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  1. Politics
24 July 2000

Twelve steps to heaven and No10

Celia Brayfielddetects the hand of Alcoholics Anonymous in new Labour's approach

By Celia Brayfield

In the best traditions of British political life, Alastair Campbell, having spun the government into the ground with Michael Cockerell’s eye-popping BBC documentary, has been promoted. He now takes the role of its presiding genius for the next election.

In moving on up, Campbell just missed the fallout from the leak of that exceptionally image-obsessed memo from the Prime Minister. They are an unnerving bunch, the anonymous authors now toiling over the new message-script. Intense. Unsmiling. Droids who all twitter the correct jargon from the same programme. Zap the remote, and the screen displays an eye-catching initiative.

They share with AC (as Campbell was referred to in the memo) a laser-like focus and the compulsion to live just one day at a time. Thinking beyond the next 24 hours seems too challenging for them.

One day at a time – there’s the telling phrase, the watchword of the addiction-control therapies developed on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. The strange demeanour of AC and his acolytes suggests that they have attended a 12-step programme and are now harnessing its philosophy to govern the nation. Crowd-Pleasers Anonymous, perhaps.

Let me make it clear right now that I have nothing but respect for 12-step programmes; they have saved the lives of at least three people who are dear to me and who never cease to sing the programmes’ praises. Like all effective therapies, however, their success has made them vulnerable to dilution, adaptation and extrapolation.

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Such programmes now exist for those addicted to work, exercise, shopping, sex, power and control, so a customised package for the government should be simple to devise.

Corralling the lost sheep in the House of Commons crypt once a day for a recitation of the following should do the trick:

Step 1 – we admit that we are powerless over our dependencies and that our lives have become unmanageable. We have been living in a fantasy world, unable to cope with life, sunk so deep in denial that we cannot see how chaotic our lives have become and how we have lost sight of the gut British instincts.

Step 2 – we believe that the Higher Power/Deity/Supreme Being/Universe/ God can restore us to sanity. Said Deity hereinafter conceived to be the Prime Minister, also called TB.

Step 3 – we have decided to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the Deity. With TB, all things are possible. We trust TB and lean on him, not on our own understanding. When we trust TB, we can begin to trust ourselves and others.

Step 4 – we have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Looking weak, soft or insufficiently assertive; being found out; straying off-message; failing to exploit public concerns for TB’s benefit; trusting journalists (especially BBC journalists) – it was all our fault. All this is perception, but what the hell, AC says we have to get with the programme.

Step 5 – we have admitted to TB, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. True courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to overcome fear. (Those unable to find a human being within a £10 taxi fare from Millbank should notify JP who will supply one from party resources.)

Step 6 – we are entirely ready to have TB remove all these defects of character. It will take a while. But it is precisely the sort of thing that AC can do now that a new system is in place to free up his time. We will let go of our destructive coping skills, stop leaking memos and stitching up our colleagues in public, and begin our progress towards victory. Sorry, towards perfection.

Step 7 – we humbly ask TB to remove our shortcomings. Pain has been our teacher, the pain of seeing our popularity wane, our by-elections lost and ourselves looking silly on television. TB will use pain to change us, not to punish us.

Step 8 – we have made a list of all persons we have harmed and are willing to make amends to them all. Excluding persons under the age of 18, in jail or certified insane. And any MPs not covered by those descriptions. We look at the electorate we have ignored, patronised and bamboozled, those with whom we have had inappropriate political relationships, and any others we have hurt who didn’t vote last time but may now, and we are ready to put things right.

Step 9 – we will make direct amends to these people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Or TB. So keep this confidential, eh? No owning up to anything outside this room.

Step 10 – we will continue to take personal inventory and, when we are wrong, we will promptly admit it. Unless they are still filming, in which case we will stick to the message-script.

Step 11 – we will seek through briefings and brainstorms to improve our conscious contact with TB, praying only for the knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out. Prayer is talking to TB. Meditation is listening to TB. Feng shui is a waste of time unless the Chinese pay us another visit.

Step 12 – having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we will carry this message to others and practise these principles in all our affairs. We will devise the correct policy responses, formulate a tough public message and highlight the government’s achievements at every opportunity.

A meeting for co-dependants and partners of CPA members, formerly known as the lobby, will follow immediately.