Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Campbell was the son of a vet who was of Scottish origin, but was working in Keighley at the time of his son's birth. He attended school in Leicester and Cambridge University where he studied modern languages (French and German) and claimed that he wrote essays based solely on criticism and did not always read the works themselves (a kind of proto-spin doctoring). He also became interested in journalism. A bet with a colleague led to his first published work being a piece of pornography published under the pen-name The Riviera Gigolo in Forum Magazine. Campbell spent a year off in the South of France as part of his degree.
He was appointed as a sports reporter on the Tavistock Times where he took over the back page and gave himself a personal column. He was promoted to the news pages where his first major story was the loss of the Penlee lifeboat with all its crew. It was as a trainee on the Daily Mirror in Plymouth that he met his partner Fiona Millar.
Campbell later moved to the London office of the Mirror where he became a political correspondent. However, his rapid rise and stressful job led to alcoholism and a nervous breakdown in 1986. Campbell recovered and has enjoyed alcohol only in moderation since then. He rebuilt his career and became Political Editor of the Daily Mirror; as the largest circulation left-wing paper, he was a close advisor of Neil Kinnock and worked closely with Robert Maxwell.
After leaving the Mirror, Campbell became Political Editor of Today, a full colour tabloid newspaper launched in the 1980s that was then trying to turn leftward. Campbell was working there when John Smith died in 1994. He was a well-known face and helped to interview the three candidates for the new Labour Party leader; it was later revealed that he had already formed links with Tony Blair.
Work for Tony Blair
Shortly after Blair won and became leader of the opposition, Campbell left the newspaper to become his spokesman. He played an important role in the run-up to the 1997 general election, working with Peter Mandelson to co-ordinate Labour's campaign. Campbell intervened personally to complain whenever media outlets ran stories he felt were unhelpful to the campaign, and was not afraid to attack journalists personally when they displeased him. When Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, Campbell became his chief Press Secretary and in charge of the government's press machine.
As the New Labour government found its feet, Blair relied for his political advice on a close circle of his own staff. Campbell was seen as particularly influential, and was sometimes referred to as the "real Deputy Prime Minister". His influence was certainly greater than his job title suggested: he was given the authority to direct Civil Servants, who previously had taken instructions only from ministers. Campbell's control of the traditional Lobby System under which a select group of accredited journalists were given privileged access to the Prime Minister's spokesman (and the journalistic kudos that this access could bring) meant that he wielded a good deal of power over the media, as previous Press Secretaries had found. Unlike his predecessors, he had been a political appointment and had not come through the Civil Service.
When Blair won a second term on June 7, 2001 Campbell took a step back from the job of briefing journalists and was appointed as the "Prime Minister's Director of Communications and Strategy". This gave him a strategic role in overseeing government communications. He was sometimes regarded with suspicion (if not outright hostility) by elements of the Labour Party and Blair's political opponents who felt he minimised the role of members of the government and members of Parliament. However, those who worked closely with him describe an aggressive but funny and loyal colleague, who inspired loyalty in others. Even his most severe critics regarded him as adept in the techniques of news management. He was memorably sponsored by the US President George W. Bush to complete a marathon in aid of a cancer charity, which he had supported since a journalist colleague died early of the disease.
In February 2003 he was a central figure in the "dodgy dossier" controversy. A dossier on Iraqi concealment of Weapons of mass destruction and human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein was published on February 3. The dossier purported to be based on intelligence but a large section had been taken (unacknowledged) from a PhD thesis available on the internet.
A few months later he became embroiled in further controversy after the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan broadcast claims that the government had "sexed up" an earlier dossier (about about Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction). In a later newspaper article Gilligan said that his source had specifically identified Campbell himself as responsible for the alleged exaggerations. Campbell demanded a retraction and apology from the BBC, but none was forthcoming.
The BBC's source David Kelly identified himself to his employers at the Ministry of Defence. The government released this news and gave sufficient hints for his identity to become public. Kelly committed suicide shortly afterward and the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances of his death pushed Campbell further into the limelight. The Inquiry showed that Campbell had been working closely with the Intelligence Services, and made suggestions about the wording of the dossier. He had also been keen that Kelly's identity be made public writing in his diary "It would f*** Gilligan if that were his source". However, Lord Hutton cleared Campbell of acting improperly, as the Joint Intelligence Committee had taken all editorial decisions. Hutton also found that Kelly's name would have had to be made public to avoid allegations of a cover-up.
Campbell's unhappiness and wish to resign had already been common knowledge. On 29 August 2003 he announced his resignation from 10 Downing Street. He had kept a diary throughout his time in Downing Street and the manuscript is rumoured to be worth up to £5m, although he has stated publicly that he will not be seeking its publication in the near future. He now spends most of his time giving occasional public talks and supporting his favourite football team, Burnley F.C..
Character and Attitudes
Campbell is generally regarded as believing in a more traditional form of Labour politics than Tony Blair. His partner Fiona Millar has openly opposed Labour policy on education. Since his retirement from Downing Street, Campbell has been highly critical of political reporting in general and the Daily Mail group of newspapers in particular. Like Tony Blair, Campbell attempted (without complete success) to shield his children from the press attention which their father's job attracted. When briefing the press, he was known for a no-nonsense approach, but did on occasion alleviate it with humour: after a series of notably poor predictions about a Government reshuffle he distributed CDs by the band Garbage to those reporters who had made the most errors. "Garbage" was the polite word Campbell used to describe a story he did not like.
Sir Clive Woodward was said to want Campbell to manage relations with the press for the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005. The appointment was subsequently confirmed . Campbell has started working once again for the Labour Party in the run up to the May 2005 General Election .
He was involved in a scandal over an email he sent from his BlackBerry, apprently intended for a party official, that was actually sent to Newsnight journalist Andrew McFadyen by mistake. It read, in part:
"Just spoke to trev. think tbwa shd give statement to newsnight saying party and agency work together well and nobody here has spoken to standard. Posters done by by tbwa according to political brief. Now fuck off and cover something important you twats!"
Again, his colourful language caused scandal.
- report on Alastair Campbell's resignation from BBC News
- Alastair Campbell's BBC letter about Andrew Gilligan, from BBC News
- Profile: Alastair Campbell, from BBC News
- Witnesses: Alastair Campbell from The Guardian includes testimony transcripts from the Hutton Inquiry
- article on Alastair Campbell's involvement in the Iraq WMD dossier inquiry from The Economist
- Auto-biographical article on his experiences with depression and alcoholism from Mindout
- article reflecting Campbell's personality and colourful use of language from BBC News
- Alastair Campbell's alleged blog
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