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PUPPET MASTER; How Campbell ruled Downing St DEATH OF A FALL GUY.


JUST after moving into Downing Street Cherie Blair decided that Humphrey, the cat who prowled the corridors of power, would have to go.

Alastair Campbell, who was given the job of finding Humphrey a home "in the country" was told by Downing Street flunkies: "You can't do that - he's a civil service cat."

Campbell replied: "We can do whatever we want."

And that is, perhaps, the reason new Labour is suffering the problems it is - Alastair Campbell has done whatever he wants for too long. If Tony Blair is the captain of New Labour's ship, Alastair Campbell is the engineer.

Along with Peter Mandelson, he shaped the young Blair. Mandelson and Campbell would always have been major players in Labour. Without those two, Blair would not have risen to the top.

Their decision to back Blair over Brown shaped British politics from 1994 to the present day.

For better or worse, Campbell has always been a puppeteer rather than a puppet.

Since the demise of Mandelson and the distancing of Gordon Brown, there has been a growing feeling that Campbell is pulling too many strings.

Next to the Prime Minister, Campbell is the most high- profile Government figure.

But as Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's former spin doctor, could tell him, "when the spin doctor becomes the story it is time for him to go".

Those were the words from Downing Street - credited, of course to Campbell, that told Charlie he was just too much of a good story to be a spin doctor.

Now those words have come back to haunt the maestro of manipulation.

Campbell is the most high- profile press secretary in British parliamentary politics, regarded by even cabinet ministers as "the real deputy prime minister".

It is easy to find Labour politicians who will celebrate rather than bemoan his resignation or sacking as Blair's head of communications.

Anyone who has been on the sharp end of being "Campbelled" will tell you it is not a pleasant experience.

Mandelson may have been one of Blair's closest friends and confidantes, but when Campbell decided it was time for Mandy to leave government, Blair acted accordingly.

Campbell was the hard- living, high-earning political editor of the Daily Mirror who took a massive pay cut in 1994 to become spokesman for the then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Blair.

Even his fiercest critics within the Labour movement say the bagpipe- playing Campbell was crucial in modernising Labour and making the party electable.

After the 1997 Labour general election victory, it was Campbell who forged the formidable Whitehall press office which bullied and harangued journalists into writing what he wanted. His burning desire to manipulate the news agenda to suit the New Labour programme was legendary and ruthless.

In an unauthorised 1999 biography of Campbell, it is claimed that when he heard of Robin Cook's affair with secretary Gaynor he called the then Foreign Secretary and ordered him to choose between his wife and his mistress to control how the media handled the story.

Cook, it is implied in the book, like all other ministers, regarded Campbell as so powerful, that his words had the full authority of Blair.

He is also blamed for damning Mandelson as "having lost the plot" when Blair sacked him the second time over a passports row.

And he is alleged to have branded Gordon Brown "psychologically flawed".

But Campbell has also taken the blame for some of Blair's most embarrassing moments.

He will never live down his decision to allow the Prime Minister to appear before the Women's Institute before the last election, only to be given a slow handclap.

His involvement in the Dr David Kelly tragedy may be the last straw for Campbell.

There will be few tears shed when he does go.

But there are many Labour politicians, ministers, MPs, who would never have tasted power at all, had it not been for the powerhouse of Alastair Campbell.
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 20, 2003
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