Sunday, August 05, 2007

chin up...

Most Prime Minister's Press Secretaries have a go at publishing their memoirs in some shape or form so it is no surprise that Alistair Campbell has embarked upon a literary career with The Blair Years; a highly distilled (from two and a half million words to 350k) contemporary diary of Campbell's time in Downing Street. We are told that a fuller, more complete account will follow and that is for the best for the diaries are a sanitised read.

How do they compare to his predecessors works?

Well Bernard Ingham's Kill the Messenger is something of a classic of the genre in that it is intimate and gives a feel for life in the Downing Street bunker, working for Margret Thatcher in a way Campbell never quite manages.

Christopher Meyer may not have written in detail about his time as Major's Press Secretary but his book DC Confidential was pretty controversial upon its release due in part to Meyer still being active in public life (he was chairman of the PCC). It is his damning critique of Blair's performance in the run-up to the war, arguing that the Prime Minister and his team were "seduced" by the proximity and glamour of US power and reluctant to negotiate conditions with George Bush for Britain's support for the war that really made the headlines.

Wilson's Press Secretary Joe Haines had two goes at putting the record straight. - The Politics of Power, published in 1977 - caused a sensation with its revelations about the 'lavender list' of Wilson's resignations honours. Even stronger meat was to be found in 'Glimmers of Twilight' which was published in 2003. Second time around, Haines claims that Wilson's doctor offered to murder Marcia Falkender, (then head of Wilson's political office) after she attempted to blackmail Wilson over an affair they had twenty years earlier. It is interesting that the BBC, in an out of court settlement with Falkender, paid her £75,000 after these claims were repeated in The Lavender List in 2006 but that Haines himself has not, as yet, been sued.

A less racey but charming book is Donald Maitland's 'Diverse Times, Sundry Places' which although is a general memoir has quite a lot of detail on his time as Sir Edward Heath's Press Secretary between 1970-74. I met Maitland some years ago when Bradford on Avon were trying to develop the old, heavily contaminated Avon Rubber site in the town. He was a most effective Chairman and came across as really a gentleman of the old school; I don't think he would have been impressed with either the language or indeed the methods employed by Mr Campbell in the same job some 30 years later.


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