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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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland