Alastair Campbell http://www.alastaircampbell.org Thu, 29 Sep 2016 23:05:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What’s not to like? A free copy of my new diaries for every new subscriber to the New European… http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/09/29/whats-not-to-like-a-free-copy-of-my-new-diaries-for-every-new-subscriber-to-the-new-european/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/09/29/whats-not-to-like-a-free-copy-of-my-new-diaries-for-every-new-subscriber-to-the-new-european/#respond Thu, 29 Sep 2016 15:40:34 +0000 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/?p=6176 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 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/09/24/corbyn-has-won-the-fundamentals-are-unchanged-non-corbyn-plp-must-fill-policy-vacuum/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/09/24/corbyn-has-won-the-fundamentals-are-unchanged-non-corbyn-plp-must-fill-policy-vacuum/#respond Sat, 24 Sep 2016 06:19:05 +0000 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/?p=6173 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 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/09/23/guest-blog-from-a-proper-psychiatrist-on-how-the-nest-can-help-the-mind/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/09/23/guest-blog-from-a-proper-psychiatrist-on-how-the-nest-can-help-the-mind/#respond Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:28:48 +0000 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/?p=6171 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 www.nidotherapy.com , 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 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/08/30/6163/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/08/30/6163/#respond Tue, 30 Aug 2016 09:25:19 +0000 http://alastaircampbell.dev:8888/?p=6163 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 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/08/14/my-brother-donald-please-spread-his-story-far-and-wide-and-join-the-fight-for-better-mental-health-services-and-understanding/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/08/14/my-brother-donald-please-spread-his-story-far-and-wide-and-join-the-fight-for-better-mental-health-services-and-understanding/#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 23:03:02 +0000 http://alastaircampbell.dev:8888/?p=6158 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 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/22/my-film-on-the-mail-and-why-it-is-good-for-the-soul-to-rip-it-up/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/22/my-film-on-the-mail-and-why-it-is-good-for-the-soul-to-rip-it-up/#comments Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:48:49 +0000 http://alastaircampbell.dev/?p=6150 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 http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/17/the-lesson-of-political-history-is-keep-fighting-for-what-you-believe-in-including-britain-in-europe/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/17/the-lesson-of-political-history-is-keep-fighting-for-what-you-believe-in-including-britain-in-europe/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 15:10:48 +0000 http://alastaircampbell.dev/?p=6148 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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Memo to PM May: not a second referendum, but a first referendum on a proper choice of options after real debate http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/14/memo-to-pm-may-not-a-second-referendum-but-a-first-referendum-on-a-proper-choice-of-options-after-real-debate/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/14/memo-to-pm-may-not-a-second-referendum-but-a-first-referendum-on-a-proper-choice-of-options-after-real-debate/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 09:56:46 +0000 http://alastaircampbell.dev/?p=6145 There have not been that many rays of light emerging from that dark day of national self-harm, June 23, but one has been the emergence of a new ‘pop-up newspaper’ aimed especially at the 48percent who voted Remain in our deeply divided country.

The New European has been launched by Archant Media, and they have committed to four issues to test out the market. The first one, the cover of which you can see in this Huffington Post story about the launch, had a print run of 200,000, good online reaction, and it must have had some success because the second, out tomorrow in mainly urban areas, has the same run, and I am pleased to say I am writing the cover story.

The headline ‘This fight’s not over,’ gives you some idea of where I am coming from. As I say in the intro: ‘Can someone point me to that part of our great unwritten Constitution that says if you lose a vote you must imnmediately agree with those who won it?’ The history of politics is that you keep fighting for what you believe in.

The editor, Matt Kelly, told me to take as long as I liked to say whatever I wanted (the kind of brief I like) so 2,000 words later I had got a lot off my chest. I hope you can find a spare two quid tomorrow and get yourself a copy.

But within it, I do have this message for our incoming Prime Minister, who will currently be getting briefed on all the big issues now atop her in tray, few bigger and more atop than Europe. So herewith (my word of the day, as you will see) an extract from my very long cri de coeur.

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 your appointment as 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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On Brexit, Chilcot, Corbyn, Leadsom and May: the Mad Hatter-ology of modern politics http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/10/on-brexit-chilcot-corbyn-leadsom-and-may-the-mad-hatter-ology-of-modern-politics/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/10/on-brexit-chilcot-corbyn-leadsom-and-may-the-mad-hatter-ology-of-modern-politics/#respond Sun, 10 Jul 2016 13:59:04 +0000 http://alastaircampbell.dev/?p=6142 This was first published yesterday by International Business Times.

Since June 23, when we ‘took back control’ (of what precisely remains very unclear) I have been in South America, and four European countries – all work no play apart from a bit of football – taking in the Chilcot Inquiry Report en route from Spain and France. I’m now back home.

This was not exactly a tour of the entire world, but based on those parts I have been to, I can report that most of the world thinks we are at a point of potential enormous decline (these moments happen in history you know). They also think that in having voted to leave the EU we have taken leave of our senses and thus, we are becoming something of a laughing stock.

Now I need to be careful here. As I said in the long blog I posted on Chilcot Day, we live in a post-factual, post-reason age where many parts of the media, and many people, tend to find the facts that fit the argument they already believe, the pieces of evidence that fit the world view they already hold, the opinions that match their own. So I may be a little guilty of doing this myself, as someone who strongly believes that Brexit was a national catastrophe, and that Chilcot, and even more so the coverage thereof, an unfair, unbalanced and over-simplistic portrayal of a difficult set of decisions in a deeply complex policy area.

On the EU referendum, having met large numbers of people in politics, business, media, charity (and loads of air hostesses and airport personnel) I can report two things with certainty … First, Brexit is one of the biggest talking points on the planet. Only Donald Trump and, in Europe, the football, get near. Second, close to ten out of ten people thought we had made the wrong decision. Some of these were the dreaded experts demonised by Michael Gove. You know, heads of government, finance ministers, top economists and diplomats, people who run businesses. People who know stuff.

Michael Gove, yes? You remember him, surely; the spectacled, non-blonde one of the deadly duo who helped take Brexit over the line, then ran to ground, then got their just deserts as the post Cameron Tory leadership race began. But many I met were not experts at all. Like the guy serving me breakfast in Barcelona … ‘why would you do that? I don’t understand.’ Or the Italian journalist who said ‘I think we just feel so sad that you did this to yourselves.’

I still feel sad too. It is like a bereavement, where you forget for a while, but then something happens to remind you and you feel like someone hit you in the guts … ‘oh God, yeah, she’s dead,’ so ‘oh God yeah, we actually voted to Leave the EU.’ Ian McEwan is clearly feeling the same way, and has expressed these feelings superbly in The Guardian today.

I also feel that sonething, somehow, will happen, to ensure the disaster, or at least the full extent of it, doesn’t happen, and that we won’t actually leave. That would of course anger many of the 17 million who voted LEAVE. But it is clear that a fair few among them are having considerable buyer’s remorse and would change their vote had they realised that Project Fear was real. Among the more nauseating consequences of the Brexit vote are the Money pages of the right wing newspapers which helped Johnson-Gove-Farage do their worst, and which now tell their readers how this is hitting the value of the pound, the cost of holidays, flights, phone calls. Coffee in the UK, says the FT today, is the latest to see a post Brexit price rise. Sterling, I read yesterday, is currently the worst performing major currency in the world. Thanks Johnson. Thanks Murdoch. Thanks Dacre.

And what kind of mad hatter’s tea party world are we living in that a campaign that was all about making sure the British people decided who governed us, and we curbed the power of unelected elites, sees the leaders of that campaign, Johnson, Gove and Farage, fall by the wayside, along with the Prime Minister the country elected last year; and the choice of the person to hold the most important position in the country is about to be decided by 0.3percent of the population, the largely white, largely old, largely golf club bore types who tend to gather in areas of low immigration and spend all their time telling each other how they are feeling overwhelmed by immigrants. Sorry, this is a caricature, but you know what I mean. The Tory Party membership is not exactly representative of the country, yet they have ‘taken back sole control’ of the choice of PM.

As for what that choice is, it really is a commentary on the desperate state of UK politics that I am so hoping Theresa May wins. Let’s be honest, all but the political anoraks had never even heard of Andrea Leadsom till she did the TV debates as Johnson’s sidekick. Even then ‘speaking as a mother,’ and ‘let’s take back control’ appeared to be all she had to say. The mother bit appears to have gone a little far. I am as used to exaggerated misrepresenting headlines as anyone, but it strikes me, having listened to the tape, that The Times story that she was setting herself up as superior to May because she had kids was fair. Also, she says that having children and wanting grandchildren means she is more likely to care about the future. So how come she just helped destroy the future for the young?

Just as the referendum debate was too focused on the Tory personalities involved, drowning out discussion of the kind of issues that only now are coming into sharp and sobering focus, so the May-Leadsom-Gove-Fox-Crabb contest has been desperately free of actual ideas and plans for the future. Depressing, and that is why this kind of stuff about kids or no kids, especially in our dumbed down media, becomes so high profile.

Then there is the Labour mess. There was something bizarre, frankly, to be in Latin America, and have people ask me ‘so will Corbyn go?’ Or ‘what is this Angela Eagle like?’ For decades, Corbyn toiled away as a good local MP backing a few hard left causes with gusto and being little known outside narrow political circles. Now, with Brexit such a global event, he is surely one of the most talked about Opposition politicians on the planet. But it is becoming clearer and clearer, that though yes, he was given a big mandate as Leader of the Party, he cannot lead it. And as I said in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, and Neil Kinnock says in a very good interview today, it is hard to escape the conclusion his clinging on is as much about vanity as any belief he can actually do the job, or even that he wants to win an election, or thinks he could, or ever sets out a strategy suggesting how he might.

So here we are, with the Tory Party split down the middle, another economic target missed, poverty and inequality on the rise, rights under attack, a Prime Minister gone and a pretty poor field of successors in the frame, and yet still Labour trail in the polls. Ah, say the zealots who think JC is the new JC come to save us, that is because of all the division in the PLP. No, oh zealots who care more about power inside the Party than about the Party winning power in the country, it is because those MPs, in common with anyone else with an interest in a Labour government, hear from virtually every member of the human race, home and abroad, ‘that guy has no more chance of being elected Prime Minister than my pet budgie.’ We have never needed a strong Opposition more than today. I have never known the Opposition to be weaker. We have never needed a Labour government more than we do now. The chances of it happening are slim indeed unless we have a new and credible leader and a new and credible strategy. I accept the field, as with the Tories, is not strong. But anything is better than this.

According to the conspiracy theorists who occupy so much of online political debate, I have been involved in some coup or other to get him out, and it was all about making sure he was not there to make hay over Chilcot. Apparently it involved someone who works for a PR firm advise going to a Gay Pride event and heckling Corbyn. Some coup!

There were few surprises in what he had to say about Chilcot. He had already indicated the kind of line he would take before publication, and indeed he did. He repeated repeatedly the lie that we lied; he restated his view that it was the biggest foreign policy disaster in decades; he whacked the Yanks, and said the invasion was an act of military aggression; he said the UN was important; and he apologised on behalf of a Party whose leadership he has always sought to define against Tony Blair as his main ideological opponent, rather than David Cameron. What he didn’t do was give any indication whatever of how he, should he ever be a Prime Minister rather than an anti-war protestor, would deal with the security threats facing the world. From what I can gather, he would sit down and talk with people. He wouldn’t do anything unless the UN said we could. So with a Corbyn government, President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping get the global domination they have long sought.

A word on the lying issue. It strikes me as part of the Orwellian Mad Hatterology of our times that in the Brexit debate, there were blatant lies told by Leave, (£350m a week, NHS, Turkey, EU Army, you know the drill …) and yet when the lying side won, few complaints, and a general acceptance across the political classes … oh well, never mind, the people have spoken.

On Iraq, by contrast, where no lies were told, by Tony Blair or anyone on his behalf, the Chilcot Inquiry confirmed as such, and yet by common media consent by the end of the day that he lied was an established ‘fact’ in our post-fact, post-rational analysis Trumpian/Leadsomian world. Part of the reason for that, for reasons perhaps to do with his having seen what the media did to Lord Hutton when he set out the truth as he saw it (and indeed as it was) over the BBC reporting on the WMD dossier in 2002/03, is that Chilcot’s statement on Wednesday was actually much starker in its criticism of Tony Blair than a report he knew that few would actually read.

But let’s end on a positive upbeat note. Since getting home and going through a vast inbox of ignored emails, direct messages and all the rest, three things are clear. One, for sure, there is a lot of hate out there and most of it is expressed publicly on social media. But there was a lot of support for my defence of TB too. Two, in the more private correspondence, there are many many people who will not roll over as most of the politicians seem willing to and just let Brexit happen. And three, the view of the public, as opposed to the media, is much more balanced when it comes to Iraq, as well as the reputation of Tony Blair. This piece in the FT today, by an American legal expert, and this one in the Telegraph, by Charles Moore, at least add a little balance to the debate. As I said in my own blog on Wednesday, ultimately Chilcot and his team have never been leaders in the way that Blair and Cameron have, they have never had to make decisions as big as the ones TB faced on Iraq.

I was struck in particular by an email from the father of a soldier who had served in Iraq, who said he and his wife, as parents, were proud of what their son did, as was he. He made the point – and I think this is what David Cameron was hinting at in the Commons – that if we carry on as we are, a UK PM will never again be able to commit forces to danger, ‘at a time the world is actually a lot more dangerous than it might feel. If we can’t use an Army, you have to ask what is the point of having one?’

It is a very good question. And the fact it is even asked another sign that Britain is no longer the country it once was, but not for the reasons most volubly expressed by those still standing by their decision to vote for Brexit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Many mistakes yes, but no lies, no deceit, no secret deals, no ‘sexing up’. And ultimately a matter of leadership and judgement http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/06/many-mistakes-yes-but-no-lies-no-deceit-no-secret-deals-no-sexing-up-and-ultimately-a-matter-of-leadership-and-judgement/ http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2016/07/06/many-mistakes-yes-but-no-lies-no-deceit-no-secret-deals-no-sexing-up-and-ultimately-a-matter-of-leadership-and-judgement/#comments Wed, 06 Jul 2016 12:04:15 +0000 http://alastaircampbell.dev/?p=6135 There was an awful lot to take in from Sir John Chilcot’s half hour statement, and there will be more to take in from the two million plus words he published when people get round to reading it, and the torrent of reaction.

There were many criticisms, and I know Tony Blair will respond to them later today. I am sure, too, that he will take responsibility for the decisions he took, and stand up for the soldiers, intelligence officers, civil servants and others who are criticised. One thing I know about Tony Blair is that he stands up for those who work for him, when they are acting on decisions he has made.

I hope people will forgive me, though this is by no means the biggest point in the report, if I begin this blog by focusing on the part of the Iraq narrative with which I have been most associated, and which was one of the factors behind my decision to leave Downing Street in the autumn of 2003. I did not receive a Maxwellisation letter, and so I am assuming I am not criticised within the report. That is four inquiries now which have cleared me of wrongdoing with regard to the WMD dossier presented to Parliament in 2002, and I hope that the allegations we have faced for years – of lying and deceit to persuade a reluctant Parliament and country to go to war, or of having an underhand strategy regarding the respected weapons expert David Kelly – are laid to rest.

The truth was – and remains, confirmed today – that the so called sexing up of intelligence never happened. The Today programme report that said it had should never have been broadcast, and the BBC should have properly investigated our complaint rather than dismissed it out of hand because it came from Downing Street. Had they done so, David Kelly would almost certainly be alive today, and no attempt by the media to say it was ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’ will ever move me from that view, or fully erase the anger I feel at their dishonesty. Sorry, but I feel I have to say that.

I hope too that one of the main conspiracy theories peddled in the main by former US Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer, that Tony Blair did a secret deal with George Bush at Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, is also laid to rest. There was no secret deal, there was no lying, there was no deceit, there was no ‘sexing up’ of the intelligence. What there was was a decision, a set of decisions, which ultimately had to be made by the Prime Minister.

Though Sir John did not say so in so many words, it was clear from his presentation that he believed the Iraq War was a big mistake. He set out many reasons why he believed so. But his report does accept that ultimately leaders have to make decisions, and especially the tough ones.

I listened to his statement on Radio Five Live, from Barcelona, where I have been at a conference. The immediate response of Peter Allen’s experts and correspondents was drowned out by the chanting of protesters in the background ‘Tony Blair … war criminal,’ and I could hear a succession of speakers saying what they had clearly planned to say before Chilcot had said or published a word.

As we have seen in the debate surrounding the EU referendum, we live in a post-factual, post-reason age where many parts of the media, and many people, tend  to find the facts that fit the argument they already believe, the pieces of evidence that fit the world view they already hold, the opinions that match their own. This is a phenomenon born in the fusion of news and comment in most newspapers as they adapted to TV, developed in the sound and fury of 24/7 TV news, and ventilated by the howling rage of social media. People say they want the full truth to emerge, but is that really so? Or do they in fact only want the truth in so far as they already believe it to be, like the screaming protesters outside the QE2?

So when the latest murderous ISIS attack in Baghdad happens, a few days ago, with Chilcot looming, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, cannot resist adding two and two together and making whatever the number of deaths happens to be. ‘Sectarian war started in the chaos and violence that was unleashed by the American and British invasion of Iraq in 2003,’ he said. ‘Plenty of Iraqis have already made up their minds: that the invasion and occupation pushed them into an agony without an end.’ Plenty of Iraqis, and not merely Kurds and Shias, also remain glad that Saddam Hussein is no more. We just don’t see or hear them too often on British TV stations. Sir John was clear that the government’s objectives were not met. With regard to the aftermath, short, medium and long-term, that may be so, though Iraq is at least a democracy and one that is fighting terrorism. But the fall of Saddam, when the invasion took place, was a core objective, and the world is a better place without him and his sons in charge of their country.

Sir John acknowledged that war may have been necessary at some point, but argued that the timetable was rushed to suit US interests. It is true that the Americans were keen on action. It is also true, as he acknowledged, that Tony Blair did have some influence in getting Bush to go down the UN route.

Here is where I find the most extreme criticisms of Mr Blair from those who hate him most difficult to accept.

I was one of the few people who saw the process of his making the decision close up, virtually round the clock, around the world. Far from seeing someone hellbent on war, I saw someone doing all he could to avoid it. Far from seeing someone undermine the UN, I saw him trying his hardest to make it work. Far from seeing someone cavalier about the consequences of war, I saw someone who agonised about them, and I know he still does, as do all who were there, part of his team.

He was of course bombarded by views, from friend and foe. He was acutely aware of protest. He was aware that much could go wrong. He was aware lives would be lost. He was conscious of the possibility of damage to our relationship with the US if we didn’t go with them, and damage to the relationship with other allies if we did.

But here is the difference between him and other ministers and MPs, him and advisors, him and commentators, him and the public who three times elected him, including after the fall of Saddam. He had to decide. One way or the other. With the US or not. Topple Saddam or leave him. Knowing that either way there were consequences which were hard to foresee.

We elect leaders to make the toughest calls. Amid all the talk of learning lessons I fear we have already learned some wrong ones. Leaders in democracies have learned that if you do the really difficult, unpopular thing, it can be hung around your neck forever. ‘Look at Tony Blair,’ they say, ‘in so many ways a great Prime Minister yet with so many people refusing to see him as the author of anything but chaos in the Middle East.’ One, it is over simplifying things to say he is the author of that chaos, as I explain later, but someone even now, though out of power, trying harder than many of those in power to do something about it. Two, he made many changes to our country and to the wider world which cannot be erased from the national consciousness because of one hugely controversial issue.

So I saw the care he took over the decisions. I have seen the agonies it has caused him many times since and will do till his dying day. The deaths of soldiers weigh heavily on him, as do the deaths of Iraqi civilians. He knows there are things he should apologise for. But one thing he will never apologise for is standing up to one of the worst, most fascist dictators the world has ever known. Nor should he. For all the faults in Iraq today, a world without Saddam and his sons in charge of Iraq is a better and safer world, and those who gave their lives to make it happen did not, in my view, die in vain.

He accepts Iraq and the region have not advanced as we had hoped, but I wish more could be heard from those – they exist – who will speak up for the democracy that has developed, the fight against terrorism the government is leading, and the progress, albeit too slow, that has been made; I also wish the Blair haters were able to see things from his perspective, as the man who had to make the decision, in a way that we can see things from theirs.

Some of the main criticisms appear to be related to the aftermath, and many of these seem to me to be justified. We assumed, wrongly, that the Americans would be as interested in the aftermath as they were in the military operation to topple Saddam. They were the main player and we, a junior partner in a huge international alliance, did not press them hard enough.

In some ways we were prepared for the wrong things. Take WMD. I can remember accompanying Tony Blair to a pre-war briefing at the Ministry of Defence, where he was being briefed on the equipment our troops would rely on in the event of Saddam using chemical and biological weapons against them. It was one of those moments when your heart leaps to your throat. It felt horribly real. It was a moment of real fear and Tony Blair pressed to make sure that troops who faced such a threat had the capacity to be able to deal with it. I cite that for two reasons – to emphasise that we sincerely believed the intelligence on WMD, and we believed Saddam might use them because he had done so when threatened in the past; and also to debunk the idea that Tony Blair made the decisions he did in a cavalier or uncaring way. To the conspiracy theorists who say he did it for Bush, he did it for oil, he did it because of some weird Messiah complex, I say do you really think any British Prime Minister would put troops in the horrific situations that were outlined to us unless he believed the threat was real, and one which, unless we showed we were serious about dealing with WMD, would one day pose a risk to all of us?

We prepared too for a long and bloody battle with Saddam’s Republican Guard, but in the event the military battle to topple him was won more easily than expected. The welcome from the people seemed real. That may have bred complacency. Haters of Saddam as they were, we thought the Iranians would welcome his fall. Instead, perhaps obviously but it didn’t seem so at the time, they exploited it. More widely, we seriously underestimated the potential reaction of different powers and forces within the region, and their capacity for the chaos which they unleashed. Sir John suggests the government should have seen this coming.

But here too the simplicity of the debate in the UK about the post-Saddam Middle East must be challenged. To say the Iraq invasion ‘created ISIS’, as many commentators do, is on a par with saying the war in Afghanistan ‘created Al Qaida’ when in fact that war came as a consequence of 9/11 not its cause.

A bit of history. Al Qaida in Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS, was formed by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to fight Western forces in Iraq. But it rapidly moved on to trying to kill as many Shia as possible, and provoked them by destroying their holy sites. It was over that approach that its leader fell out with the leadership of Al Qaida in 2005. But when we left in 2010 Al Qaida in Iraq was largely defeated by the ‘surge’ of mainly US troops, by the Anbar awakening, and by our special forces.

ISIS emerged as a force out of premature departure from Iraq without taking the steps needed to try to reconcile Sunni and Shia. It was fuelled in Iraq by Sunni anger at the sectarian policies of the Maliki government and the threat from Shia militias fighting their way north; and in Syria by resentment at the vicious behaviour of the Allawite regime of President Assad.

Here is where I find some of the criticisms of Tony Blair from the left most difficult to accept. He is called a war criminal for acting to remove a real war criminal like Saddam who had killed more Muslims than anyone on the planet and with a human rights record to match some of the most brutal dictators of all time. Yet those same people were and remain prepared to stand by and do nothing to deal with Assad, despite the Syria death toll now being far greater than that in Iraq. ‘Standing up, not standing by,’ is the current Labour Party slogan. Well, we have not stood up for the Syrian people. We have stood by and allowed a catastrophe to unfold, millions fleeing terror, Assad using barrel bombs and crossing the so-called ‘red line’ of chemical weapon use with seeming impunity. One of the reasons ISIS has grown so strong, and become such a threat in Europe, is because we in Europe have not been prepared to intervene to prevent the emergence of a failed state in Syria and northern Iraq, just as Afghanistan became the failed state from where Al Qaida could plan the attack on the twin towers.

Syria is where ISIS has truly thrived, thanks in large part to non-intervention. Libya – where there was partial intervention but even less follow through than in Iraq – is now a country in chaos and becoming an important base for ISIS.  Of these countries only Iraq has a legitimate Government fighting terrorism.

And those who say the UK action in Iraq put us in the front of the queue for attack should note that ISIS has been and remains indiscriminate. France was our most vocal critic over the war in Iraq, yet has been a greater victim of ISIS than we and others who backed the US-led action. Belgium played no part in the war, but it too has been struck by ISIS.

Other areas of criticism from Chilcot centre on the process surrounding the Attorney General’s advice, and the role of the UN. A brief word on both.

People often talk of the UN as though it were a court of law, able to adjudicate on difficult and complex issues. It is not. It is a collection of all the countries of the world with all their competing visions and interests. But particularly today, with Putin’s Russia one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, it is rarely a body on which full international agreement can be found on anything. The inquiry believes we had not exhausted all diplomatic efforts. Of course, we could have gone on talking. But the reality is that there came a point where France and Russia were never going to follow through on the logic of Resolution 1441, agreed unanimously including by them, which was yet another ‘final opportunity’ for Saddam to comply with the weapons inspectors, deliver on the many UNSCRs he was still defying, or face the consequences.

When negotiating that Resolution, everyone – including France and Russia – understood what it meant. Indeed opponents of the US-UK strategy had sought to insert the obligation to return to the UN for a specific mandate for military action and this was rejected. I remember Derry Irvine, Lord Chancellor, saying to a meeting of the Cabinet that we had tried so hard to get the second resolution that people assumed there could be no action without it. ‘But that is not the case.’

As for the messy process, I fear that was inevitable given the white hot political context, the fluid circumstances of the build up to war in so many countries, and the worries about leaks – which were real. People may be surprised that Cabinet ministers did not grill the Attorney General directly on his advice when they had the chance. But I think they were sensitive to the possible accusation of seeking to influence someone who is meant to be able to offer advice independently. And whatever the process I think he would have reached the decision he did. There are suggestions the advice should have been debated and even voted upon in Parliament. But the military need absolute clarity on the legal base for war. I can remember the Chief of Defence Staff, and the head of the Civil Service, asking for it in very blunt terms. People really need to think carefully before going down that route.

So no lies or deceit, contrary to what Jeremy Corbyn has just said. No secret deal with Bush. A messy process surrounding the legal advice and the role of the UN. Mistakes in intelligence but no improper interference with it. Bad planning for the aftermath. Many mistakes and shortcomings made alongside successes.

I am going to leave the final word in this piece to the constitutional expert, Professor Vernon Bogdanor. Last month he gave a long and thoughtful lecture on the Iraq war, at Gresham College in London. It was a calm and cold-headed analysis and merits careful reading. But I was particularly struck by his final paragraph.

‘Of course, with hindsight, all things might have been done differently, but as President Bush said, and on this I agree with him, “Hindsight is not a strategy. Everyone’s hindsight is better than the most acute foresight.” My conclusion,’ said Bogdanor, ‘is that there are no easy answers, that Bush and Blair were faced with an almost impossible dilemma, and that all of us should be very grateful that we were not in their shoes and did not have to make their difficult decisions.’

The Chilcot Inquiry panel knows a lot about foreign policy, and about government process. They have been through millions of documents and produced a huge and challenging piece of work. But ultimately, as they recognise, they have never actually had to make the decision they have been examining. Such decisions are the stuff of leadership, which may explain why David Cameron, whose statement I have just listened to as I finish this, seemed to be speaking with considerable sympathy and support for his predecessor. He knows how hard these decisions are. He also knows that there may well be times in the future where we have to put our armed forces in harm’s way once more.

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