Notes From the Margins…

Alastair Campbell does satire

  • June 16, 2012
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When flying low without a moral compass, it’s always vaguely comforting and reassuring to tell yourself that everybody else is doing it too.   So it’s not surprising at all to hear Alastair Campbell  having a go at Armando Iannucci for accepting an OBE.

I have no intention of defending that decision myself.  In my humble opinion, no satirist worthy of his salt should need to accept such an award, and it isn’t that difficult to say no thank you.  But then Iannucci is certainly not the first comedian/provocateur to épater le bourgeois and then find himself patted on the back for his efforts.

So I have to agree with Campbell on that point.   That said, I rather liked The Thick of It, and In the Loop brilliantly skewered the malevolent clowns on both sides of the Atlantic who conned their countries into the Iraq war.   The scene when James Gandolfini calculates potential war casualties on a child’s computer perfectly sums up the shallow and dimwitted assumptions that helped bring about that catastrophe.

One of those clowns was Campbell himself – the inspiration for the foulmouthed bully Malcolm Tucker – a fact that is clearly not incidental in his attack on Iannucci as someone who ‘joins the establishment he claims to deride.’

Campbell has also tweeted that ‘Malcolm Tucker and I do not approve of honours system.’  To which one might add that honour of any kind is an unfamiliar concept to the amoral propagandist who coolly helped his government manipulate its way to a war of choice, not because he cared about whether it was right or wrong, but simply because it was something he was told to do.

These days the arch-propagandist can be found hosting Have I Got News For You, pontificating on the morality of the press at the Leveson Inquiry, and now taking advantage of Hackgate to take some hits at Murdoch (Campbell is always more comfortable kicking people when they’re down) and promote his book.

The Guardian, like the BBC,   loves Campbell, and can’t get enough of him.  Move away from today’s Twitter-spat about Iannucci’s OBE and you can find extracts from the latest volume of Campbell’s diaries The Burden of Power – far more of a burden to the rest of us and particularly Iraqis, but never mind.

In it Campbell reveals an episode from Tuesday, 11 March 2003, in which Rupert Murdoch phoned his boss to get him to speed up the process for war.  According to Campbell, Blair was angry that day because Donald Rumsfeld had just repeated a suggestion from the inept defence minister Geoff Hoon that British troops might not participate in the first wave of attacks in Iraq.

Our former warrior prime minister was  always willing to shed someone else’s blood to demonstrate his commitment and integrity, and initially ‘went bonkers’ and got Hoon to put out a retraction.  Later he calmed down and complained that ‘ he couldn’t believe how the US kept fucking things up.’  His faithful servant Campbell observed that

TB was pretty mellow, probably a bad sign. He had suddenly had a load of energy drained from him. He also took a call from Murdoch who was pressing on timings, saying how News International would support us, etc. Both TB and I felt it was prompted by Washington, and another example of their over-crude diplomacy. Murdoch was pushing all the Republican buttons, how the longer we waited the harder it got.

The next day, Campbell records that ‘TB felt the Murdoch call was odd, not very clever.’  This episode tells us as much as about the Blair clique as it does about Murdoch, and none of what it tells us is good.

For Campbell the only problem with a rightwing newspaper trying to pressure the government to go to war was that it was ‘over-crude.’   For Blair it was just ‘not very clever.’

For both men representation was all.  Slicker and more devious politicians than Bush, they had a more powerful anti-war constituency to circumvent and manipulate, and their sole concern was how to do the manipulation well.

And their machinations, as we all know, were effective.   The result was a catastrophic war and occupation, whose bloody consequences are still being played out.  The Nuremburg Tribunal  once observed  that

[stextbox id=”alert”]War is an evil thing.   Its consequences are not limited to the belligerent states alone, but to the whole world.   To initiate an aggressive war, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from the other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evils of the whole.  [/stextbox]

This is the crime that the United States and Britain perpetrated in Iraq, and Campbell was a key player in bringing about that outcome.  Not once has he ever expressed any indication of any remorse or regret about the role that he played in bringing about that disaster.  So to hear such a man discussing the limitations of satire or whether satirists should accept awards is really enough to reduce anyone to hysterical laughter.

But it’s also a reminder that these days satire really does struggle to keep up with a world in which the powerful can do what they like and get away with it – and so can their servants.

Campbell has justififed his criticism of Iannucci on the grounds that although he is part of the establishment he retains ‘an anti-establishment streak’.   At which point you really have to say, stop it Alastair, it’s not funny anymore.

No really, stop it, please.




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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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