The Alastair Campbell diaries: the Blair years

‘Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew and dog will have his day.’

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

As Brian, an occupant of the Big Brother house and therefore expert on celebrity in 21st century Britain, pointed out, ‘Politics is fame for ugly people’. Substitute ‘unpleasant’ for ‘ugly’ and Alastair Campbell and his diaries, or rather extracts from diaries, fit the bill. The ‘extracts’ are not political, they are at a rather low level. There is precious little attempt to express or analyse the political standpoint that gave birth to New Labour or drove it forward for the nine years that the diaries cover (1994-2003). In 1994 Blair announced to the Labour Party that principles without power were useless. Campbell treats us to an unedifying account of how he helped Blair and New Labour to shed all principles in favour of power.

‘By now, he had also let me know, and sworn me to secrecy, that he was minded to have a review of the constitution and scrap Clause 4. I have never felt any great ideological attachment to Clause 4 one way or the other... Here was a new leader telling me he was thinking of doing it in his first conference speech as a leader. I said I hope you do, because it’s bold.’ (On Blair’s proposal to drop Clause 4 commitment to common ownership from Labour’s constitution.)

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The Poverty of 'Fantasy Island'

Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson
Fantasy Island: waking up to the incredible economic, political and social illusions of the Blair legacy
Constable, London, 2007, 260pp, £7.99 pbk

‘The financial services industry... is, and will always be, of vital importance to this country…We are world leaders and we want to keep it that way’ Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Labour Party Conference, 23 September 2007 [1]

Britain can be seen as ‘one big offshore hedge fund churning speculators’ money while asset-strippers draw up plans for the few remaining factories to be turned into industrial theme parks’, say the authors of a new book exposing the illusions of the Blair legacy (p74).2 They also believe that nothing essential will change under Gordon Brown. He is unlikely to curb the activities of the global financial markets because the UK has actually done rather well out of them, at least in the short term, a point reinforced by the new Chancellor at the recent Labour Party conference. The result of this could well be an almighty financial crash and a ‘backlash against the excesses of the financial markets of a kind not seen for 75 years [since the Great Depression]’. While such a backlash, the authors say, would lead to demands to regulate the financial markets, ‘the only pity is that [such reforms] now could avoid the crash’ (pp230-1). Elliott and Atkinson (E&A) have written this book to warn us of the perils ahead, as a wake up call to take action before the real world goes up in smoke (p238).

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Private health care: poor pay with their lives - Sicko Michael Moore, 2007, US

Sicko Michael Moore, 2007, US

Sicko is the latest film by US documentary maker Michael Moore, acclaimed for his films Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. The film is an indictment of the US health service, targeting the parasitic insurance companies which run the industry. Sicko starts with a scene of a man stitching up his own leg – quite simply because he was too poor to afford medical insurance. Moore then interviews an uninsured man who cut off two of his fingers in an accident. He had to choose between paying $72,000 to have both fingers sewn back on, $60,000 to have just the main digit sewn back on or $12,000 for the smaller finger. But Moore says the focus of the film is not so much about the 47 million people in the US who are living without medical insurance but those lucky ones with it.

In the US if you want health cover you have to pay for it. According to USA Today the average cost for a family health insurance policy topped $10,000 in 2005. Yet, as Moore’s film highlights, even paying those huge fees does not guarantee that you receive treatment if you are ill. With the aid of former insurance workers and doctors, the film demonstrates that in the cold pursuit of profit the insurance industries adopt all means at their disposal not to honour a claim. One of the film’s most cruel examples was that of a poor black woman who had managed to scrape together enough money to pay for health cover for herself and her daughter. When her daughter became ill in the middle of the night she took her to the nearest hospital. However, her insurance company refused to cover her at this hospital and forced her to take her sick daughter to another instead. She died on arrival. This is just one case out of many shown in the film highlighting the human suffering that this unjust system inflicts.

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Review: Health, human rights and the United Nations

Review

Theodore H MacDonald, Health, human rights and the United Nations – inconsistent aims and inherent contradictions? Radcliff Publishing Ltd 2008 ISBN 13: 078 1 84619 241 8, 196 pages

This book follows Health, trade and human rights (ISBN 1-84619-050-9) 2006, and The global human right to health – dream or possibility? (ISBN 978-1-84619-201-2), 2007. Forthcoming is Sacrificing the WHO to the highest bidder. This publication rate is in keeping with Theodore MacDonald’s over 200 research papers and over 40 books (from which he draws no financial gain) reflecting his life-long commitment to human rights and immense contribution to health promotion and public health, emphasising that without primary health care for all, nothing else is achievable.

Imperialism’s barbaric practices are meticulously documented, using easily accessible examples. MacDonald ensures that revolutionary Cuba is prominent in the discussion of alternative ways of organising society in the interests of the people and that socialism is on the agenda.

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Review: BBC Two’s ‘White Season’

Review

What exactly did BBC Two intend to do in its ‘White Season’? Why did they organise a survey, not randomly as claimed, but aimed at white people with a very specific question about being ‘voiceless’ and unrepresented. Was it to manipulate the message that people in Britain feel that ‘nobody speaks for them’ and that they are ‘becoming invisible’ in order to serve the purpose of a race and not a class agenda? The ‘White Season’ was launched by a discussion based on a small telephone poll of 1,012 white British adults aged 18+ which showed that 58% of white working class people felt nobody speaks for people like them and 46% of white middle class people felt the same. Newsnight guest speaker Bob Crow of the RMT energetically agreed that the Labour government and the media do not represent the interests of, and in fact attack, the working class but, he asserted, this is entirely a matter of class, not of race.

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