Something for the weekend – a long lazy blog lifted from interviews
Posted on 20 November 2009 | 12:11pm
This must be one of the longest, and certainly the laziest, blog I have ever done. Just a bit busy you see.
I was doing a speech to sports governing bodies in The Midlands yesterday, so took the opportunity to visit my Mum, stayed over, raced back this morning for a meeting then a dental appointment (soon, so am petrified, see below), then a lunch, a couple of meetings, a couple of articles, a few calls, and I don’t really have time to do a proper blog.
So instead I have cut and pasted a couple of interviews I’ve done recenly. The first is for a new website, Chic Londres, which is aimed at French people living in the UK (and funnily enough another thing on my agenda today is writing a piece for a French magazine about Sarkozy, in which I intend to refer to his election campaign visit to London)
And below that, totally randomly you might think, is a piece from Kyodo News about my take on the new Japanese government. I told you I was dead big in Japan.
I have also tried to cut and paste the piece in yesterday’s Independent when I talked about my education (plugging my role as strategist for the Npower Climate Cops contest to find the best young environmental campaigners). But I am having trouble with my buttons and I’m worried I am about to wipe out this already long and lazy blog if I persevere with my pathetic cutting and pasting efforts.
Meanwhile, still feel angry at Thierry Henry. The new holder of the record for group sex, having single-handedly fucked an entire nation. Sorry, I don’t usually swear, as Malcolm Tucker would confirm.
Anywhere, here goes with this new form of lazyblog.
Here is Chic Londres
Once described as “the dark soul of Tony Blair” and “the real Prime minister” (surely some mistake – AC) -as his influence on the government was deemed to be so powerful- Alastair Campbell (52) appears nowadays in much more relaxed form than during his Downing Street years. The former Spin Doctor in chief, who has turned to writing and fundraising for research into leukaemia, talks candidly about his career change, his old demons and his fear of dentists.
How did you decide to become a novelist?
I was cycling one day when I saw an enormous crowd attending a funeral, which gave me the concept for the novel. Also at the time, I was seeing a psychiatrist and was thinking a lot about depression and addiction, which also contributed to the creation of my characters. When I arrived home, I had already created in my mind two of the characters and the ending. I went straight to my computer and started writing. I wrote the novel quite quickly, in about six months, and didn’t tell anything to anyone, including my family, until it was finished.
You have been a journalist, a spin doctor and you are now a novelist: which job is the most difficult and which is the most fulfilling?
Being a journalist was the easiest of the three and being a spin doctor was both the most fulfilling and the most difficult job. It was tough and challenging but gratifying because I was part of a team which not only changed the country, but I believe changed it for the better. It is also very gratifying, though not as difficult, to write a novel, because you get to start something from scratch, created entirely from your imagination. Also, I was recently contacted by someone on Facebook, who told me that reading my book completely changed his view on mental illness, which was hugely rewarding for me.
The novel has been described as semi-autobiographical. How much of yourself have you put in the characters and is there one in particular you most identify with?
Several aspects of the characters are inspired from my own experiences. I suffer from depression, like most of them, and did myself some of the therapies I describe in the book. At times, I identified with the psychiatrist: when I was in politics, I was at the centre of the action, so -like him- I often had to guess what people were thinking. I also had a nervous breakdown, so I know how it feels to crack up, and this part of the novel is inspired from my own experience. The MP is an alcoholic, like I was. The way David feels and describes depression in the book is very much like mine, although unlike him, I was lucky enough to be able to do things with my life and not to be paralysed by my illness.
The novel shows a very sensitive side of your character, in sharp contrast to your public persona in politics: how did you manage to handle being vilified so much?
I believe you can be both very tough and very vulnerable at the same time. During my ten years with Tony Blair, I sometimes felt depressed, but always managed to isolate my personal state of mind from my job. But when I quit Number 10, I must say that it was very tough, as I suddenly had a lot of time to think and felt very depressed again. I was very active and kept myself very busy, but I felt I had no purpose and nothing I did seemed very gratifying. The book really helped me in that regard, in the sense that I realised it wasn’t a problem anymore not to know exactly what I was going to do with my life, and that for the first time, I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. The things I miss are also the things I don’t miss: I miss having a sole mission, but I don’t miss the constant pressure and the fact that I always had to leave choices to others. As for being vilified, it didn’t really affect me or my kids, but it was tough for my mother. What I hated though was when I did a briefing, but that the journalists chose instead to talk about me rather than the policy.
What has been your most memorable moment at Downing Street?
The best moment, without a doubt, was the day of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. But when I look back at those ten years, I don’t really think about good or bad times, more about the fact that we have achieved something that was very difficult.
For someone who has been used to being constantly surrounded by people, doesn’t it feel lonely to be a novelist?
I sometimes feel a bit lonely, but I am fine most of the time. I don’t mind my own company and can easily stay at my computer writing for eight hours straight. That said, I do like being part of a team, so enjoy meeting with my publisher and my agent.
What is your next move?
I am writing another novel, which is about the friendship between a famous actress and her best friend. I am working on the third draft so am almost finished now. (It is actually finished now. It is called Maya, the name of the film star – AC) I would really like to turn the novels into films, and maybe write the scripts myself. But I also want to do different things in my life, and don’t really have a career plan anymore.
Can you tell us something we don’t know about yourself?
I am terrified of dentists and injections. Not long ago, I was at the hospital and when I saw the nurse approaching with the needle, I fainted.
All in the Mind (Hutchinson) is published in french under the title Tout est dans la tête (Albin Michel)
Alastair Campbell in Dates:
- 25 May 1957: Born in Yorkshire, one of four children of Scottish veterinary surgeon Donald Campbell and his wife, Elizabeth.
- 1979: Graduates from Cambridge University with a degree in modern languages. Spends a year in France as a university assistant and writes pornographic stories for magazine Forum.
- 1982-1994: Moves to London to work as a journalist and then as political editor for The Daily Mirror and Today.
- 1986: Hospitalized after a nervous breakdown triggered by alcoholism and stress.
- 1987: Birth of the first of his three children (now aged 21, 19 and 14) from partner Fiona Millar.
- 1994: Becomes Tony Blair’s press secretary when the latter is elected leader of the Labour Party.
- 1997: Nominated Prime Minister’s Chief Press Secretary and Official Spokesman by Tony Blair after the Labour Party’s victory.
- 2001: Nominated Director of Communication and Strategy by Tony Blair.
- 2003: Resigns during the Hutton inquiry (which eventually clears him in relation to the suicide of Professor David Kelly).
- 2003-2007: Volunteers as chairman of fundraising for Leukemia Research, writes articles on sports for The Times.
- 2007: Publishes The Blair Years (Random House), part of his diaries at Downing Street from 1994 to 2003, which becomes an instant bestseller.
- 2008: Publishes his first novel All in the Mind (Hutchinson) and broadcasts Cracking Up, a documentary on BBC2 on his nervous breakdown in 1986.
- April 2009: All in the Mind Translated in French (Tout est dans la Tête).
- And here is the one from KYODO NEWS
- FOCUS: Hatoyama gov’t makes encouraging start, says ex-Blair media chief
by William Hollingworth
The new Japanese government has improved the way it communicates with the public and is starting to stand up to the once all-powerful bureaucracy, according to the man who once served as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s media chief and who gave advice to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan on strategy before the general election.
Alastair Campbell says he ”senses” the new DPJ-led government is delivering clearer messages to voters and can see the government is employing some of the techniques and structures that were used by the former British prime minister when his center-left Labour party came into office in 1997.
Before taking the reins of power in mid-September, the DPJ was keen to look at how other parties made the transition into government, particularly after a long spell in opposition. The Liberal Democratic Party had ruled Japan for over half a century.
DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa met Campbell and other Labour officials to see how they made their mark in government.
Campbell, who acted as Blair’s chief spokesman and media strategist between 1994 and 2003, told Kyodo News that Ozawa and his team were particularly interested in how to deal with the civil service.
Critics have argued that Japanese public officials have wielded too much influence over policy formulation with ministers effectively rubber-stamping what has been decided by bureaucrats, individual lawmakers and various vested interests.
Campbell explained, ”I said that in my experience the civil service machine responded well to clear leadership.
”I emphasized that any new government has a period when interest in, and support for it, is at its height, and it is vital to use that time well.
”I emphasized the need to win external and internal support for change. My impression is that the Japanese civil service is more driven by its own agenda than ours, so it is doubly important the public understands the nature of the changes proposed and the reasons.”
Campbell said Ozawa was ”very well informed” about the structural changes Blair had made to government, ”in particular the strengthening of the center.”
And Blair’s former adviser can see aspects of this being replicated in Japan, despite the very different political cultures.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has sought to end the influence of individual lawmakers and bureaucrats in policymaking and instead promoted the Cabinet as the main policy-formulating body.
The new government has developed a series of Cabinet committees to help policy formulation – a mechanism imported from Britain. The new National Policy Unit, headed by Naoto Kan, deputy prime minister, is also designed to bolster the center by creating ”national visions.”
Campbell said, ”They wanted a detailed analysis of how we made those (structural) changes (to strengthen the center) and what effect we felt they had. I briefed them on our meetings structures, forward planning functions, liaison within the government and also some of the structures we set up during major international crises.”
The DPJ has also taken a close look at how Labour presented its case to the electorate in the election manifesto. In 1997, Labour produced an eye-catching card for voters which listed five specific pledges designed to counter the impression that politicians are all hot air.
And this summer, the DPJ paid great importance to its manifesto with a series of pledges.
Campbell, who has published ”The Blair Years,” said, ”The impression I gained was of people with a clear agenda for change but who knew that sometimes promising change is easier than making it happen.
”But I also sensed a real determination. I suppose if there was a single message I sought to impart it was the importance of clarity of objective, toughness of strategy and the necessity of clear leadership and teamwork.”
Now that the DPJ is in office, Campbell ”senses” an attempt by the government to be more ”strategic in communications” and to give ”sharper and clearer messages.”
He believes the new government will need to constantly explain to the electorate the changes that are being made and why.
Christopher Hood, an expert in Japanese studies at Cardiff University, agrees the DPJ has taken a leaf out of Labour’s book, in terms of communicating clear pledges to voters.
He said, ”The DPJ seems to be getting sharper at this. This has been a general weakness in Japanese politics in the past so I would say it’s a refreshing change.
”Having said that, I think the DPJ will find and, in relation to dams for example, may already be finding, that sometimes reality steps in and they have to rethink pledges.”
The DPJ’s policy of suspending and reviewing the construction of new dams across the country has been deeply unpopular in some municipalities.
Hood is unsure to what extent British practices can be introduced into Japan given the different political cultures and the long tradition of an all-powerful bureaucracy.
”I think the shift to reduce the influence of the bureaucrats will be an interesting one. If only Japan had a version of ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’ to watch!”
These BBC comedy programs showed how powerful civil servants were in comparison to their hapless political masters.
And if you got to the end of all that … you need to get out more. Have a good weekend