One of the joys of not going to the office any more is the ability to watch one-off daytime telly stuff the wage-slaves barely even know about. Most of this fare is of course the most awful rubbish (there’s nothing more patronising than a thirty-something daytime programme controller) but watching some of the newsy stuff really is a privilege at times.
This is usually because it’s dramatic, and occasionally because it’s funny. Rarely is it both, but the Iraq Inquiry today served up a classic double-header. For on display was none other than the ethically confused dolt himself, Alistair Campbell.
What Britain really needs is somebody who starts with an objective view about Campbell to take him apart with clinical unpleasantness – but in the meantime, I’ll have to do.
I have thought Chemical Ally a loathsome creature ever since his casually delivered line on Parkinson about ‘making up’ the story re David Mellor shagging his mistress in a Chelsea shirt. But more recently, as the revelations came out(from the media, and the one or two of my acquaintances involved) about the amazing power this yob had to smear, bully and spin during the Blair years, I took my final place on the pro/con Campbell spectrum at that point where even clerics say “Verily, garotting is sometimes justified.”
He is – and here I must shuffle off the fence at last – the nearest thing any society will ever find to cultural anti-matter. If anthropology were a religion, there would be High Priests urgently reciting prayers and chucking Holy Water everywhere within a three-mile radius of Alistair Campbell. His mere existence is dangerous enough, but allowing him a seat at the Top Table of world events was easily the most amorally daft thing Blair did – far in excess of invading Iraq or even giving power and patronage to Peter Mandelson.
So then, what could possibly be funny about such a Beelzebub? And the answer – I’m delighted to tell you – is that (behind a superficial mask of soundbites) Campbell owns the unmistakable face of a seriously stupid person.
The irrefutable nature of this conclusion was obvious the minute he began giving evidence to the Chalcot Inquiry. And given his aspiration to be a man of substance, then ergo sum the yawning gap between aspiration and achievement was hilariously doomed to emerge.
I was giggling from the second Campbell started fingering, donning and then whipping off a pair of pince-nez glasses. Apart from the likelihood that they had neutral glass where lenses should be, there is little more guaranteed to get me chuckling than a twerp trying to come across as Mr Gravitas.
Asked if he still stood behind the Iraq dossier, Blair’s chief media brain replied (after a suitably considered pause) that yes, My God, he did – ‘Every word’. This was an amazing admission, given that ‘every word’ in it (apart from the date and the spelling of Saddam’s name) has since proved to be without foundation. As an analysis with the benefit of hindsight, Campbell’s loyalty to this ludicrous document was up there with Eva Braun’s judgment about how ‘my adorable Dolfi was always misunderstood’.
But my first genuine laugh-out-loud fit began as this oddly plausible pillock started to talk about WMD as if it might even now be some real and present pandemic. Over and over he repeated the acronym, until (entirely appopriately) through over-use it lost any sense of threat, and began to sound like a 1980s New Wave advertising agency: Woolly, Manky, Drip perhaps – a boutiquy hotshop trade press magazines would soon begin shortening to Woolly Manky in their breathless front-page lead stories.
It seemed not to occur to Alistair Campbell that the ‘vapourise us all in ten minutes’ drivel about WMD had turned out to be a couple of fireworks attached to the rear wheel of a Baathist serial suicide-biker in the suburbs of Baghdad. And so, as he continued to pepper his Wannabe Wise Owl bollocks with more and more WMD, its non-existence set off a guffawing fit in this, your solitary viewer.
I needed a rest by now, but respite was there none. For one thing, the Inquiry members kept on treating Tony’s chief arm-twister as a man who might (a) have something profound to say, and – even more unlikely -(b) something approximating in a deviously tangential way to the truth.
Campbell’s every utterance was treated with the sort of solemnity often reserved for the Pope’s Easter greeting; but what made it worse was that (I only now noticed) everyone in the room seemed to be peering over half-moon glasses.
Had it not been for the spectacles halfway down the conk thing, I might have been able to keep things together. But they were suddenly everywhere – and this spectacle of spectacles was enough to tip me over the edge. It was turning into The Bonfire of the Bifocals, and I in turn descended at last into role of Helplessly Hysterical Man.
But then the laughing had to stop.
For the nonsense came into final, fatal focus when – towards the end of what must have seemed like a stroll in the park to this antennae-free zone – Chalcot of the Yard asked Campbell of the Crap how he felt about the aftermath of the Iraq conflict. After yet another pause for effect (reflection being merely what Ally sees in the mirror) the Great Spinner told his audience, “The UK should be proud of its role in changing Iraq from what it was to what it is now becoming”.
Do not mistake me for an easily-duped follower of the ‘West & Jews Bad, All Arabs Good’ tendency. I do not doubt that Saddam Hussein was an unpleasant stain on the history of humanity; nor would I deny that Islamism must be confronted with a firmness of intent.
But right now, Iraq is a country riven by Islamist factions and ruled by controlling and corrupt people with the same book-burning tendencies of so many in the region. It is being horrifically bombed by fanatics on a daily basis our daily newspapers have chosen largely to forget. So when Campbell suggested that we should be proud of what Iraq is becoming, it fired a shot of serious venom into my being: a jolt of Neolithic anger sufficient to inspire all kinds of unchristian emotions. A case (probably) of surprised, naive decency meeting decadent idiocy.
Make no mistake: denial can be funny when Daniel is in the Lions’ den – especially when the lions are myopically silly, and Danny Boy is a jerk. But there’s a limit to funny.
This man who denies everything is guilty of everything he denies. He persuaded senior military officers to lie about preparedness, dossier-compilers to sex up the content, respected editors to print lies, and (at best) honest men to kill themselves. Worst of all, he helped persuade me and lots of other me’s to go along with this disgusting venture.
I am reliably informed that, in the period following Dubya’s Shock & Awe, Alistair Campbell suffered a period of clinical depression. Depression (I know only too well) is a form of self-loathing.
In this man’s case, the inwardly directed hatred was richly deserved.