Friday, 18 February 2011

The "Spin Doctor" Comes To Town

I'm planning a few posts for today, got a bunch of stuff i want to put down in blog form.

The first thing i want to write about is the visit of Alastair Campbell to De Montfort University. He was attending a Q&A session organised by my universities Politics society. After a few pre-set questions it was opened up to a relative free for all and it made for a pretty entertaining use of an evening. Campbell was every bit the polished performer you would expect, coming across with a combative charm and an admirable ability to get his audience on side.

Now how much of what he says can be trusted is a subject that has been debated plenty and i kept that in mind while listening to him, but in some ways that didn't detract from the experience. Partly because a degree of skepticism is a good thing when listening/reading to any politician or media outlet, partly because i went there as much to see a master of PR at work as to learn any great political or social lessons.

Like him or loathe him he is an expert in those kind of situations, coming across as open, opinionated, passionate and when he needs to be charming. He played it fairly safe on political issues; a few digs at Cameron, Clegg and Thatcher were never likely to go down badly with an audience predominantly made up of university students and lecturers, but he did impress me with how open he was when talking about his struggles in the past with alcohol abuse, depression and his time writing porn under a pseudonym.

Another reason for my interest in what he had to say is that he is a man who has worked extensively on both sides of the politics/media divide and as a Journalism and Politics student it would have been a huge waste to pass up on the opportunity.

This is a man who was involved to a large degree in many of the major political events of my lifetime so it would be remiss to not talk a little about the political issues he covered/was questioned on. Unsurprisingly i found myself agreeing with him quite regularly; he made some good points about the coalition and criticised elements of Conservative policy which i already knew i disagreed with.

Sit me in a room with a Labour supporter who spends a lot of his time attacking the Tory's and inevitably i will find plenty to agree with them on, it's hardly an achievement by him that i applauded his criticism of Cameron's poorly thought out concept of 'The Big Society' (something i'll cover in a bit more detail shortly). I do feel solid claims of what Labour would be doing instead were conspicuously absent, though another example of the open nature of his replies was a moment where he pointed out to someone attacking Thatcherism for de-regulating the banks, that Labour hadn't done anything to reverse that process. Also unsurprisingly he made some regret laden remarks about the fact that the Iraq dossier led to such a breakdown in the nation's trust of politicians, while defending the actual decision to go to war, just as he did at the Chilcot Enquiry. He was particularly engaging when talking about his memories of the Northern Ireland peace process and his pride in being involved with that was clear to see.

Overall i found myself questioning whether the fact that he is such a skilled PR man, such a professional performer, such an experienced political animal, makes him a better or worse politician? Sure he is seen by many, at times including me, as one of the prime examples of how little you can trust any politician, but somewhat sadly it can definitely be argued that politics today is as much about how you deliver your message as what the message actually is and if you believe that to be the case, Alastair Campbell has to be considered to be one of the better politicians out there.

All in all, an entertaining and very interesting evening, now i just sit back and wait for his next argument with Sky News' Adam Boulton, the first being a definite highlight of the 2010 election for me. If i'm honest, i suspect Alastair is looking forward to it to.

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