Alistair Campbell came to De Montfort University last week to talk to the Politics Society. He was keen to promote the latest edition of his Diaries (1997-1999) as well as two novels – both of which have been nominated on separate occasions for the ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’ award! However, beyond the book promotion and declarations of love for Burnley football team, there were some key themes in his answers to students’ questions.
On Localism and Big Society
There was a sceptical back-drop to the discussion, with Campbell suggesting Big Society was ‘dreamt up’ without really thinking about the implications. It was suggested that the Prime Minister should consider the need for expert advisers in the wake of ‘idiotic policies’ such as selling off forests, which showed the centre didn’t know what the departments were doing. Insofar as there is a philosophy to the Big Society, it is about people ‘sorting themselves out’.
On the Coalition Government
‘We’ve got a Tory government now’…
Whilst recognising that Conservative politicians like Osborne are on a completely different part of the political spectrum he seemed to show some respect for clear political agenda. Osborne, like Thatcher, has an ideological agenda to retract the state and Campbell seemed to respect politicians who have a clear vision.
On NHS Reform
Campbell suggested that if the government went through with reform that in, say, two years they would come to regret it – ‘it’ll become their poll tax’.
On Deficit Reduction
‘There are always alternatives…’
Whilst there is criticism in some of Campbell’s answers to the DMU Politics Society, on the current Government’s ideological and practical responses to the economic situation; some of the issues are not new to Coalition policies, but an extension of what was already happening under New Labour. The lack of co-ordination between departments and with the centre, for example, was something consistently targeted at New Labour, in spite of the former Prime Minister’s expert advisers.
So, Alistair Campbell came to answer students’ questions (and sell some books). The nature of the event meant that there was not a speech with a coherent focus, but instead a series of responses to a set of disparate questions; but nonetheless, this was a lively and entertaining peek into the mind of the former government spin doctor. We should also not forget that Campbell has moved on from the front-line political fray and so does not speak directly on behalf of Labour politicians any more.
The strength and speed of the Coalition government’s policies on Big Society, health service reforms, Localism and public spending cuts have perhaps taken the wind out of Labour’s sails in mounting a coherent opposition to the proposals. Let’s hope that the DMU Politics Society can get Ed Milliband to come to talk later in the year with a stronger message in the face of such sweeping Coalition government changes to our public services.