Notes From the Margins…

Alistair Campbell’s winners

  • March 02, 2015
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There is a story some years back, it might have been in one of Nick Cohen’s books, that   Peter Mandelson and various New Labour luminaries attended a politicians-meet-businessmen functions, where they were reportedly so wide-eyed and awestruck by   by the presence of Sky executives that one of the execs contemptuously dubbed them   them ‘starfuckers.’

The deference that New Labour showed towards the rich and powerful when it was in office demonstrated the truth of this observation many times over, and the post-political business careers of its leading politicians shown how much they wanted to be like the people they lionized and envied.       I was reminded of this tale this weekend, when Alistair Campbell over the last week when the former spin doctor made one of his periodic media appearances to promote his new book.

As is always the case whenever these moments occur, there were the usual references to Alistair’s ‘demons’, his nervous breakdown and his depression, because the self-pitying bully who outed David Kelly, and who glibly helped manipulate parliament and the British public into a criminal war of aggression with the casual amorality of a Mad Men creative selling a new Chevy,   is a complex, sensitive and interesting guy, whose complexities are worth talking and thinking about – and certainly more worth thinking about than the horrendous actions that he helped perpetrate, and all the boring dead people that resulted from them.

Campbell may not think much about that, but he clearly thinks a lot about himself and he wants the world to think about him too.     But this time along with the drinking and the depression and all the other stuff,   he has something else he wants the world to talk about.     He wants to talk about ‘winners’, because he has written a 423-page doorstopper called Winners and How they Succeed,   which sets out to explain the inner secrets of rich, famous and successful people like José Mourinho, Bono, Anna Wintour, Shane Warne, Ariana Huffington, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Tony Blair, Usain Bolt – and Elizabeth II for god’s sake –   and all the other great, if not necessarily good, big shots who Campbell has researched.

Campbell should have mentioned Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dictator of Kazahkstan, or Egypt’s military strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who he has advised on ‘communications’ and PR in recent years, because it would be useful to know how they became ‘winners’.

But never mind, because now those of us who are not ‘winners’ now have a chance to become like his subjects.     We too can now sit up in bed poring over sections on ‘standing out from the crowd’ and ‘ changing setbacks into advantages’ so that we might learn how to rise above the common chaff.     We can memorize memorize what Campbell calls the ‘holy trinity’ of   ‘Strategy, Leadership, and Teamship’ or acronyms like   OST – ‘Objective, Strategy, Tactics’, and contemplate profound insights such as ‘ Winners hate losing.   Winners win because they have to.’

So get on with it, if you want to become like Jeff Bezos or Nelson Mandela, another of Campbell’s ‘winners.’   Ok, some of you might think there are some differences between Bezos and Mandela.   You might even be naive enough to think that Mandela wasn’t just a ‘winner’ but the symbol of a resistance movement to apartheid   that involved millions of people, and that his eventual political triumph was their triumph too.

Some of you might also think that Mandela’s greatness wasn’t due to his understanding of OST,   but to his moral grandeur, his faith in humanity and his belief in justice, all of which led him to undergo immense sacrifices for the ideals he believed in.

Others might question how Elizabeth II can be a ‘winner’ when she was born into a position that made losing impossible.     And it is worth noting in passing that José Mourinho owes his success in part to the huge amount of money that a Russian oligarch poured into Chelsea, and also that he fact that he is a successful football manager has never stopped him from being a real jerk, with a nasty sadistic streak that once led him to poke the Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova in the eye.

But Campbell is way too starstruck, and too obsessed with the notion of ‘winning’ as the point and purpose of existence, and the idea that ‘winners’ have certain innate characteristics that make them win to even consider such things. Politics, business, sport and showbiz – it’s all just a race and a competition for Campbell in which only point is for individuals to rise above everyone else.

The unspoken corollary of Campbell’s philosophy is that those of us who are not José Mourinho or Alan Sugar are losers.   Nearly a million Britons, for example, are dependent on food banks.   Clearly this must be due to the fact that they didn’t have the ability to become winners.   Maybe if they’d known about OST they could have avoided this.

Campbell’s adulation of ‘winners’ also ignores the fact that millions of people are brilliantly successful in their communities, their relationships, and their families.   You can find them in hospitals and GP practices, in the schools that Campbell once described as ‘bog standard’, in Africa risking their lives to fight Ebola.     The campaign ‘our three winners’ that sprung up after the North Carolina murders celebrated the lives of three murdered young Muslims as models in an entirely different manner to the model that Campbell would like people to study – if only to flog copies of his book.

People like this will never feature in Campbell’s radar.   For a man who only looks up to ‘winners’ they don’t even exist.     Lijke the anti-war protesters who Campbell once described ‘coming back from the march, placards under their arms, faces full of self-righteousness, occasional loathing when they spotted me’, they will always be little people, whose lives are unworthy of interest or attention.

Of course Campbell isn’t the only one who thinks like this. In the world of the one percent, we are often encouraged to revere the rich and successful simply because they are rich and successful, just as Campbell does, without any reference to their moral qualities or the social conditions that ensure that certain kinds of people succeed.

This is one reason why we have the skewed world order that we have and the dysfunctional society that we have.   Campbell is the perfect symbol of that dysfunction, with his ruthlessness amorality, greed, political dishonesty, and absolute unquestioning deference to power.

Maybe these qualities are what you need to be a ‘winner’, but I can’t help thinking that a society that looks up to someone like Alistair Campbell and accepts his vulgar social darwinism is in more serious trouble than it knows.

Or maybe I’m just suffering from a deficit of   OST.



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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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