Bring back Alastair Campbell

22nd October, 2012 1:44 pm

There have been suggestions recently that Alastair Campbell may make a return to frontline politics as an MP. That may well be true. We are now nearly a decade on from his exit from Downing Street, and it would be fair to say – post Iraq War – he was not a darling of the grassroots. Now, in no small part thanks to his use of social media, he has almost completely rehabilitated his reputation with rank and file Labour members. He’s a top draw at party fundraisers, he’s willing to engage in debate online, and he writes well – and passionately – about politics, media and strategy on his blog. He is no longer considered to be “Iago with a blackberry”.

So if he does decide he wants to stand as an MP (and there are options for him – Burnley, perhaps also seats in Camden) then he would be an incredibly difficult opponent to beat in any selection.

But I’d actually prefer to bring back Campbell in an altogether different role. Not in press and communications, where the party already has a significant amount of talent (and where co-ordination between Labour HQ and the leader’s office seems to be bearing real fruit – especially in terms of rebuttal) – but in a role that that harnesses some of the skills that Campbell has developed since he left Downing Street.

Alastair Campbell should be brought in to beef up Labour’s Social Media operation.

At present there are several (although few in number) very capable and talented people working for the Labour Party on Social Media (surely we can stop calling it “New Media” now?). The problem is that Social Media still doesn’t feel like an essential part of how the party campaigns. It’s an optional extra – rather than an integrated part of a mobilisation and communications strategy. Having someone like Campbell involved would help secure resources for Social Media, give it the status it deserves in the party – and draw attention to how seriously the party takes Social Media.

And Campbell genuinely does seem to “get it”. Last week in The Times, he wrote:

“In an era when people believe politicians and journalists less than they used to, they still believe each other. And therein lies the power of social media as a political force — a tech version of old-fashioned word-of-mouth campaigning…To embrace social media is to understand that there is no longer such a thing as total control of the message.”

Alastair Campbell – the “king of spin” understands that social media means that message control is dead. That’s a big deal, and can’t have been an easy position for him to reach. And yet he has . There would be a curious irony if the man who brought the party rigorous message discipline in the 1990s could – twenty years later – be the person to help the Labour Party adapt to another new media environment, and learn to let go.

Of course there are others within the party who could play this role. Tom Watson, for example,  has already significantly improved the party’s social email output, with a weekly campaign message that already keeps activists more “in the loop” about party priorities and political thinking than was ever the case before. However Watson (a superb proponent of online politics) has a huge role already as Campaign Co-ordinator that goes far beyond Social Media, including a rapidly expanding number of by-elections, which is a huge job on its own.

The Labour Party needs someone with clarity of vision, understanding of the online environment and the gravitas and ability to get things done – as their sole priority. Alastair Campbell has all of the skills necessary to be just that person. And at 18 days (and counting) since Ed Miliband last tweeted (or should I say, someone tweeted using his account), the change can’t come quickly enough.

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  • AlanGiles

    ” he has almost completely rehabilitated his reputation with rank and file Labour members”

    So has Hazel Blears. So has Mandelson. With SOME rank and file members.

    Perhaps not so though with those with long memories or a distaste with their antics which led many of us to give up party membership.

    As I said the other day, if we believe in honesty and integrity we should not be trying to rehabilitate those who, in part, led to the low state of repute politics got into earlier in the decade.

    • We? Don’t pretend to speak for the grassroots when voicing your own opinion. You are not the standard bearer of the Labour Party and you are not even a member of the party.

    • TomFairfax

       Rather similar to the point I was going to make before browsing the comments. However, it could be added that regardless of rank and file members, the rest of the world knows him as the author of the so called dodgy dossier.

      Still I think Mark has a good idea about what AC could constructively assist with.

      • telemachus

        Dodgy dossier or not he sold it well

        • AlanGiles

          But at what a cost in human life, misery and carnage.

          Surely you cannot regard his behaviour as something to be admired?

    • John Reid

      so you know what labour members think, Didn’t know you’d rejoined maybe you’d like to come along ot one of our meetings Alan,
      If labour would really like to rehabilitate itswlf with the public it would have done something about it when we got 27% of the vote in 1983

    • postageincluded

      You forget, Alan, that Alastair Campbell has gargantuan clanking testicles – Mark’s favourite sort.

      • AlanGiles

        I am sorry to say that trying to rehabilitate Campbell and others like him, who caused so much trouble and disgrace a decade ago, is what makes me despair of Labour.

        There is a measure of arrogance in the stance of the party: they believe because the coalition is such a disaster that the electorate will welcome them back with open arms. They think people will have forgotten the dodgy dossier, Dr David Kelly and all the other grotesqueries that Campbell had a hand in. It won’t even cross their minds that many people would find his behaviour hard to forgive let alone forget.

        Brown was so desperate to cling to office he bought back Mandelson – he might as well not have bothered. The same if Miliband is foolish enough to bring back Campbell. Of course if Campbell wishes to become an MP he will be found a seat where Labour votes are weighed

        It is absurd for Labour to pretend that “lessons have been learned”, that we have “drawn a line” and all the other threadbare cliche’s, if Labour List thinks that the discredited past is  what will guarantee success in 2015.

        I genuinely believe they think the public don’t even remember the events of 1997-2010. They seem to forget that sound and written archives exist to confirm the greed, dishonesty, sofa government and double standards of the time.

        I wonder that LL doesn’t call for the return of Tony McNulty and his ilk.

        The Coalition may well lose the next election, but Labour shouldn’t be complacent enough to believe they will win it convincingly. Bring damaged goods back and the best they can hope for is a hung parliament with Labour holding four or five more seats than the other other parties.

      • AlanGiles

        I am sorry to say that trying to rehabilitate Campbell and others like him, who caused so much trouble and disgrace a decade ago, is what makes me despair of Labour.

        There is a measure of arrogance in the stance of the party: they believe because the coalition is such a disaster that the electorate will welcome them back with open arms. They think people will have forgotten the dodgy dossier, Dr David Kelly and all the other grotesqueries that Campbell had a hand in. It won’t even cross their minds that many people would find his behaviour hard to forgive let alone forget.

        Brown was so desperate to cling to office he bought back Mandelson – he might as well not have bothered. The same if Miliband is foolish enough to bring back Campbell. Of course if Campbell wishes to become an MP he will be found a seat where Labour votes are weighed

        It is absurd for Labour to pretend that “lessons have been learned”, that we have “drawn a line” and all the other threadbare cliche’s, if Labour List thinks that the discredited past is  what will guarantee success in 2015.

        I genuinely believe they think the public don’t even remember the events of 1997-2010. They seem to forget that sound and written archives exist to confirm the greed, dishonesty, sofa government and double standards of the time.

        I wonder that LL doesn’t call for the return of Tony McNulty and his ilk.

        The Coalition may well lose the next election, but Labour shouldn’t be complacent enough to believe they will win it convincingly. Bring damaged goods back and the best they can hope for is a hung parliament with Labour holding four or five more seats than the other other parties.

  • Good idea. Alastair Campbell would be great to work on Labour’s Social Media Operation. He is a popular in the party, he is always on Twitter and he even engages with young people too. Personally, I don’t think Burnley or any Camden seats would be good for Mr Campbell. Firstly, Julie Cooper probably wants to stand again and the Camden CLPs are mainly on the liberal left and have other ideas. Keighley would be a good seat for Alastair Campbell.

  • Maybe check out this chat with Chris Mullin on iPlayer for more on Campbell’s views on social media and politics – I find it fascinating, and he’s right on the ball on reaching direct to people through authenticity and strategic direction.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01nm079/Briefings_20_10_2012/

    For that reason though, I can’t see what Mark is suggesting working in a permanent role, though certainly it would make sense to bring him in on a consultancy basis to tutor Labour people on how to go about it.

    The whole point of what Campbell says is that social media must be used in an authentic manner to be effective – which means coming direct from the horse’s mouth. Alistair Campbell is too high profile, and any impression that tweets and facebook postings are really coming from him defeats the object. If he is a good communicator and an intelligent operator he should be up front rather than hiding behind.

  • JanetGreen1

    Unlike the populist media and the naive metropolitan commentariat, those members of the real grassroots of my generation (40+ years Labour Party membership) don’t have ‘darlings’.

    However, we do have respect for those who consistently share our values and demonstrate their ability to communicate them.

    Therefore, he’s never had to ‘rehabilitate’ with the real grassroots.

    Campbell v Watson? No contest. Campbell every time.

  • JeevanJones

    While I am  always cautious about bringing back old hands into the political arena (surely, 10 years on, we have a newer generation in their 30s and 40s who are capable?), there’s little doubt that something drastic needs to be done regarding the Labour party and its social media.

    Accounts such as @labourpress:twitter  and @uklabour:twitter  have been good at responding to news through social media, but you’re absolutely right, Mark, to note that @Ed_Miliband:twitter  has been sorely underused. Just look at their political counterparts in the US – use of Twitter and Facebook makes a huge impact, and is vital for campaigns to remain present in people’s awareness.

    There needs to be a permanent social media staff in the Labour party, co-ordinating the party’s message. That’s the battleground of the future, and it would be incredibly foolish for Labour to neglect one of the best ways to share its message and get people who would otherwise not be as tuned in to the conventional press aware and  involved in politics.

    I sincerely hope Labour acts on this, and realises the importance of social media in the modern political age.

  • Daniel Speight

    Is he really the sort of person you admire Mark?

    • Campbell helped bring Labour back into power. If that does not deserve admiration, I don’t know what does.

  • It’s a bold idea which is well argued. I agree he could be the man to help develop the party’s online strategy. 

  • Amber_Star

    Did we use much social media in Corby yet? The good news is: Latest poll for Ashcroft has Labour 22% ahead (last poll we were 15% ahead). And the poll asked some useful questions about operations on the ground (link to the results posted below; Q10 is the ops question).
     
    I did not see any mention of social media. I thought Corby might be a campaign which utilised social media to the max. Louise Mensch (outgoing Tory) is so big on the Twitter, she is apparently going to launch her own version. Perhaps she did not deign to deploy her talents for the Tory replacement candidate.
     
    http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/lord-ashcroft-poll-gives-labour-22-point-lead-in-corby-by-election-175318261.html

  • Brumanuensis

    Campbell is a bit of bastard*.

    But he’s a political genius and a superb tactician. There is always a time to cut cards with the devil.

    *Although many years ago my father recalled meeting him at Marylebone station and found him personally charming; they chatted about football apparently.

    • AlanGiles

      I usually agree with you Brum, but in this instance if you really believe that it is worth dragging back this raddled old has-been I can’t agree at all.

      People like Campbell had power without responsibility and were entirely without principle or conscience. They used their power to bully and dominate – in his case a sort of bargain basement Andrew Mitchell.

      It would be far better for everybody, including Campbell himself, if he continued in the role he is best at – touring his one man stage show around the country like a ltter-day Archie Rice.

      • Brumanuensis

        I’m not suggesting we appoint him to the same role, only that we make use of him. After all, Campbell is quite ‘Old Labour’ politically and his wife has been a long time campaigner for comprehensives.

        • AlanGiles

          I’m afraid he is an old faded star now, well past his prime. Brown thought Mandy could save him, and I think Campbell would be about as impressive for Labour now as Mandelson was for Brown. They are yesterdays men but sadly their egos won’t allow them to retire gracefully. They want to be “Norma Desmond” (Sunset Boulevard)

    • Do explain how Alistair Campbell is a bastard?

      • Hugh

        He bullied, lied, cajooled and threatened on a daily basis throughout his time in politics. Before that he was a red-top reporter.

        • PeterBarnard

          How do you know that AC “bullied, lied, cajoled and threatened on a daily basis …?”

          Were you actually there “on a daily basis?”

          • Hugh

             I know roughly how Campbell operated by the various accounts that have been given. You’re quite right, though, Peter, it may well not have been every day.

            Thanks for clearing that up.

          • PeterBarnard

            You know what you read about AC, Hugh, for sure ; whether what you were reading was actually true is a different matter altogether.

          • Hugh

             Yes it is, but either Jeremy Vine, Simon Hoggart, Diane Abbott, Stephen Glover, Andrew Pierce, Adam Boulton, Michael Portilo (to pick just a few) and dozens of others are all lying – in exactly the same way – by portraying  him as bullying and dishonest, or Campbell is. Moreover, I’m not sure I’ve ever come across anyone – apart from Campbell (and possibly Blair) who paints any other picture.

            High Court judge Sir Maurice Drake, meanwhile, in civil court case back in 1996 said: ‘I do not
            find Mr Campbell by any means a wholly satisfactory witness’… [he] was less than completely open and frank;
            he did not impress me as a witness in whom I could feel 100 per
            cent confident.’

            I would think a crown court conclusion that he’s dishonest – under oath – would be good enough even for you.

          • PeterBarnard

            And how many of that list were actually, at first hand, on the receiving end of Mr Campbell’s “bullying, lying, cajoling and threats?”

          • Hugh

             Pierce, Boulton, Portilo (overheard first hand Campbell berating a BBC journo), Vine (according to his book). Not sure about Hoggart – just that he was able to confirm lies Campbell had made in public – or Glover, but since they’re mostly pretty senior journalists or columnist covering politics and he was press secretary, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising would it.

          • Brumanuensis

            I can’t muster any sympathy for journalists to be honest. It’s more the way he treated Downing Street staff that bothers me.

          • Hugh

            Whether the targets are deserving of sympathy or not doesn’t really have much bearing on whether it’s true.

        • And you’d know all of that because you were at the heart of Number 10 on a daily basis. Bastard is a rather strong word. Many who have met him think he is a really nice guy and he seems like one to be honest.

  • If ever there was a more elegant framing of the question of preferring principles or success, I cannot think of one.

    The tactics on offer are merely political skirmishes via various forms of media, and a poor relative to old-fashioned debate and winning an argument on open ground: something politicians of all sides appear to have cowered away from since about the mid-80s.

  • AlanGiles

     John. You seem stuck in 1983.

    It’s 2012 now. In 2003 this country was involved in the disaster that was the Iraq war, which disgusted many people regardless of political persuation, or none were disgusted by that, and remain so. Campbell’s fingerprints were all over that affair.

    If winning at all costs is more important than having some integrity, of saying there are certain things we will not stoop too, then it is a very sad day.

    With all due respect John it is people like you who made me give up party membership. My party right or wrong is myopic and hypocritical.

    • John Reid

      Inever considered the left’s view that when Trots deselected sitting Labour M.P.s and tehy went to the SDP, It was Amoral victory if they took 5.6 million votes with them

    • John Reid

      regarding 1983, If ed loses the next election and people say it’s becuase it wasn’t left wing enough, I’ll recall tony Benn said that in 1983 too,

  • AlanGiles

     Yes. Anything you say. You being a member of the party is not the best advertisement I can think of. Now please stop your silly little tantrums with me, because I am not interested in what you think of me or anything else.

    • Little tantrums. Alan, you have utmost rudeness and disrespect seen as I have been commenting on LabourList and it has not put you in a good light. This is what you said:”As I said the other day, if ‘we’ believe in honesty and integrity we should not be trying to rehabilitate those who, in part, led to the low state of repute politics got into earlier in the decade.”
      Maybe you should actually read your own posts or maybe it is your honesty and integrity which should be put in question. Then again, there is a lot of evidence for people to question that. You are not in the Labour Party and you are not a spokesman for the Labour Party, don’t pretend to be otherwise.

  • Hugh

    You might want to be wary of defining winning elections as a sound basis for admiration.

    • Turning a party which was a party of Opposition for 18 years into a party of government, is a very sound basis for admiration.

  • ColinAdkins

    Campbell undoubtedly has political talent and judgement and it would be churlish not to use him to the benefit of the party. We do have spinners but I associate this with lies and obsfurcation. Campbell on the other hand appears to provide cogent arguments to support the Party line. That is a different talent. I would make this point regardless of whether I agreed with him or not and I believe this is irrelevant to the discussion in hand.

  • Hugh

    Really? Regardless of the party; regardless of the methods? Would the same have applied if Cameron had been swept to power?

    • Nothing to do with Cameron or the Conservatives. I am talking about the Labour Party and as a Labour supporter, I admire what he did in order to help Labour get into power. Your point is invalid.

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