Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

FactCheck: Campbell diaries, part 1

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 18 July 2007

The Bernie Ecclestone affair, Hugh Dykes' defection to the Lib Dems and referring to comprehensive schools as "bog-standard".

The claim

"I spoke to [Gordon Brown] and Peter [Mandelson] during the day, all four of us were agreed. One problem was that the circle of people who knew was widening."
7 November 1997


Campbell's book is not intended, he tells us in the introduction, to contain things that will damage New Labour - or anything that will make the job of prime minister harder for Gordon Brown.

But his entries for November 1997 appear to contradict Gordon Brown's previously stated position on what he knew about the Bernie Ecclestone affair - and when.

In November 1997, the Labour party got into its first case of leadership hot water, over the undisclosed £1m donation made to the party by Formula One tycoon and the decision to exempt F1 racing from a ban on tobacco advertising in sport.

Brown's particular part in the controversy first surfaced in Andrew Rawnsley's 2000 book, Servants of the People. He notes that, on 10 November, Brown was put on the spot during an interview with Radio 4's Today programme.

Asked directly whether Bernie Ecclestone had given money to the Labour Party, Brown replied: "You'll have to wait and see, like I'll have to wait and see when the list [of donors] is published. I've not been told and I certainly don't know what the truth is."

'I've not been told and I certainly don't know what the truth is.'
Gordon Brown, 10 November 1997

Brown was questioned on these allegations shortly after the book's publication. He told the BBC that "Tony Blair told him a donation had been given, but insisted his answer had been correct and truthful", saying he had been angry after the Today interview, but would not lie.

But Campbell's diary entry for 7 November - three days before the interview - suggests that Brown, along with Campbell, Blair and Mandelson, was part of the inner circle who were "agreed" on how to handle the affair.

"One problem was that the circle of people who knew was widening," Campbell notes straight afterwards, saying it had been checked that Frank Dobson and Tessa Jowell hadn't known (they hadn't).

And by November 10, the Chancellor clearly seems to be in the loop: "GB felt we should give the money back straight away, but it meant state funding was inevitable".

On 12 November, Campbell appears to back up his 7 November entry, saying that Blair blamed Brown for "persuading him it was the wrong thing to get the facts out early".

As Campbell says: "GB had started off agreeing with me, then changed his mind and with Peter's help changed Tony's. Then day after day we were forced to reveal more and more..."

Transcript of Blair On the Record, 16 April 1997
House of Commons Hansard debates 19 November 1997
Brown fights critics, BBC online, 21 September 2000

The claim

"One of those rare moments of pure political pleasure. I was in the bath at half six when John Sergeant came on with the story about Hugh Dykes [Conservative MP for Harrow East] defecting to the Lib Dems."
Monday, 6 January 1997

The analysis

At first glance, this seems, at least to a political anorak, to jar with the reality.

The MP for Harrow East since 1970 stayed a Tory right until the end of his commons career - when he fought and lost his majority in a massive swing to Labour in May 1997. His defection to the Lib Dems didn't take place until September.

So what's happened to Campbell - is he looking into a bathtime crystal ball, or could the diary have sprung a leak?

It wasn't, as Campbell's diary suggests, quite the coup of a party-ditching MP.

It's a bit of both. The news Campbell refers to is a less controversial affair. As the next day's Times says in an article headlined "Tory MP joins opposition talks on electoral reform", Hugh Dykes was in fact going to join opposition parties' talks on constitutional reform:

"In a letter to Jack Straw, the Shadow Home Secretary, he accepted an invitation to a meeting of the Liberal Democrat-Labour joint consultative committee."

This was, the article notes, something about which Labour was "delighted". But it wasn't, as Campbell's diary suggests, quite the coup of a party-ditching MP.

Tory MP joins opposition talks on electoral reform, The Times, January 7 1997 (subscription)
Former Tory MP defects to Lib Dems, The Times, September 15 1997 (subscription)
Hugh Dykes biography

The claim

"My bog-standard comprehensive comment got the schools story up rather larger than I had intended. TB pointed out that he had used it before and nobody batted an eyelid."
13 February 2001

The analysis

For all his rage and bluster, Campbell made relatively few PR gaffes. One such appeared to be his use of the phrase "bog-standard comprehensive" at an education event in 2001, which was met with criticism from education unions.

The phrase itself was coined by Peter Hyman, Blair's former speechwriter.

In his book, One Out of Ten, Hyman recounts walking into Campbell's office and, together with Andrew Adonis, agreeing that the launch of a new acadamies programme was "about the end of the bog-standard comprehensive ... moving beyond uniformity to a system of schools each of which have their own distinctive ethos".

According to Hyman's account, Campbell then went up to the lobby and used the phrase. Later, after "all hell broke loose", Campbell blamed Hyman for having used the phrase at the last minute and hence planting it in his head.

On this occasion, the story did appear to get more publicity than intended - with Labour, the party of education, education, education seeming to be denigrating the comprehensive schools which they had once held so dear.

'In public, Tony condemned the phrase as being a bit over the top, and would not use it himself. In private, he thought it gave us some definition.'
Peter Hyman

So did Blair really use the phrase to no interest? If he did, it certainly wasn't on the record. Hansard, the official record of all parliamentary business, shows no uses predating Cambell's own.

A search of the recent published text of 14 national English newspapers, most dating from 1998 or earlier, plus Scottish, Irish, Welsh and other regional titles, throws up no mentions of the phrase - until the first Evening Standard report quoting Campbell on 12 February 2001.

The emotive nature of the phrase, at least with hindsight, seems clear. In 2005, after leaving Downing Street to work in a school, Hyman told the Today programme: "So behind it there was a laudable idea, but I'm not sure if I would use such emotive language if I had my time again."

And as he notes in his book, Blair was also careful in his use of the phrase: "In public, Tony condemned the phrase as being a bit over the top, and would not use it himself. In private, he thought it gave us some definition."

Monday, 7 February, 2005, Writer's 'bog standard' regrets, BBC
One Out of Ten by Peter Hyman

Your view

You've read the article, now have your say. We want to know your experiences and your views. We also want to know if there are any claims you want given the FactCheck treatment.


FactCheck will correct significant errors in a timely manner. Readers should direct their enquiries to the editor at the email address above.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Domestic politics news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Cartoon coalition


How Channel 4 News viewers picture the coalition in cartoon form

Token candidate?

Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott (credit:Getty Images)

Diane Abbott: I am the genuine move-on candidate for Labour

'Mr Ordinary'

Andy Burnham, Getty images

Andy Burnham targets Labour's 'ordinary' person.

Iraq inquiry: day by day

Tony Blair mask burnt during protest outside the Iraq inquiry. (Credit: Getty)

Keep track of Sir John Chilcot's Iraq war findings day by day.

The Freedom Files

Freedom Files

Revealed: the stories they didn't want to tell.

Making a FoI request?

Channel 4 News tells you how to unearth information.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.