“Boris Johnson is a different type of politician compared to those we have known,” Alastair Campbell said, reflecting on the former London Mayor and the bookies’ favourite to lead the next government.
Speaking exclusively with TLE, Tony Blair’s former director of communications took aim at large portions of the mainstream media for willingly disseminating government fabrications in a candid interview ahead of the upcoming December election.
“The thing about the Tories is that they are absolutely useless”, he said. “I don’t think Johnson is that good. He might be a good communicator in this world where he’s got half a dozen newspapers who will publish anything that he writes. But he’s absolutely crap.
“Even in his speech outside Downing Street to launch the election, he came out with around eight or nine lies.”
He added: “Either these lies are something he cannot control or it’s a strategy. But what’s the strategy?
“Well, it’s to undermine the concept of there being something called objective truth. Putin has done it. Trump has done it. Now Johnson’s doing it – and he has got to be stopped.”
Nothing is true and everything is possible
Drawing parallels between British politics and Peter Pomerantsev’s book Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible , which explores the capacity of the media and other agents to bend public perceptions, Campbell said: “The book is about Russia, but it’s happening now in the UK. Boris Johnson is making nothing true.
“Take this, he had a piece in the Telegraph the other day. They had to run a correction based on things he had said. For me, the Telegraph has stopped being a newspaper, it’s more a propaganda machine for a compulsive liar”.
General election “worst possible” idea to resolve Brexit
Johnson set out on the campaign trail aboard Con Air this week with promises to resolve the Brexit impasse, but there are concerns it may just muddy the water even more.
“I think a general election is the worst possible idea to resolve Brexit“, Campbell said.
“I’ve had random conversations with people this week and I’ve never known people so tortured and confused and anxious about a general election than in this one.”
He admitted that while he was not a “fan” of referenda – citing Margaret Thatcher’s remarks that they are “a device for dictators and demagogues” – he disagreed with the Liberal Democrats’ pledge to revoke Article 50.
He said: “I think that because the Leave vote was delivered by a referendum, you can’t just revoke that referendum.
“In doing so, that would legitimise the idea that Boris Johnson can do no-deal on the basis of 35 per cent of the vote. Based on that, I believe there has to be another referendum.”
Labour Brexit policy: “I wish it was a bit different”
Labour has been roundly criticised for its confusing stance on Brexit, but for Campbell much of the substance has also been found wanting.
“There are parts of it I don’t like. I wish the party had come out much earlier for a People’s Vote and come and said: ‘we’ll fight for remain’.
“I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong – even now – in Labour saying there should be a referendum where they take a version of Johnson’s deal and put it to remain.
“But instead they are saying: ‘we will negotiate a better deal and we may or may not campaign against it'”.
Reflecting on the challenges of getting Labour to embrace a People’s Vote, he said: “At least Labour are now calling for a referendum. I can remember being on Peston and Tom Watson was a guest.
“I remember saying to him: ‘Tom why don’t you come out for a People’s Vote?’ But he was very dismissive saying: ‘you don’t run the show anymore’.
“The party has now moved, but I do think there is something about Jeremy Corbyn historically and his position on Europe.”
“I do think that having at least, as part of your message, a policy to see beyond and how you are going to bring the country together is important. But, Labour has allowed itself to get its policy portrayed as far worse than it is, partly because of meandering in the way in which it arrived at its position,” he added.
We don’t have a “healthy democracy”
Asked whether the result of the 2016 EU Referendum could be respected in the knowledge that it was vitiated by alleged illegal conduct, Campbell replied: “Broadly, yes.”
“But if the referendum had been a by-election, it would’ve been rerun and the candidate would have been punished.
“What I’ve been really shocked about is that none of the party leaders have shown any interest in it at all.
“If you go back to why Leave beat Remain, a lot of emphasis has been on the fact that it was down to people who hadn’t voted before. A lot of them are not in this political bubble, and I think for them you’ve always got to be careful with these kinds of issues.
“They are important and significant, but I do think we are kidding ourselves if we think they are going to have a big sway on something like the general election.
“For example, Dominic Grieve is right to be publicly condemning Downing Street for not publishing the Russia inquiry, but in terms of what transpires from that in terms of political and electoral impact, I’m just not sure,” he said.
He added: “The world moves on so fast that these types of things are forgotten. I mean we look at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments on Grenfell Tower and at one time prorogation was the hot topic. But because these aren’t patterns of behaviour, just isolated incidents, they will be forgotten.”
In an ideal world Leave wouldn’t have cheated
“What I’m saying in an ideal world is that if we had a healthy democracy, Leave wouldn’t have cheated. If we had an even healthier democracy – they’d have been found out, they’d have been properly punished and the referendum would have been rerun.
“But we don’t have a healthy democracy. What we had was a result on one day, will of the people, remoaner traitor sabotage, and even the media have joined in. If you combine The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Star and The Sun, you’ve got a Brexit propaganda machine and that’s what it is.
“And yet anybody who challenges this are called traitors. But I think that anybody who has tried to fight this wretched nonsense has every right to be called patriotic because they are doing the difficult thing because of what they believe the country should be doing,” he said.