There's a scene in the 2006 movie The Queen where Tony Blair, played by the great Welsh actor, Martin Sheen, chides Alastair Campbell, his sepulchral spin-doctor. Campbell is mocking Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth II when Blair hisses: “You know, when you get it wrong, you really get it wrong.”

What’s not in doubt though, is that in the 17 years that have since elapsed, Campbell is getting it right, really right.

The Rest is Politics, his podcast with the former Tory minister, Rory Stewart, has become a cultural phenomenon across the UK and is now probably the country’s most influential political discussion show.

Last year, as the Tories were engulfed by the resignations of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and a turnstile was on the door of the UK cabinet, Campbell’s moment had arrived.

He and Stewart presented a suite of special podcasts about the Tory meltdown which occupied three of the top four places in the Apple Podcast charts.

On Saturday night, Glasgow’s City Halls was rammed with people who had gathered to listen to him discuss his new book with The Herald’s editor, Catherine Salmond. Early sales of ‘But What Can I Do’, indicate that it will soon become a best-seller.

The Herald: Alastair Campbell and Catherine Salmond before the Aye Write event tonight

When I meet him the following morning, he’s in a jovial mood. He speaks fondly of his Scottish gathering. “At book festivals it’s normally older, educated, professional types, but last night in Glasgow there were lots of students and school pupils. And like everywhere else I’ve been across the UK they’re united in a barely concealed hatred of the Tories.”

While boarding a train to Edinburgh he was approached by two ticket inspectors who told him they tuned in regularly to his podcast. “In Scotland, there is a knowledge of politics and current affairs that goes well beyond the political bubble.”

On stage the previous night he’d said he didn’t believe an independent Scotland would happen in his lifetime. “The dial seems to have moved backwards,” he says. “One reason for this is the recent implosion of the SNP in the wake of the police investigation into the party’s finances.

“I get the sense now that a party which was once master of all it surveyed has now lost its grip. Perhaps people are now looking beyond the independence question and beginning to focus on their actual record.

The Herald: Catherine Salmond, editor of The Herald, interviews Alastair Campbell at the Aye Write festival

“I sense too in Scotland that something has begun to overtake the constitutional question. That whatever you think of independence a more urgent desire is to get rid of this UK government.”

He cites the show of hands that occurred in his last three Scottish gigs, including St Andrews and Edinburgh. “Around 1500 people attended these shows and when I asked them who was most likely to be Prime Minister in two years’ time I’d estimate that between 80% and 90% opted for Sir Keir Starmer.”

The sub-title of his book is “Why politics has gone so wrong, and how you can help fix it.” The first section is a sprawling commentary on what he regards as a disfigurement of politics across the world, resulting in right-wing demagogues taking power on a wave of populism. It’s followed by a self-help guide on how to get involved in organised politics for the purpose of reducing the influence of the zealots.

His disdain for Boris Johnson is evident on every other page and with it an almost obsessive anti-Brexitism. He believes that each is a direct result of ‘populism’. This he regards as a sort of exploitation of voters’ fatigue with organised politics by people pretending to be with them but in reality have no interest in them whatsoever.

In a chapter headed ‘Rise of the Populists’ he writes: To the polarising populist, compromise or agreement between opponents is to be avoided. I reckon that part of the success of the podcast [with Rory Stewart] is down to the fact that while we come from different backgrounds and have different political views, we try to ‘disagree agreeably’. This approach seems to strike a chord with a lot of people. But it is anathema to the polarising populist, who needs divisiveness, who feeds off anger and hate, who wants disagreements to be disagreeable.”

Read More: Alastair Campbell interviewed by Herald editor Catherine Salmond

Yet, Campbell himself who authored the soundbites and attack lines of New Labour in the Blair era, might once have been regarded as a high priest of polarising populism. It was in these days that Diana became ‘The People’s Princess’ and where Blur and Oasis became pop-up emblems of the New Labour Brand. And when Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown proclaimed British jobs for British workers.

“Populism might have been exploited by Johnson and men like Donald Trump, Recep Erdogan in Turkey and Victor Orban in Hungary,” I suggest, “but wasn’t it rooted in the cynicism of the Blair years.” He rejects the comparison. “Look, can you name me one good thing that the UK Tories have done apart from the Equality legislation? Has any good arisen from Brexit?

“No matter what people once thought of Gordon Brown and John Major, in terms of integrity and honesty they were giants compared with what we’ve now got.” Campbell once said of Brown “that anyone who seriously thought he would have beaten TB in a contest needed their head examined”.

The Herald:

“The worst thing about Boris Johnson is that if he had come out for Remain we wouldn’t have left the EU and this country would be in a far better place.”

I suggest to him though, that many Labour voters in the north of England who had voted Leave were bitterly resentful at being portrayed as ignorant racists who didn’t have a clue what they were voting for.

In several assignments in England’s north I was told repeatedly that membership of the EU had done nothing for them and that the arrival of cheap overseas labour was being exploited by the profiteers to drive down local wages. And that it was principally this which had enabled the Tories to dismantle the Red Wall in 2019.

Campbell points to the Blair/Brown government’s record in these places. “We put in place the New Deal and the Minimum Wage and built hospitals in these places. Boris Johnson and his party meanwhile promised them that if they voted Leave it would bolster their economy. If you went back to many of those places now they’ll say they were betrayed over Brexit.”

His loathing of Brexit is laced with realpolitik. “I don’t think the country needs another referendum on membership right now so soon after the divisions of the first one,” he says. It’s clear though, that Brexit isn’t working and that it needs to change. The extent to which Sir Keir can do this will be a measure of his Government if Labour wins the next UK election.”

In his book, Campbell describes Jeremy Corbyn as “a left-wing populist”. Isn’t that a bit unfair, I ask him. In 2017, he increased Labour’s share of the vote at a general election more than any other party leader since 1945. More than 61% of under-40s voted for him in 2017. Was it not the case that a right-wing media were so spooked by the prospect of an authentic socialist in Number 10 that they defamed him with the tag of ‘anti-Semitism’?

Read More: SNP is clearly playing the long game ... well, at least until 2031

“Perhaps, but there are elements of Labour’s hard-left whose attitude towards Israel is anti-Semitic. I simply think that if you have any real ambitions of becoming Prime Minister you must be seen to be dealing firmly with that problem. And I don’t think this ever happened. I agree though, that many young people were energised by him. My worry all along was that he under-estimated the importance of winning within the country.”

Many on the left of the Labour movement are being energised once more by the trade union advocacy of Mick Lynch, leader of the RMT Union. Campbell says it’s difficult not to be impressed by him: “He’s an amazing communicator and I love that he doesn’t take any nonsense from the media. But I worry slightly that the drama of the dispute in itself maybe matters too much to him.”

He tells me about the two young audience members who had told him they’d each had tickets to see Beyonce on the same night, but had chosen to attend his show. “I was humbled beyond words at that,” he says. “It’s young people like these who can restore optimism in our politics and defeat cynicism.”