Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Alastair Campbell: Stormont system needs to deliver change

Alastair Campbell

Question marks are rising over the ability of the political system at Stormont to deliver, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has warned.

On a visit to Belfast yesterday, promoting the second volume of his personal diaries, Mr Campbell said it was obvious the education system in the province is “crying out for change” — but achieving it is proving “very difficult”.

Returning to the Assembly after launching the book — Power And the People — at Queen’s University, he told the Belfast Telegraph he believed Stormont is “doing okay” and has become “established”.

But he added: “I think the system, bearing in mind that it was set up to be a power-sharing Executive, means that sometimes it can be very frustrating for people. They see the politicians saying what they want to do and then not able to do it.

“Looking at the education system, it is obviously crying out for change but it is proving very difficult to change. You don’t have a political system that can deliver that change.”

The official spokesman for Mr Blair between 1997 and 2003 also admitted his diaries are “unfair” in their portrayal of former First Minister David Trimble.

“A diary is a diary, you write it every day, (but Trimble) comes over as very difficult, very querulous, which he could be — but so could everybody else.

“The general impression of Trimble is not as positive as it should be,” he said.

And he admitted he still does not know how the Agreement was finally forged.

“Most of the time it didn’t feel like it really was going to happen,” he said.

Mr Campbell said he was surprised that “almost everyone” appeared to believe he liked Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness but not Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. “I liked them both in different ways,” he said.

“The big difference between (Lord Trimble) and the Sinn Fein team was that they also gave the impression they were united, while he obviously had problems.”

Mr Campbell also said he had no regrets about not telling the media the truth about the talks which led to the 1998 Agreement. “If you are in a situation which you feel is going nowhere, what earthly benefit is served by me going out to the Press and saying ‘this is a disaster, total mayhem’.

“Instead... I would go out and say this is very, very difficult and we are working hard... that wasn’t untrue, I just didn’t tell you what was actually happening.”

The former journalist said he believed Secretary of State Mo Mowlam sometimes resented interference by Mr Blair and was perceived as too close to nationalists, while her successor Peter Mandelson was viewed as too close to unionists.

Speaking to politics, international studies and philosophy students at Queen’s, Mr Campbell described his role as the Government’s chief communicator as managing a “see-saw”.

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