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3 June 2010

Alastair Campbell’s diaries: on today’s leadership pretenders

Blair on “communist” David Miliband; Campbell on “awful” meetings with Ed Balls; Harriet Harman’s fe

By James Macintyre

I’ve been abroad for a few days, and only just got in to find on my desk a copy of the latest diaries by Alastair Campbell, published uncut. They cover the period of 1994-97 and areentitled Prelude to Power.

Having salivated over the prospect of them for some time, I will be blogging more widely on some of the less personality-based elements of the fascinating diaries in due course. But first, a little follow-up to the process begun by the Guardian, whose John Harris produced a fine interview with Campbell which pulled out a few choice quotes about today’s contenders for the Labour leadership. Here are the Guardian‘s bits:

Ed Miliband: 14 June 1995

I kept pressing Ed Miliband to explain our economic message in a nutshell and what came out every time was an essay that went over my head and which also seemed to change every time I asked it.

David Miliband: 29 June 1995

DM and I had a row drafting TB’s Times article on public services, which I felt had to have real cutting edge and DM kept defaulting to these policy wonk words that I found impenetrable.

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Ed Balls: 6 November 1996

Ed Balls spoke drivel, a never-ending collection of words that just ran into each other and became devoid of meaning.

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But here, on closer inspection, are a few more:

On Ed Balls’s “bad advice”

November 1 1996

[Tony Blair] said if we got into government, he would advise GB [Gordon Brown] not to take [Ed] Balls and [Charlie] Whelan with him. They gave him bad advice, and made him less popular in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party].

October 22 1996

I went to a GB Budget meeting at which Ed Balls presented a strategy paper. The whole thing was awful. The meeting had been called not for a discussion on the Budget strategy but because they had an STV documentary crew following them around. I thought the whole project was ill-advised and couldn’t see how a documentary crew making a film to go out when we were in power would help us get there. Ed’s big point appeared to be that the Tories couldn’t be trusted and we had to put forward our own positive initiatives. Hardly rocket science. GB kept looking at me, and inviting me to join in like I normally do, but I was making clear I thought the TV was a bad idea and said nothing, and he did his hurt, looking down, then shaking his head gently while his tongue rolled around his mouth. I was very glad to be out of there. As to what the positive message was, I was none the wiser.

On David Miliband the “communist”

September 21 1996

TB said, ‘I’m with [the Tory MP] George Walden on selection.’ DM [David Miliband] looked aghast. So was I, and we launched into a furious argument . . . He said when it came to education, DM and I were just a couple of old tankies [communists].

On Ed Miliband the intermediary

January 2 1997

Peter [Mandelson] said he was now only dealing with GB through Ed Miliband and it was becoming ridiculous.

Oh, and this is what Campbell has to say about the current acting leader, Harriet Harman, with whom he fell out over her choice of grant-maintained schools for her offspring, and who today called for half the shadow cabinet to be women:

January 27 1996

HH came up with a lot of guff about how there was a real gender issue here [on the schooling row], how important it was that she hadn’t been crushed, as if men had wanted her crushed and women had been cheering her on.

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