Sour Smell Of Success

Alastair Campbell's new book is predictable stuff

When I first saw the title of Alastair Campbell’s new book—Winners And How They Succeed (Hutchinson, £20)—I thought perhaps it was meant ironically. But I underestimated Campbell’s arrogance.  He is clearly of the belief that he is qualified to write a book about winning because he is one of life’s winners, and has worked with great winners.  How deluded that idea is.

Campbell was the enforcer and PR handler for Tony Blair, and prior to that a Daily Mirror hack. I suspect he will be remembered as the man who bullied the BBC when it challenged the Labour government’s statements that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That lie, which Campbell vigorously promoted, took Britain into a disastrous war under false pretences. Is that really such a winner’s legacy?

Campbell would argue that he helped Blair to win three elections for Labour, but Britain was the loser from those years. Catastrophic economic and immigration policies, among many other profound mistakes, saw the nation on its knees by 2010, when it should have been prepared for tougher times.

Self-help and advice books are only worthwhile if the author is credible. While Campbell’s interviewees might be trustworthy, the writer is not. More than anything, Campbell reminds me of the sinister character J. J. Hunsecker, brilliantly played by Burt Lancaster in the marvellous 1957 movie The Sweet Smell of Success. Hunsecker is a powerful newspaper columnist whose venality and menace know no bounds. I suspect Campbell’s copy is no more reliable than J.J.’s articles.

The book is 464 pages of predictable stuff, much of it from obvious political names such as Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama, or sporting figures such as Sir Alex Ferguson. The recommendations are trite and can be obtained for free on hundreds of websites: be ambitious, never give up, innovate, overcome failure, and so forth. Campbell tells us nothing new, fresh or original. My advice is to forget this pointless book, save £20, and obtain the same sort of obvious quotes online. I suspect it will be a more reliable source.

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