Information debate: Spinning `won't stop'

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The Independent Online
THE PROBLEM of spin- doctoring will "never completely go away", Jack Cunningham, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said yesterday amid growing concern about the influence of press aides such as Alastair Campbell.

Speaking during a Liberal Democrat-led Opposition debate on government information, Dr Cunningham said off-the-record briefings were an enduring fact of political life.

"Much is made out of anonymous comments and quotes... The very fact that they are anonymous makes it very difficult for anyone, however great the will, to do anything about them at all."

Dr Cunningham, in charge of co-ordinating the presentation of government policy, said Liberal Democrats took part in the process too. "We all know when we read in the newspapers, don't we, quotes which say `friends of Mr Ashdown', we know what that is - that's Mr Ashdown, that's Mr Ashdown's office.We all know the code and we read that quite frequently "

Some political journalists, however, were "absolutely addicted" to spin- doctoring, he added, stressing: "The reality is that it's never going to completely go away...but there is absolutely no evidence of any abuse of power by Mr Campbell."

Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrats deputy leader, demanded to be told the duties of Chancellor Gordon Brown's press secretary, Charlie Whelan, now he was to resign.

"Does he sit at his desk reading through the job adverts and sending out his CV or is he actually engaged in government work? Will he be restricted in the private sector posts that he can take up, because of access to government information that he has had and is he continuing to have that kind of access?

"I think we are entitled to know that. Other senior Treasury civil servants would be restricted if they moved out to the private sector."