"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"In this latest outburst, Campbell summons up his doppelgänger Malcolm Tucker"
Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's pet Rottweiler, can't help himself. After an appearance on BBC Newsnight to discuss Brexit last week, he apologised to the show host. Yet, he didn't have the good grace to apologise to the fellow panelist he’d bullied.
As the architect of the spin that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, Campbell underwent years of inquiries and earned much public disgust, especially around the suicide of weapons expert Doctor David Kelly. And while he was cleared of blame, much of the brown stuff thrown at him stuck. That he remains defiant, arrogant and dismissive of his critics in face of the evidence hasn't helped restore his reputation.
And yet he's had some success in a rebranding exercise through a podcast with the tame and polite former Tory MP Rory Stewart. “The Rest is Politics” podcast comes billed as a rational discussion from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Although this framing is misleading because both Campbell and Stewart have centralist thinking. Thus, they agree on most things with minimal disagreement.
Likewise, many of their guests get the kid's gloves treatment which often drifts into fawning. Listen to the episode with Hillary Clinton when they sing her praises and fail to tackle such issues as her attacks on her husband's accusers while she wears the cloak of a feminist. They also went easy on former terrorist leader Gerry Adams.
In fairness, Stewart had a fair stab at confronting Campbell over his actions around the Iraq war during a broadcast to mark the anniversary of the invasion. Still, Campbell managed to deflect and dodge. I’ve seen him do this several times and the formula is clear; make light of the question, then distract with some tangential issue and move on.
At first I enjoyed their podcast, but that has waned as the discussions are increasingly dominated by Campbell. At times it feels like Rory Stewart is developing Stockholm Syndrome as he rarely stands his ground. As such, their podcast is now an echo chamber.
In this latest outburst, Campbell summons up his doppelgänger Malcolm Tucker, the fictitious king of spin from the TV show “The Thick of It.” First, Campbell launched a full-throated attack on former MEP Alex Phillips before then moving on to slag off the host Victoria Derbyshire.
In the process, Campbell got his facts partly wrong. And he's hardly able to lecture anyone on the truth, given the Iraq saga. Here is the crux of the matter.
But at least this time he's dropping half-truth bombs instead of real bombs on innocent Iraq kids. That's an improvement.
This latest outburst sits oddly with Campbell's constant gripes about impoliteness in debates and being willing to listen to the other side and engage. Also, he made a lengthy rant on his podcast attacking Dominic Rabb as a bully, yet he does the same.
After his heated Newsnight exchange on camera, Campbell allegedly pursued Phillips as she left the studio. According to some accounts, fearful staff escorted her to the safety of a side office because they assessed Campbell's behaviour as menacing.
The other aspect to consider is that Campbell makes great play around mental health issues, frequently mentioning his struggle with depression and the work he does to help others. All commendable stuff, except I do wonder if he has serious anger problems.
There are several things that intrigue me about Campbell. At times he is remarkably engaging, eloquent with his insights into British politics, while simultaneously willfully blind to his personal faults. Many of the criticism he lays at the door of others equally apply to him.
Still as the mask slipped from the Yorkshire-born grammar school boy, what emerged on Newsnight was an intolerant, abusive individual. But is anyone surprised? We've all long suspected that Campbell inspired the infamous fictional Malcolm Tucker.
He's just confirmed it.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.