March 17, 2023 - 5:52pm

Speaking to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Alastair Campbell has indicated that he wished the whole sequence of events had never happened. The former press secretary to Tony Blair said on the Rest is Politics podcast that the invasion was one of those things that “you wish it never happened”.

“It’s one of those things that you just put into the category that you just wish it had never happened,” he said. “You wish that you knew that Tony Blair and the government had never been put in that position.”

The comments struck a different note from Campbell’s previously defiant statements. Seven years after the invasion, he said that he stood by “every word” of the Iraq War dossier, insisting that Britain ought to be “proud” of the country’s role in the war. Bedevilled by claims that the war was illegal, he then gave an Oxford Union speech explaining why the government had chosen to invade. 

Throughout the 20-year period, Campbell has maintained unwavering support for then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision. Saying that Blair did “all that he could” to avoid the war, Campbell reiterated this view in the first episode of the two podcasts. But in the second episode, he appeared to distance himself from his leader, claiming that he had to defend him because it was his job (41:16):

I’m always put into the centre of these debates, but obviously not as much as Tony. But certainly as much as the other members of the cabinet like Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary, and Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary. I think I took a lot of heat, partly on their behalf. And I’m not complaining about that. I think that was part of the function I played a lot of the times — as sort of lightning conductor…

Tony was genuinely driven by a sense of conviction on this [the invasion]. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that…and you have to remember: my job was to go out and represent Tony Blair, and the cabinet’s view to the world. That was my job. That’s what I had to do.

- Alastair Campbell

Despite Campbell’s more introspective tone on the topic, he says that Blair would be less conciliatory than him to this day (52:53):

For all those soldiers who were killed, who died, for all the other people who were killed and injured for all the trouble there has been, I can make the case that a lot of the aftermath problems were created by forces who would be doing other terrible things elsewhere were not there, and might even have been doing it there. But at the same time, I recognise that…it’s one of those things that you just put into the category you just wish it had never happened. You wish it never happened. You wish that you knew that Tony Blair and the government had never been put in that position. But they were. I’m still talking to Tony about this. I talked to him a lot. He thinks about it a lot and thinks about it deeply. If you were to talk to him and have the same conversation with him, I think he’d push back a lot harder.

- Alastair Campbell

Listen to the full episode here.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.