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This review is for the paperback book "The Blair Years - Extracts from the Diaries of Alistair Campbell". The book is by Campbell, who was the official spokesman, and then Director of Strategy and Communication, to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
This book was first published in 2007 in hardback, but this is the paperback version, which has an updated introduction. The book covers the period 1994, when Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party, to 2003, when Alistair Campbell stood down. These aren't the complete diaries, as Campbell didn't want to damage the Labour Party, but rather selected highlights. He intends to publish four volumes of the complete diaries in a few years, when the politicans involved have moved on.
Without getting too involved in politics, Alistair Campbell was a very controversial figure, which I personally believe helped destroy public faith in politicians. His style of operation was fierce, so he would threaten newspaper journalists who had stories against the Labour Party, he was often accused of issuing unofficial denouncements against Labour Cabinet Ministers and was disliked by many in the Labour Party, let alone other parties.
However, to be fair to Alistair Campbell, he did the job that he was asked to do, which was to present stories in a way which Tony Blair thought was right and would give him a positive image. Campbell did that job brilliantly and more effectively than many in the opposition parties, so if anyone is to really blame for creating the political culture which Campbell operated, it has to be more down to Tony Blair in my opinion.
This background however makes the book really readable. Despite being just extracts from the diaries, the book is still 800 pages long. I really enjoyed reading the book, it was a new insight into the Blair years, and showed just how hard the hours were, especially for Campbell, as Blair could be a very demanding boss.
There are many highlights in the book, these include for me the way in which Campbell had to deal with Peter Mandelson and Charlie Whelan (who was Gordon Brown's advisor in the early years when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer), but the one he really struggled to deal with was Cherie Blair, the former Prime Minister's wife. Despite trying to advise her on the best way to ensure her image was positive, she often decided to ignore his advice.
The book shows the difficulties in which Campbell had before the 1997 General Election trying to keep some Cabinet Ministers under control. He was clear that Mo Mowlam and Clare Short were very difficult to control, and arguably not very good at their jobs. He was also damning about the abilities of the then Social Security Secretary, Harriet Harman, who was sacked early on for not really being in control of her department. She accepted the resignation on two conditions Campbell noted, one that she wasn't briefed against, and the other that Tony Blair wrote to her children to say that she had done a good job.
The book contains very many incidents, such as Harriet Harman and Tony Blair sending their children to selective schools, against Labour Party policy. It covers the war with Iraq and how decisions were made, how the Labour command dealt with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition, the fuel strikes and the two General Elections of 1997 and 2001. All great stuff for those interested in politics.
The book retails for 12.99 pounds, but is currently available on Amazon for 9.06 pounds. If you're happy with a second hand copy, these are available on sites such as eBay and Amazon for around five to six pounds including postage.
Overall, this is a fascinating book to read, there are a lot of astute observations and humorous asides, and a look at just what a sort of Prime Minister Tony Blair was. The book shows just how difficult being Prime Minister can be, with the demanding hours and significant pressures from all sides. If you are interested in political history, this book is a must as an overview of inside Number 10 during the early Blair years, and the build up to power. However it isn't just a dry book for academics, it's very readable, and I look forward to the full diaries being published.