By Tim Montgomerie
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The BBC's Jeremy Vine has a new book out and it's being serialised in the Daily Mail. "It's All News To Me" includes his reflections on New Labour's bullying and manipulative management of the press when Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson were at the height of their powers:
"At any point, Peter would be involved in about 20 highly personal run-ins with political journalists… The BBC’s Nick Jones pointed out the way Alastair Campbell and Mandelson worked as a pair — the baseball bat and the stiletto. ‘If they don’t like your story, Campbell screams down the phone at you while Mandelson quietly goes to the Director-General,’ he said."
Vine – now a BBC Radio 2 presenter but then a frontline political journalist for the Corporation – has particularly strong views about Tony Blair's former media chief:
"In a good mood, Alastair Campbell was fun; in a bad mood, he was Ivan the Terrible, Freddy Krueger and Chopper Harris all rolled into one."
He takes us through one telling episode in which Peter Mandelson essentially fabricates and orchestrates an attack on John Major's government and its planning of the 50th anniversary commemorations of D-Day:
"One day, he asked me what I thought of the Conservative government’s plan to lay on street parties to mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I said I didn’t have much of a clue. It all seemed pretty dull: though there were some fun events — like ‘spam-fritter frying contests’ — and fireworks in Hyde Park. Mandelson said that the Labour leader — then John Smith — had allowed him to ‘see if we can do something’ on the issue. Do something? What was there to do, Peter? ‘Aha,’ he said enigmatically.
Over the next few days the Government’s planning was torn to shreds. From the outside, no one could see fingerprints on the story, but suddenly the Conservatives were being lacerated for ‘trivialising’ the Normandy landings. Veterans’ organisations raged at the plan for street parties and fireworks; even the wartime megastar Dame Vera Lynn waded in to urge a boycott. Soon, everyone was asking: how can a government be so cack-handed as to think a silly game with spam is the right way to mark D-Day? I watched every step of the story, agog at the way the different ingredients were shaken into the brew.
There were questions in the Commons. Polls that revealed the public felt the war dead were being disrespected. It didn’t matter that the spam contest was the idea of the Scottish Tourist Board and nothing whatsoever to do with John Major — the next report said he was in a ‘crisis meeting’ over the planning, and the Culture Secretary Peter Brooke was facing the sack.
How had Mandelson caused a multiple vehicle pile-up without ever being seen on the carriageway? My admiration increased."
Read more in the Daily Mail or buy the book.