Alastair Campbell. Alastair Campbell. Alastair Campbell. I don't know whether you've noticed, but there's quite a lot about him around at the moment. I don't know whether you've noticed, but there's always quite a lot about him around at the moment. That marathon run, for example. You must remember that. It seemed to go on for ever and ever, a real, well, marathon, even though it was for an excellent cause.
Well, yes, I hear what you're saying: this is a bit rich, isn't it, coming from a representative of the media, one of the people who spend their time banging on about Alastair Campbell, who are obsessed with Alastair Campbell, who detect the hand of Alastair Campbell everywhere, in everything? And, obviously, I would have to agree that you have a point, although I'm still lost in admiration at the way he managed to get IDS elected. But I'm not so sure about letting Becks go.
All right, maybe we are a bit, how shall we say, over-focused on Alastair. Still, he is the Prime Minister's director of communications, so we do have to take some notice of him. But there is, of course, more to it than that. This man used to be a journalist. Now look at him: lean, fit, soft drinks only, much admired for his craggy looks, taking on foreign affairs select committees in crisp white shirtsleeves and crisper tones with the odd little quip and carefully nuanced indignation. Those of us who have forsworn the road to power, sacrificed running the country for the pursuit of a higher duty, The Truth, must be forgiven the odd twinge of regret, and consequent fascination. And all of us, surely, would relish the opportunity, for example, to rein in the Prime Minister from one of his more evangelical moments during an interview by interjecting abruptly: "We don't do God."
Which touches on something else which is pretty clear, at least to us media types: if a journalist is in an important government position, that journalist will obviously be running the show, even though, as with yesterday, he will be extremely modest about it and claim not to know everything that is going on. I hope, then, that this goes some way to explain the ubiquity and importance of Alastair Campbell. And let me take this opportunity to deny that his grudging approach to apologies, his ad hominem attacks on respected journalists, and his dismissive attitude to penetrating, pertinent and well-thought-out questions - "bollocks" is a word that comes to mind - in any way influences media attitudes towards him, any more than the idea that animus towards a "poacher turned gamekeeper" would inform the sophisticated process that is news gathering and analysis in this country. Tell me, though, seriously, can you really trust the judgement of a man who goes to see Britney Spears? Do me a favour!
Still, it is undeniable that we prefer the more colourful personality, the character who is "good copy", to the rather more self-effacing spokesmen of the past, like Sir Bernard Ingham, or Joe Haines. Which is why my call today - that now really is the time for Alastair Campbell to move on - is not prompted by any self-serving motives. He has served his Prime Minister and his country for long enough. He has, in a very real sense, "become the story". He should lay down his burden for the good of his Prime Minister and his country. Most crucially, he's become terribly predictable and we need someone new to have a pop at.
I would be failing in my duty as a commentator, though, if I did not have some advice for him on his future career options. There is this diary that he's supposed to be writing, but that will come to an end with the job, unless, of course, he has much re-writing and revising to do, which seems scarcely likely. Perhaps spending more time with his trainers would be an option. A run round the world would be too much to expect. I note, though, that he has had some success deterring muggers while out on his runs: more sightings of that baleful figure on the streets of the capital would have a powerful effect on street crime.
On the whole, I should counsel against a return to full-time journalism, although the way he handled those dossiers on Iraq shows he certainly hasn't lost the touch. His subsequent researches into the internet might provide a pointer: perhaps some kind of postgraduate information service might prove a winner: Anyoldtheses.com?
Nor should all that Iraqi knowledge, so painstakingly acquired, go to waste. It would be an imaginative stroke; but this Prime Minister has shown himself to have a lively imagination. Why not send Alastair in to look for those weapons of mass destruction personally, with instructions not to return until he has found them? In the shorter term, I see there are reports that Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the former Iraqi minister of information, has been arrested. Alastair de-briefing Mr al-Sahaf might be just the shot in the arm Channel 4 and reality television needs.