The Nudgeocon

I almost resigned after Campbell spiked me

Not a few of my friends, on seeing the headline “Star columnist quits New Statesman”, rang up to say, “Good God, man, what took you so long?” It turns out, of course, that the headline referred not to me, but to some woman called Moore. That said, when I finally got my hands on the issue in question and discovered that the guest editor, Alistair Campbell, had spiked my column to make room for his wife, his football manager and the chap down the road who is helping with his website, I was so insanely furious that I even “went on line” in an effort to make my displeasure evident. Not something I’d recommend. If Campbell had conclusively demonstrated that asking someone in PR to edit your magazine was not a good idea, this website thing, a mishmash of illiteracy and illogic, showed how dismal all would be if, God forbid, the readers were allowed to write the darned thing. Frankly, they don’t deserve us.

Amid the nonsense, only one comment stood out (pallasathene: “Jeffrey Archer apart, is there a more discredited figure in Britain than Campbell?”) and this only because I am currently assisting JA with his latest book. A delicate task, given that he likes to be known as “Britain’s greatest living storyteller”. This, in itself, is a minor diplomatic victory on my behalf, as for many years he required us to refer to him as “Britain’s greatest living author”. During his manic pomp – when the talk was of Booker prizes and, on one preposterous occasion, the Nobel – he even let it be known that he favoured “Britain’s greatest literary novelist”.

His latest effort is Paths of Glory and it is certainly an improvement on The Gospel According to Judas. Nevertheless, it might be described as a tough read. Although, again searching for the positives, it is a marginally more assured piece of storytelling than the Incarceration Trilogy (A Prison Diary: Volume One – Hell;

A Prison Diary: Volume Two – Purgatory; Prison Diary 3*).

In a perfect world, one would leave Archer to peddle his own work, but this option is not available to us because private polling states that Jeffrey is not only the most recognisable Tory but, and the figures can’t lie, the most popular. For every highbrow who disdains him, there are a couple of blue rinses who adore him. A visit from Archer to your constituency “can put a thousand on the vote”, as he regularly reminds each and every candidate.

And he is actually telling the truth! In return, all he asks is that we drum up some favourable reviews for his latest. This, inevitably, is a grey area, but an “unimprovable” in a respected Sunday broadsheet is usually sufficient to guarantee a safeish seat. Were anyone to go on Newsnight Late Review and unstintingly praise Paths of Glory (a step too far for even the ambitious Gove), then the shadow cabinet would beckon.

The literary world is benter than a politician’s expenses claim and

we must take cognisance of the fact. So, when the paperback edition of Paths of Glory comes out with “Assured piece of storytelling . . .

Britain’s greatest living novelist . . . unimprovable: New Statesman” on

the cover, Archer will be very grateful and, more importantly, know whom to thank.

*The change in title format being suggested by, somewhat surprisingly, his regular visitors in jail Donald Sinden and Barry Humphries

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The end of American power