(Note, this piece is an accompaniment to our podcast with journalist Stephanie Costelloe)
In 1994, Tony Blair took to the stage as Labour Leader for the first time he must have thought he’d made a mistake. Blair knew that his values and beliefs weren’t compatible with those of the Labour Party. But Blair was not to be deterred by nearly one hundred years of party traditions.
No, Blair, as was often the case, decided that rather than allow the facts(in this case the Labour Party Constitution of 1918) to change his mind, he would change the facts to suit him. Tony Blair felt the hand of history on his shoulder, and that hand belonged to Alastair Campbell.
The Labour Party Constitution contained in it the famous Clause IV ; the socialist phrase “the common ownership of the means of production” which was taken to mean the Party’s commitment to socialism. It didn’t fit with Blair.
So Alastair Campbell simply rewrote it. The sentence became “to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential”. From socialism to neoliberalism in one swift edit.
Over the years that followed Blair went on to become the most successful Tory Prime Minister in Labour Party history. He is, in many eyes, one of the Tory Party’s Top 5 ‘best’ Prime Ministers. At his side for every step of the journey was Alastair Campbell.
Blair would go on to describe Campbell as a ‘genius’ and credited his Press Secretary and Director of Communications and Strategy with coming up with the slogan ‘New Labour’.
Campbell, as a former journalist, used his influence and experience to win support from the national media. By 1997 he had turned the Thatcherite Sun newspaper into a Blairite viewspaper. When Labour won the election in May of that same year, it was widely said that Campbell had become the Labour Party’s Chief Strategist.
In 2000 Campbell created the Strategic Communications Unit that became known as ‘The Grid’. The Grid would coordinate Government activity and use a ‘rapid rebuttal system’ to counter any criticisms of their activities or lack thereof. They’d bully media outlets and pick fights. Campbell himself, when asked about criticism of the government by the BBC journalists Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts replied “fuck Gilligan”.
Campbell rapidly became the story. He was snidely called the ‘real deputy prime minister’ and many in the media felt that he was having a corrupting influence on the democratic function of government and crucially, that he was inhibiting their ability to report the news.
Blair, as a megalomaniac, decided he wanted to partake in the illegal invasion of Iraq. Needing a reason to do so, and a stick to beat parliament with, he turned once more to Campbell. It was Campbell who cobbled together the Iraq Dossier (Dodgy Dossier) in February 2003. You remember the Dodgy Dossier, it was the one filled with mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction and distortions of real intelligence reports?
The death toll following this PR Disaster is a stain that no Marketing Spin Cycle will ever wash out. But when later questioned about the Dodgy Dossier, Campbell replied “Come on, you didn’t seriously think we wouldn’t find anything”.
Tony Blair oversaw the birth of neoliberal economics that helped give us the global financial crisis. He out Thatchered Thatcher, selling off national infrastructure in deals that are still today having huge repercussions. The recent collapse of Carillion in the UK, with the potential loss of 20,000 jobs, was a Blair era project. His outsourcing birds are still coming home to roost with disastrous consequences, even 20 years later.
Blair and Campbell, a match made in marketing heaven. Campbell and Blair, a toxic blend of style over substance. Blair and Campbell, two egomaniacs that destroyed lives on many continents. I wonder do Leo Varadkar and John Concannon realise they’re just a cheap imitation of the original Blairite cluster bomb.
Tony Groves March 2018