The Spectator

More Mole than Machiavelli

More Mole than Machiavelli
Text settings

Well, Alan Clark he aint.

The publication today of Alastair Campbell's diaries looks set to be a colossal damp squib. I haven't read the 794-page book, but judging from the extracts he's posted on his website Campbell's observations are almost comically uninteresting. Here he is, for example, on meeting the Princess of Wales in 1995:

"She's standing there absolutely, spellbindingly, drop-dead gorgeous, in a way that the millions of photos didn't quite get.

"She said 'Hello', held out her hand and said she was really pleased to meet me, so I mumbled something back about being more pleased.

"'It would make a very funny picture if there were any paparazzi in those trees,' she said.” This is the sort of thing you'd expect Adrian Mole to record in his diaries, not the man dubbed Britain's "real" deputy Prime Minister. 

Where's the caustic wit? The quicksilver intelligence? The doffing of the cap from one spin master to another? He makes Tina Brown look like James Boswell.

Of course, the fact that Campbell's diaries are so boring is partly deliberate. By his own admission, the diaries have been "vetted" by Tony Blair and the stuff Campbell's been forced to leave out would, according to him, provide David Cameron with a "gold mine". So far, the biggest "revelation" is that Blair wanted to resign at the end of his second term and was forced to stay in office because his country needed him -- a story that could hardly be more flattering to the former Prime Minister if Campbell had cooked it up while still at Number 10.

Not only are the diaries designed to serve the interests of Campbell's ex-boss, but they're clearly intended to rehabilitate the disgraced ex-spinmeister, too. The Observer's big scoop yesterday was that the diaries reveal Campbell was plunged into a “personal crisis" by the death of Dr David Kelly. According to Stuart Pebble, who's made the BBC's forthcoming three-part special on the diaries, "If your knowledge comes only from the media, your impression might be of a man who is confident, takes no prisoner.  When you read the book, you get the impression of a guy who is more vulnerable ... His reaction to David Kelly, for example, it was devastating for him."

Campbell "devastated" by Dr Kelly's death? This seems so unlikely given everything we know about the man it actually casts doubt on the authenticity of the diaries.

As I say, I haven't yet read the diaries, but they look suspiciously like just another piece of spin designed to big up Tony Blair and his cronies. It is this, and not simply Campbell's surprisingly ordinary cast of mind, that will make the diaries such a flop. What the reader wants from a political memoirist is complete, bridge-burning candour

-- an account from inside the corridors of power that's untainted by the author's calculation of his own future interests.

Ironically, the sheer dullness of Campbell's diaries will have the opposite of their intended effect. Until now, I had always thought of Campbell as a brilliant, Machiavellian figure and this, in turn, made Blair appear prudent for having hired him. However, now that he's revealed as more of a Pooter-like character -- not so much Iago as Polonius -- Blair seems diminished. As Bismarck said of Napoleon III, Alastair Campbell turns out to be a sphinx without a riddle.