J P O'Malley

Alastair Campbell interview: Northern Ireland, David Kelly, Margaret Thatcher and Leveson

Alistair Campbell began his career as a journalist. He started working for The Daily Mirror in 1982 and then moved onto Today, a former British leftwing tabloid. In 1994 Tony Blair asked him to become his press secretary, and Campbell worked on Labour’s media campaign, where he helped them achieve a landslide victory in 1997.
That same year he became both the Prime Minister’s Chief Press Secretary and Official Spokesman. In Labour’s second term he took on the role of Director of Communications for the party.

Campbell has just published The Irish Diaries (1994-2003). The book describes the various ups and downs of the Northern Ireland peace process over a period of nine years. Written in real time, as historical events were unfolding, the diaries reveal in an intimate and informal tone, the last minute negotiations that went on through the early morning of April 10 1998, just moments before the Good Friday Agreement was about to be signed . Other highlights of the book include accompanying Tony Blair to the White House to seek advice from Bill Clinton about diplomatic protocol in international reconciliation politics.

The more sobering moments here are when Campbell recalls the aftermaths of the Real IRA bombing in August 1998 in Omagh, when it appeared as if a violent struggle- where bullets took preference over the ballot box- would continue for some time. Campbell explains in a candid manner the delicate balancing act of bringing unionists and nationalists together to sign the most significant agreement between Britain and Ireland since the Anglo-Irish-Treaty of 1921.

At his home in North London, Campbell talked to me about some of the more controversial figures he met on both the Republican and Unionist side of the negotiating table: many of whom were still involved in paramilitary organisations at the time. He also discussed why he believes the Conservative Party presently lack a strategic plan, how New Labour gleaned much of their ideology from Margaret Thatcher, and how the death of Dr David Kelly has affected his own personal and professional life.

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