Labour's spin doctors on their backs: Mandelson ridiculed and Campbell under attack

ALASTAIR Campbell, the Prime Minister's official spokesman, last night accused the media of staging a "self-indulgent orgy" after William Hague, the Tory leader, had suggested he was a liar, writes Anthony Bevins.

The row centred on a recent telephone call to Tony Blair made by Romano Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister, during which Mr Blair asked Mr Prodi what he thought about a bid from Rupert Murdoch for a controlling interest in three Italian television networks.

Mr Campbell spent last week saying the call had been made by Mr Prodi, and that as Mr Blair had only asked in passing about the attitude towards the Murdoch bid, he had hardly "intervened" on his behalf.

But the BBC carried a series of reports on the affair yesterday, with Francis Maude, a Tory frontbench spokesman, calling Mr Campbell a liar, and BBC political reporters complaining about Mr Campbell's "frightening" and "intimidating" conduct - a charge later dismissed as "jocular" by Nick Clarke, presenter of The World at One.

Three charges were laid by the Tories against No 10 - that Mr Campbell's briefing on the Prodi-Blair call had been "at best misleading and at worst deliberately false"; that Mr Campbell had attempted to gag Harriet Harman, and Frank Field, the social security ministers; and that Labour had tried to cover up a plan to set up a "cash-for-access" deal with Mr Blair's office.

At his evening briefing with political reporters, Mr Campbell drew a distinction between the legitimate journalistic interest in Mr Blair's relationship with Mr Murdoch and the question of whether he had lied. He said that every journalist in the room knew he had not lied.

But he accused the media of being obsessed with itself to the exclusion of issues of concern to real people. "There are certain subjects the media are neuralgic about," he said. "One of them is Murdoch; one of them is spin doctors. Put the two together, and you know you can have a self- indulgent orgy lasting days, which is what you are doing."

Boasting for Britain, page 10

Andrew Marr, page 19

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