Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Demons – not as bad as you might have heard

Poor Sir Craig Oliver.

His memoir of the inside story of the Brexit referendum seems to have been universally panned by the press. James Kirkup’s evisceration in The Telegraph is particularly brutal.

It is true that it is not that well-written. The number of times that Craig “runs into” a world famous politician and then is reminded of a pop-culture reference suggest it needed more careful editing.

It has clearly been rushed out and is little more than a diary rather than a considered view of the campaign and its implications.

But that was also true of Alastair Campbell’s diaries too. So, why the universal derision?

I better declare an interest. I’ve known Craig for many years. He was a highly intelligent and capable programme editor at ITN and one of the driving forces behind ITV News during his tenure as Head of Output. He was a smart, driven but thoughtful journalist with a populist touch.

We stayed in contact after he moved to the BBC and I briefly worked for David Cameron in opposition – although I’ve not seen him since his elevation to Number 10.

But he’s not exactly clubbable.

When he started working for Cameron I heard back from friends in the Lobby and on comment pages of newspapers that they found him supercilious, unconcerned with the needs of the print press and purely focussed on broadcast news.

That was clearly the right thing to do in my opinion. Getting the message right on Radio 1, Radio 2 and the main broadcast bulletins watched by millions of voters is far more important than appeasing the Sunday Telegraph’s comment writers.

But it is clear the Lobby has never forgiven him and is getting its revenge now.

That said, this is an insight into the heart of the campaign and its failings. And it is surprisingly refreshing to see politicians actually being quoted in what would normally be off-the record moments.

And that might be something the Lobby, with its reliance on anonymous sources, might want to reflect on.

Advertisements

Endless debates about TV debates

Surprise move: David Cameron appointed Craig Oliver

I’m not going to rehearse the debate about TV election debates; I’ve made clear I think they should happen and will happen in the short campaign.

But I think it’s worth noting that in trying to do David Cameron’s bidding in scuppering the debates, Craig OIiver seems to have managed to achieve the worst of all worlds.

Cameron consistently said he thought they sucked the life out of the 2010 campaign – although politicians are always likely to say this about debates they haven’t won.

Still, the Prime Minister’s determination not to let them take place again has led to a confrontation with the broadcasters at precisely the wrong point in the electoral calendar.

I know Craig from ITN and he’s a smart operator. But it’s clear he thought the broadcasters would back down when faced with a point-blank refusal from No 10.

That strategy has blown up in his face because of a surprisingly firm response from the broadcasters.

Now Labour’s chicken charge is sticking, it’s getting traction with the public, and that can only get worse from now on.

If Cameron doesn’t take part in the debates, he’s a chicken. If he does take part, he’s a flip-flop chicken.

Downing Street’s only hope for a way out of the impasse is a failure of nerve and splits among the broadcasters to emerge. Cue Lord Grade.