Alastair Campbell’s spin cycle of violence

Commons confidential.

A righteous Alastair Campbell posing as the George Washington of British politics, a spin doctor who never told a lie, was an enjoyable sideshow during the Ed Miliband-Paul Dacre slugfest and the Damian McBride circus. The old Downing Street weapon of mass disinformation, officially decommissioned after the Iraq war, was fingered as the source of the “psychological flaws” smear against Gordon Brown in New Labour’s early days.

During those long Blair v Brown years, the Labour split extended to the press. Blairites, especially Campbell, sucked up to Rupert Murdoch and the Sunwhile the Brownites assiduously courted Dacre and the Daily Mail. A reactivated Campbell was in full destruct mode when he verbally battered a Mail executive on Newsnight. A snout whispered in my ear that the Mail is compiling a dodgy dossier on Campbell’s friendship with Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s most prized red top. Campbell vDacre has the smell of a dirty fight to the death.

It appears that the Tory conference motto, “For hardworking people”, didn’t impress the zillionaire hedgefund shark Michael Hintze. Alas, I’m unsure quite why. My radar-lugged source was listening intently in a lift in Manchester’s Midland Hotel as the Tory donor tutted disparagingly and declared, “This slogan . . .” before a flunkey, sadly, changed the subject. I’ve asked the source to work harder to discover the basis of Hintze’s quibble.

The TUC’s first lady, Frances O’Grady, has earned elevation to a pantheon of union leaders that includes John Edmonds and Rodney Bickerstaffe, after she rejected a gong. O’Grady, I’m assured, turned down an MBE.

Her hero, the late, great Jack Jones, declined all manner of baubles until he was offered Companion of Honour by the Queen. He accepted the title, arguing it was being bestowed on the T&G union, rather than him personally. O’Grady, I’d wager, isn’t personally interested in honours, full stop.

The GMB, a union representing binmen and dinner ladies, and which has earned a reputation as a scourge of the City, is backing an investment banker, Zaffar Van Kalwala, in the Labour target seat of Brent Central, where the Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather is retiring. The struggle takes many forms, comrades!

The former postie Alan Johnson is scribbling a second volume of his life story after the success of the first, which described how he was brought up by a teenage sister. My chap suggested his writing helps explain why the former home secretary isn’t interested in the shadow cabinet but would graciously serve in a future cabinet. Well, that and how one job comes with a salary and chauffeur but the other doesn’t.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Image: Montage by Dan Murrell

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iran vs Israel

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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