Journalist Alan Cochrane’s bombastic diaries cover the Scottish independence referendum, starting with the long run up from January 2012. Although the title echoes that of Spike Milligan’s famous Adolf Hitler: my part in his downfall his wit does not rise to the allusion and much of the bombast is simple, standard insulting fare short of originality or panache and with a touch of sexist language about female politicians he doesn’t like (as when one gets dismissed as a “Fife wifie”).
To be fair, he certainly doesn’t spare his own self-image and much of the diary is about his alcohol consumption, with complaints about the quality served up a regular feature in the pages of Alex Salmond: my part in his downfall.
The diary entries are nearly all short, and move past at quite a pace as a result even when (as happens rather too often) they are full of very brief references about people who are pretty obscure outside very insider political and cultural circles. Some are not even that, as with 16 November which reads in full: “Felt hellish and played hockey. Painted the door instead. God, I was ill.”
One message that comes through clearly, abetted by the diary format, is the often cosy relationship between journalists and the subjects they are covering. For large parts of Alan Cochrane’s diaries they could just as well be by an MP who gets covered by the media as by a member of the media who covers MPs, so collaborative is the outlook so often.
Cochrane too is not afraid of admitting the appearance of duff or misleading stories which happen to fit a desired editorial line. Writing about one “mischievous” story which might immently turn out to be untrue due to a story on TV, Cochrane’s response (happily published in his own book) is one of “who cares? Telegraph [his newspaper] readers don’t watch rubbish on STV!”.
Nor, despite his strictures about the misdeeds of colleagues exposed by the Leveson Inquiry, is he averse to admitting he lives in circles where breaking rules is considered unexceptional, as when he says “it’s a pity we can’t fiddle an opinion poll nowadays” or when his reaction to one politician’s bad write-up on Wikipedia is to say “any normal person would have edited that out”, even though such personal editing breaks Wikipedia’s own rules.
As he scores points for candour, Cochrane also damns his own approach to journalism: accuracy and truth are often sacrificed in the name of having fun or pushing his own personal views. He even drops an article at Alistair Darling’s request not in return for a better story (a standard deal, unsavory but at least one which at leaves gives readers a better story in the end) but simply because it could harm the electoral outcome Cochrane personally prefers.
A few gems of personal information are thrown up as a result of his cosiness with politicians, such as David Cameron’s confession that he missed being able to go deer stalking any more, although once as Prime Minister he was able to go pigeon shooting in a wood near his home – with armed police surrounding the wood.
There are a few other similar gems, such as his description of how the last Labour government kicked off a major devolution review in the expectation that the Tories would sink it but were then caught out by the Liberal Democrats insisting in coalition that it was seen through. They are not many in number, however. As a result, the diaries are worth reading if you are deep into politics. Otherwise, other volumes are a better bet.
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Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.