPs many of whom had lied their way to a result the consequences of which they then left to you.

Your job now is to lead the country through very difficult times and make decisions in the national interest. You must put those decisions before Parliament. The job of MPs is to assess them in the national interest and in the interests of their constituents too. Whatever you decide will not be as simple as the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ formula. I suspect you will quickly see that Brexit as it was sold by the Johnsons and Farages will be impossible without enormous economic damage to the country you lead. If you conclude that Brexit means there is no realistic way of staying inside the single market, which you decide is a fundamental part of our economic future, then you should say so and fight for us to stay in that single market. If you don’t, but a majority of MPs feel they cannot support an outcome that sees us outside the single market, then they should fight for what they believe. You may well end up being attacked from right and left alike, but if you have the real economic national interest as your guide, I doubt very much you will be in a rush for the exit door. You will rarely be more powerful than in these early days. You should use that power to buy time and show calm, measured leadership.

From me, herewith an idea that you and your team might want to consider. Do not trigger Article 50 quickly. There is no need to do so immediately and sensibly you have not said that you would. Instead go into discussions with fellow EU leaders (without your foreign secretary, whose appointment has gone down like a global dose of the Zika virus) and explain as follows: the British people have voted to leave the EU. You want to negotiate the terms of exit, and David Davis is around to help. However as you must lead the whole country, not just half of it, you want in this process to represent those who voted Remain too (and the many Regrexiters who voted Leave and wished they hadn’t.) So in addition to discussing terms of exit, you would like to explore the possible terms on which we might stay, including another look at immigration, which is of concern not just in the UK, and some of the other issues which emerged as problems for Remain during the campaign. Might freedom of movement become freedom of labour, for example? Fight for CAP reform, and completion of the single market, in areas like energy and digital services.

Then come back to the country and put those options to the British public. The terms on which we leave. And the terms on which we could remain. A real choice of real options, rather than the fake choice between a Johnson nirvana of more money for the NHS, Independence Day, cuddly toys for all; or a hell of Brussels bureaucracy, mass immigration and straight bananas.

This would not be a second referendum on a question that has been settled on June 23. It is a new referendum on a new question which flows obviously from the first one, and from the appointment of a new PM. And once that decision is settled, that might be the time for a general election. We are, after all, a Parliamentary democracy. I accept that your fellow EU leaders have said there will be no informal talks until Article 50 has been triggered. But they will be fascinated to get to know you, you have a bit of time to play with, and if they sense you are serious about exploring options both in and out they would get over that insistence fairly quickly. I know there will be serious Tory Party management issues. But hey, plus ca change. That is how we got into this mess. Leadership is needed to get us out of it.

Good luck. These are not easy times for leaders in any country in the world, but especially those, like the US and the U.K., which really are living in the post-fact, post-reason world. I don’t know you well. But I do at least get the sense you won’t be driven by the mania of the modern media but by cold headed analysis of the options. Options are what the country needs right now. A leader who sets them out, and leads a debate that rises above the awful level of the one we have just had, would be doing the country and the world a massive service, showing leadership and winning respect, mine included.






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