As one of Europe’s poorest nations, Albania tends to turn to richer countries such as Britain for advice. But the time has now arrived for one of Europe’s most closed former communist countries to offer some political tips to Britain, according to Alastair Campbell 1 . The former No 10 director of communications says the Labour 2 leader, Ed Miliband 3 , should take a risk and follow the example of the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, who confronts critics head on by running video interviews featuring sceptical comments during speeches.
Campbell, who is being lined up to play a significant role in Labour’s general election campaign, says the video clips worked for Rama, who won parliamentary elections in June at the head of a centre-left coalition. Tony Blair’s former aide acted as a senior media and strategy adviser to Rama, who recently hired Blair himself to advise Albania on its campaign to join the EU. In a Guardian interview, Campbell says Miliband could turn round perceptions about himself on contentious areas such as business by facing up to his critics in Rama’s style. “It is quite a risk.
But it certainly worked really well for Rama. Sometimes the best way to deal with negatives is to confront them head on.” Campbell, who resigned from the Blair team 10 years ago after a bitter row with the BBC over the notorious Iraqi arms dossier, is once again a confidant to the leader of his beloved Labour tribe. Campbell, who lives around the corner from Miliband in north London, is in regular contact with the Labour leader and advised him in his recent battle with the Daily Mail.
Miliband has such a high regard for Campbell that he offered to abandon plans to hold an all-women shortlist to select the next Labour parliamentary candidate for Campbell’s home town of Burnley to make way for him. Campbell, whose twitter name CampbellClaret pays homage to Burnley FC, known as the Clarets, decided not to stand. “Ed and others had said: ‘Look, Burnley is likely to be an all-women shortlist, are you going to go for it?’ That is what made me decide. I basically thought I’ll amble along and see what happens and maybe or maybe not.
So that forced me to make a decision and that was the decision I made. . As for any future seat I wouldn’t rule it out totally but I think it is unlikely.” Campbell, whose partner, Fiona Millar, came close to putting her name forward to succeed Glenda Jackson as the Labour candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the next election, decided to resist the green benches because of the freedoms he has enjoyed in the past decade. He said: “A big part of me wants to do it and a big part of me doesn’t.
The part that does is the part that says you should do this in your own right and also it is the part that responds to people saying you should do it. The part that doesn’t want to is the part that has a very different sort of life where I can be in politics but not totally in it. That is where I am.” The freedom has allowed Campbell to publish one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Blair years through the four volumes of his diaries, which start with Blair’s election as Labour leader in 1994 and end with Campbell’s departure.
Campbell is publishing another volume devoted entirely to Blair’s role in Northern Ireland. Before publication of the Irish Diaries, Campbell speaks of the “absolute full-on intensity” of Northern Ireland, which absorbed much of Blair’s time from the moment he took office in 1997. He contrasts this with David Cameron, whose approach prompted Martin McGuinness, Sinn F in’s deputy first minister, to complain last year that he and the Democratic Unionist first minister, Peter Robinson, met Barack Obama more often than the prime minister.
Campbell said: “The last time I was in Northern Ireland I definitely picked up a feeling that they worry there is an over-assumption about the extent to which it is all kind of working. I don’t think you can take it for granted.” But Campbell qualifies his criticism of Cameron, who has hosted the G8 summit in Co Fermanagh and recently attended an investment conference in Belfast. “I don’t want to be over-critical because he handled the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday really well, I thought it was great that the G8 was in Northern Ireland, I thought it was good that he had that investment conference recently.” In a foreword to his diaries, which was published in the Guardian yesterday, Blair attributed the eventual success of the peace process to his skills as an empathetic negotiator, to the leadership of all the main parties and to the underlying political framework. This was the “principle of consent” which said that Northern Ireland’s constitutional future will be decided solely by its own people.
Campbell suggests Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy 4 bills for 20 months if he wins the election it could be a turning point for Labour. “Ed made the weather at the Tory party conference and that’s why John Major’s intervention was incredibly important. I have always said that the thing about strategy is it’s about making political weather. New Labour made the weather for a long, long time and you can argue with Cameron it still is.
It was my first Tory conference in 20 years and it was really interesting to me the extent to which the talk was about Labour. That was good.” Miliband’s success over the past five weeks has, Campbell believes, transformed Labour’s chances at the next election. “If I was a betting man, even with the economy, before the conferences I thought the Tories were in better shape,” he says. “I think that has swung around a bit and I think it is all now about policy and winning the intellectual argument…The energy thing shows what you can do.” With such a tight election in prospect Campbell thinks it would be wise for Miliband to take a leaf out of the campaign tactics of the Socialist party of Albania, the former Party of Labour of Albania led by the late dictator Enver Hoxha. Its modernising leader Rama swept into power in June after Campbell advised him to air the views of his opponents as a way of tackling critics.
Campbell says: “When we were doing the campaign in Albania we recorded video of people who were very critical of Edi Rama and then we played them into speeches and he responded to them. It was very, very effective, including in what would be the equivalent of the main party conference speech. Somebody would say: ‘You don’t have a policy on transport, you’re just as corrupt as the other guy.’ Then he would use it to build an argument around it.” Miliband could have run videos of people criticising him for an apparent lack of policies before his conference speech, Campbell says.
But the Labour leader has dealt with that criticism and so should focus on other areas. “I could imagine doing something where you had business voices saying: ‘Labour doesn’t understand business.’ And so you hold an event and a speech which shows you do. We tried it once in Albania and it really worked.” Campbell found himself on TV screens during the conference season when he denounced the Daily Mail for depicting Miliband’s father, Ralph, as a man who “hated Britain”. He believes that a “certain newspaper” and others in the industry are making a serious error in rejecting out of hand the cross-party royal charter designed to set up an arms-length process of overseeing a new self-regulatory body. “I honestly don’t think there is a problem with what Leveson proposed.
Forget my political hat, forget my well-known views of a certain newspaper, I really don’t see the problem. “If you think of all the other walks of life that have taken a battering, whether it’s bankers, MPs’ expenses, the police everybody has been through the mill and there is an expectation that that has to lead to some sort of change, except it would seem when it concerns the press. I don’t think the press have done themselves any favours: state regulation, politicians deciding what’s going to be in the papers, we’re going to become like Iran and Zimbabwe and China. It’s nonsense.” Campbell admits to having mixed feelings over the leaking of NSA 5 files to the Guardian by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden. “I am a little bit conflicted about it because the ex-journalist in me says if I’d been on the Daily Mirror …
I’d have thought: ‘Wow, how do we get as much of this out as we possibly can?’ The government person in me says this is a complete and total disaster.” But Campbell says he read with interest the Guardian article by the former Sunday Times editor Harry Evans in which he said that the criticisms of the Guardian echoed the attacks on him for exposing the “full measure of Kim Philby’s treacheries”. Campbell says: “I read that piece. Great stories tend to happen where different people’s interests collide and that’s always going to be a difficult territory.
But I think journalism is in a very strong position because I think the trends are all towards openness and transparency now.” References ^ More from the Guardian on Alastair Campbell (www.theguardian.com) ^ More from the Guardian on Labour (www.theguardian.com) ^ More from the Guardian on Ed Miliband (www.theguardian.com) ^ More from the Guardian on Energy (www.theguardian.com) ^ More from the Guardian on NSA (www.theguardian.com)