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If Labour’s team had stayed united, I think we might have staved off a Bullingdon government

Posted on 18 June 2012 | 12:06pm

I can hardly complain at The Guardian’s ‘brilliant but bonkers’ headline on the second part of the extracts they are running from my new book, Burden of Power.

Tony Blair said the words, and he said them about Gordon Brown, so even though it is not news that there were sometimes difficulties between them, and even though these have inspired books, films and thousands of headlines, I can see why a newspaper might find that quote worth running.

My own reaction on seeing the headline, partly because of a residual sense of loyalty to Labour leaders, partly because of my mental health campaigning work, was ‘ouch.’

I have friends in the Labour Party, more Blairite than Brownite, who fail to understand why I continue to say good things about Gordon, when not just my book but those of others, have revealed so clearly how difficult he could be. The self same people fail to understand how I, and Peter Mandelson, Philip Gould and others, went back to help him in the last election.

The answer can be found not just in tribalism, but also in other parts of the book where the ‘brilliant’ side can be seen more clearly. A lot of the New Labour successes, and whatever anyone says they were many and varied, were at least in part down to Gordon, his values, his vision, his workrate and his understanding of politics. The current economic crisis would suggest he was right on the euro too.

There is a point in the book where Tony says he ‘does not want’ the TB-GB rivalry to be THE story of the Government. It is certainly A story of the times we lived through, and one that will be talked about, written about, studied for years to come. But so will many of the things they did together which made Britain a better country, and the world a better place.

Politics, whether we like it or not, is at least in part about the personalities of the people in it. Tony and Gordon were similar in some ways, very different in others. Stefan Stern tweeted this morning that they come over in the diaries like a married couple who sometimes thought of murdering each other, but never of divorcing. The book records Jonathan Powell as saying it felt like watching a marriage disintegrate.

Just like a football team, a political team works best when everyone is working together, knowing their role, carrying it out, picking up the pieces for others when they fall down. When we were all in that mode, we were unstoppable. But perhaps because politics ultimately is so much about different people with different views, it just isn’t possible to keep indefinitely the kind of unity you need. I do however wish we had. I think we might still have a Labour Government, rather than the Bullingdon government we have now, if the big players had managed to stick together better.

Ps … I cannot seem to put the link on here, but if you visit The Guardian website, they have set an audio interview I did last week to pictures of the past. Will try to get it on here later. I have retweeted it from someone else for those on twitter.

  • Chris lancashire

    Wrong yet again Mr Campbell. The Blair years will forever be remembered for Iraq – nothing else. The Brown era will be remembered for Nokia throwing, backstabbing, briefing and financial meltdown – nothing else.

  • Anonymous

    You more than anyone, Alastair, know how difficult Gordon Brown could be. Even from the outside it was obvious. But I never resented GB for being difficult, and for making TB’s life (and the life of some of his staff) more complicated than it had to be. He had many strengths which were pivotal in the success of the New Labour government. The people that bothered me were those members of GB’s team and other Brownites who led an insurgency against Tony Blair. The likes of Balls, Tom Watson, Khalid Mahmood etc. who not only stabbed TB in the back but also signed a document asking him to step down. They betrayed the Labour Party, demonstrated to the country that the party was completely divided, and ultimately paved the way to a Tory government. 

  • Ehtch

    have you heard what has happened to Tom Maynard Alastair on the underground? I am feeling paranoid for something like this to happen, oh fuck i do not know how i feel oh fuckfuck fuck                                          

  • reaguns

    Just to say I’m at an airport terminal and someone else may post gibberish on my behalf once my credit runs out!

  • Ed W

    It’s also interesting that in every area of disagreement mentioned in that extract (private sector provision of public services, top-up fees, and the euro), Brown was right and Blair was wrong. If only his intransigence had succeeded in all three cases…

  • Jbmcfadden66

    Blair/Brown made the world a better place.Fantastic comedy,keep it up.

  • Anonymous

    Alastair, you are fallen into the dying tory establishment of divide and conquer. Don’t let them question yourself if you  are “Blarite” or “Brownite”. That is what the fuckers want you to do. Let them carry and burn themselves even more out in this government, as with all things, it takes time, and the torys hang on in history like a hanged man with super large lungs. Etonians and the rest should count themselves lucky at the end of the seventies we respected them enough not to cause a civil war. And what thanks did we get, ey? Fuck all, just unemployment, and soacial houising sold off. Idiots. Should have put them up against the wall while we had a chance, ’78.

  • Anonymous

    Divide and rule as ever – still fighting the class war. It’s not the origins of our leaders that matter, and if you can only attack them because of their privilege then you have an empty argument.

  • Anonymous

    I have been a tribal Blair supporter for years but I can see that on 3 big issues-Iraq,Murdoch and Europe-he was wrong…And my respect for Brown has grown.He may have drawbacks but his achievements are considerable.

  • Three terms is enough for any party, to be honest two terms is, which is why US Presidents get only 8 years.

    Unlike the Tories when they lost so big in ’97 it is possible that we could see a majority Labour government back in power in two years or even less, even with Ed.Miliband.


  • Richard

    Foul mouthing at every opportunity will certainly not add anything to a most distressing story, Ehtch. Just drop the expletives: your contribuition will be no less worthy.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Yes, sorry agreed. Apologies. My mind was a bit gone yesterday. A local person died in Sicily competing in a motor rally at the weekend, only 23, and then this. But this was something else, and just totally senseless. Suppose as many lost for words.

  • Anonymous

    I think its an over simplification to say if the Labour party had remained  united things would have been different. There were two factors outside their control, the financial crisis (the mess left by the banking institutions) and the Nick effect. For a period, the banking crisis made the Govt  unpopular, fair or otherwise doesn’t matter, and Nick looked like a real politician. IF Labour has been better at presenting themselves, then there may have been a different result, but its unlikely that a Labour Govt would have been formed

    Its also swings and roundabouts, TB and GB never (appeared) to look to their party’s future, it was all about now (in terms of people and pushing talent – you can’t do that if you are involved in infighting) So Labour lost GB – probably good in the round, but the UK lost AD, who left an economy that was pointed in the right direction

    What the wrecking ball Tory led Govt have done is to smash any confidence, and the result is the double dip. It has also allowed them in fear of being a one or less term Govt make ideologically led changes, not evidence based ones

  • Dave Simons

    I don’t think that’s a balanced assessment. Brown will certainly be remembered for ‘no more boom and bust’ and ‘British jobs for British workers’, to mention two major gaffs. And he’ll be remembered for unleashing the Bank of England. In coming years though I think there will be a recognition that in a position of financial emergency, as happened in late 2008, he and Alistair Darling acted quickly and decisively and no-one was left queueing at the cash tills for no money. A major national crisis was averted and it influenced other world politicians. Even Conservative politicians will be admitting what they now prefer, for crudely opportunistic reasons, to deny. I don’t think Brown was a good Prime Minister and I’m a bit baffled as to why he wanted the job – he was better as Chancellor. But he had substance and intellectual depth – something conspicuously lacking from his successor.

  • Richard

    If my auntie had testicles she’d be my uncle!

  • Michele

     I’m not sure what the initialism you have left for me elsewhere stands for ….  care to advise?

  • Dave Simons

    Do you mean his ‘FO YSB!’ (17 June)?
    It’s a good example of Richard ‘foul mouthing at every opportunity’, something he simultaneously upbraids Ehtch for. I think R.D.Laing would have called it ‘The Divided Self’.

  • Graham

    I think history will be kinder to GB, just as it will be to TB over Iraq. I thought Iraq was a mistake, because it was always going to cost us and the Iraqi people many, many lives; however, I do believe the decision was done with the best intentions, at least on TB’s part. I believe Bush had other motives.
    It is inevitable for rows to erupt, at the high end in politics. Everyone believe’s they are right, and over time, ego’s get badly bruised. Gordon had maybe built up too much baggage before he took over as PM. He was a brilliant chancellor, but found that people’s expectations had changed from their PM, and his enemies were lining up. It is to your credit, that you waited to publish the unedited version of your diaries, and that you returned to the trenches, at election time, when some didn’t. 
    Did the Gillian Duffy incident cost Labour the election? 
    No, I don’t think so. Not to the extent some people think. 
    What happened at the election, was that the trust in Labour had been eroded. People no longer saw Labour as a united party. People looked like they were positioning themselves as leader, before the election had been called. 
    The people trusted GB on the econony,  but they never got to know him, like they did with TB. Tony Blair could connect with people on a personal level, and they had come to expect that as the norm, from the Prime Minister. Cameron looks false, because his public performances are disingenuous. People are beginning to see through him now, as well as his policies.

  • Anonymous

    I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I enjoy using the full breadth of the english language, warts and all.

  • Richard

    Thanks for the enquiry, but if you had stopped for
    a moment and

    consulted your urban dictionary you would have found that:

    FO= Full On

    YSB = Yo Shutup Bro

    LOL : GSM as they say at Wimbledon!

  • Richard

    See above, Dave.
    I think you should call it “jumping to conclusions.”……. and wash your mind out!

  • Anonymous

    I am a fan of Blair, all things considered, and not a fan of Brown, however I think you are right in that history will be kinder to both of them than contemporary opinion.

    I think Brown’s decision to bail out the rich bankers with money from poor taxpayers, will still be viewed as morally repugnant, as both anti capitalist and anti socialist… but people will recognise that mainstream economists of the day backed his decisions. So though it was wrong, it wasn’t all his fault, in a similar way Roosevelt, as well as doing much good, did many things that turned out to be awful but they were what his economics ‘experts’ advised him to do.

    Blair is despised by the left because he went to war, and to the far left all wars are always wrong always unless they are in the name of global communism.
    Blair is despised by the right because of immigration.
    Most of the general population disagrees with the war and with immigration, but as always there is no populist party to vote for who opposes both.

    But in time it may turn out that the Iraq war and the immigration were the right things to do, though it seems highly unlikely at present.

    With Iraq, there were difficult consequences either way, yes thousands died in the war, but Saddam was killing thousands before the war and would have kept on doing so. The question is was it a bad geopolitical move to remove the counterbalance against Iran in the region.

    With immigration the question is did Blair do it so that we would have the young refreshed vibrant population we need for the future, or did he do it as a way of bringing in lots of people who he expected to be Labour voters.

  • Michele

     Don’t you think that ‘privilege’ is about more than the materialist origins of a person?
    Things come down to parenting, not letting your sprog think the respect their ancestors earned is passed along with the wealth, it isn’t a commodity.
    I daresay the locals where Dave grew up doffed their caps to him even as a child (given that some would have been household employees) so I wonder does he allow it if similar is happening towards his children from the staff at No10?

    We can look at Dave’s parents; Mum as a magistrate clearly felt
    qualified to sit in judgement at a level where personal discretion is
    more free than in higher courts.  Dad as a stockbroker was capitalist, no more.

    In a generous mood one could think that Cam/Osbo aren’t to blame for their upbringing and the snobbery allowed to ferment in them, what matters is how they rear their own children :-s and how they balance the ‘just like everyone else’-ness and everything is subjective.
    Even in early 2010 I read that Samantha had six aides at home, wow.

  • Michele

    Quite so; I must admit I tried googling for it and the early entries on UD made me wonder if it would have been more appropriate re his own erm …….. possible situation!

    However, I’m ‘abouting’ so am off out 🙂

  • Richard

    P.S. Dave, your abuse of psychiatry would have got you a good job in the Soviet Union, destroying all opposition: is this to be the new improved Labour order of things?

  • Dave Simons

    Tell you what, Tricky Dicky – I don’t believe ‘Full On, Yo Shutup Bro’ was your intended meaning. As for washing my mind out, does that mean I’ve got to expunge everything I’ve read of Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Wilmot, Robbie Burns, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Philip Larkin and a host of other literary giants? You were the one complaining about expletives, not me.

  • Michele

     Oh grow some Rich fgs.

    I’m not a bro and the initialism is not anywhere on the net, neither is your yellowbelly offering in context with the particular convo in which you’d placed it elsewhere.

    I don’t actually think much of your opinions of anyone or anything anyway but your sanctimonious hypocrisy all round and your ‘lecture’ re Ehtch’s high emotion was callous. 

  • Dave Simons

    Spoken like a true Welshman, and as Robert Graves wrote in his poem ‘Welsh Incident’ , ‘I was coming to that’!

  • Michele

    Given the news about Jimmy Carr today and I have no idea by what coincidence, this news article has just popped back in to my browsing history ….
    It seems to contain a sniff of a hint that Dave actually inherited more than was law to be declared !!

    Oh noooooooooooo

  • Michele

    Re my last, not yet on, about zillionaires paying 1% tax ,,,, Jacob Rees-Mogg (he does make me laugh but I hope he never gets beyond the back benches) has just been disagreeing with Cameron’s  statement today about Jimmy Carr’s responsibility to pay tax and the shabbiness of his avoidance. 

    To do so JR-M quoted some bloke from 1929 who’d said words along the lines of ‘no man should feel put asunder by obedience to HMRC’.
    Perhaps he needs to recognise that one of the main changes in the last 80+ years is this one (that ye olde ’29 bloke might not have approved of if he’d seen it!).

    ………… capital controls were abolished in 1979, making it legal to take any
    sum of money out of the country without it being taxed or controlled by
    the UK government.Not long after the change, brought in by Margaret Thatcher after her first month in power ……….

  • Ehtch

    FO only means one thing in my mind, and it is the brother of SFA.

    I have given them a male gender, due to it being more used by such, since us men tend to be, umm, more expressive at times, unless you are called Tracey Emin or any other lovely like-minded females. My daughter, for instance, has a right potty mouth too, when push comes to shove.

  • Ehtch

    BLIMEY DAVE! That was one of the first poems I explored in school, directed to by one of my first english teachers, Boris (no, nothing like the other one, well left-wing he was). All about the ability of the welsh to, how can I put this, to be economical with the truth, in fluffing out stories. We are good at that.

    By the way, my old english teacher, he was barely five foot tall, brilliant sense of humour, brilliant at cricket, when once he asked the class to give him a proper noun, I said Mars, and he said “Strewth Huw, keep it on planet Earth, please!”. And Boris was his nickname, by the way.

    Richard Burton with that poem,

  • Dave Simons

    I think a lot of Tory politicians and their supporters will be getting very nervous about Cameron’s pronouncement on tax avoidance. Pop stars and satirical comedians aren’t the only ones! What interests me is that ‘The Times’ seems to be spearheading a campaign and putting pressure on the government. I wonder if Murdoch is wreaking a bit of revenge against the Coalition over News International’s phone-hacking scandal. Just thinking aloud but trying not to be too conspiratorial…..

  • Dave Simons

    Arguing against something is not quite the same as ‘destroying all opposition’. In the Soviet Union I would have been in a Siberian camp.

  • Dave Simons

    Glad to have evoked that memory and thanks for the Burton. I’d only previously heard Graves reading the poem. Yes it’s funny, as Shakespeare’s Owen Glendower might have agreed, or might not!

  • Mark

    I don’t hold much of  brief for Gordon Brown – my preference was for the other bloke (!) –  but the “boom and bust” thing wasn’t entirely wrong if you are charitable enough to look at it’s context.

    You have to look back a bit to the period that GB, TB (and me) grew up and became politically conscious – the 60’s and 70’s – with its “stop go” cycles during which the economy grew but then had to be pulled back because of inflation. It was to give credibility to the fight against inlfation that GB gave the Bank it’s role in fixing interest rates (which largely worked).

    Even now we don’t have the “stagflation” problems we had 30 or so years ago with high interest rates AND slump conditions. At least now interest rates reflect today’s poor outlook rather than militating against them.

    If Gordon had said that he put in place condtions that enable us to recover better from a slump in the trade cycle (though not easilly the kind of crisis in the world economy we have seen in 2008) he would have been on stronger ground.

  • Michele

    Silly me, I didn’t place the link that the above is referring to (an article suggesting DC might have inherited more than we know about as a will only needs to include what’s in this country !! ).

    Good news re Jimmy Carr, I don’t envy him at his next live performances 🙁

  • Michele

     The Gillian Duffy incident was bad (even though GB was right about someone so determined about that one issue that she pushed ahead of other people around him).

    The media suggesting he would take it out on the colleague that had arranged the walkabout made things a lot worse.  I’m sure she’s tough enough that had she been questioned she’d have brushed off any suggestion of being offended. 
    The timing was critical but someone used to that level of pressure knows such blather can’t be taken personally, no need for the media to recognise that though. 
    Nice Nick wouldn’t even have spoken to GB about a different collaboration if he’d suspected GB was so disloyal would he?

    Clegg needs to watch his back now imhoo, he’s trapped in this marriage, no way out. 
    Even if LDs don’t simply abstain but actually vote with the Opposition and Others on a topic staying true to any part of their history they might all together out-vote the Tories in HoC but the same figures wouldn’t win them a NCV.
    If it was at all funny it would be worth a giggle to think how Cam has outflanked Clegg (and even got him to a-nynce the changes).

  • Michele

    Just seen the tweet re Philip Green … HEAR HEAR …. he shafted every single supplier when he took over BHS, for retrospective discount on their preceding 12m trading (that or severance).

  • Gilliebc

    I think that is exactly what Murdoch is up to!  Hell noweth no fury, or something like that.  Things could get very interesting indeed.  He certainly isn’t a man to take things lying down. 

  • Michele

     I’d imagine that in terms of Govt income he’d be doing them a favour, especially if the avoiders that do fall in line do so from the next tax year making a nice windfall pre 2015!

    I doubt any will be paying any back tax, that would show some real altruism ….

    I’m holding my breath about two particular satirists’ tax affairs 😉

  • Anonymous

    (posted reply of below here – things were getting thin there)

    Owain Glyndwr, please – anyway, Shakespeare couldn’t spell…

    Google Iolo Morganwg, from a couple of hundred years ago, a welsh semi-fantacist. Robert Graves could have easily been talking about him. Interesting character was Iolo. Wiki page of him here,

  • Dave Simons

    Interesting, but as long as we retain – or remain stuck with – the capitalist mode of production I think it will be unwise for anyone to claim to have initiated policies from which you can say, ‘No more boom or bust’. Boom and bust are endemic to the system. The longest UK boom was from about 1954 to 1973, with a lot of creaking from 1967 onwards, before the hammer blow of late 1973. That long boom has never since been repeated (I discount the selective ‘boom’ in the  later 1980s when Thatcher sold off taxpayers’ assets into private hands at knock-down prices) and we can argue about what caused it – applied Keynesianism maybe, especially government spending on heavy duty arms, but also on welfare and infrastructure? I think Gordon’s ‘no more boom and bust’ attitude led to him being unguarded, to the extent that, like a lot of us, he didn’t see 2008 coming.

  • Mark Wright

    TB and GB filled in each other’s blanks.

    The further achievements that *could* have been accomplished with a unified TB/GB is one of the greatest ‘what if”s in modern politics.

    A shame. We all lost out as a result.

  • Michele

    Back in to the off-topic topic, that of legalised (by Thatcher 32 yrs ago) tax avoidance in off-shore schemes (which Dave & Siblings’ Dad apparently made heavy use of).

    Sickening thought; could the service charges for these schemes actually be more than the miniscule tax paid?
    Does the talk about avoiders paying 1% tax mean UK revenue or that of the country their scheme is based in?

    I believe most councils and lots of other establishment bodies have been investing their pensions funds in Iceland/elsewhere for years, not being an economist I don’t have a clue what effect this all has on our national balance sheets  …  ho hum, back to the coffee.

  • Ehtch

    The Thatch went totally psychotic when she got in at the third time, so you have an excellent point. But I think Dubious was off his trolley well before he got in at the first time as US President. How did that happen? Nepotism? And as for Reagan, he was well down on a full set of marbles when he became President. “Hey, Nancy, come and listen to this….”.

    Two thick US unimaginative shits.