Humphrys renews attack on 'presidential' Campbell

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The Independent Online

The BBC presenter John Humprys has accused Alastair Campbell of "kicking" the corporation when it was down by demanding resignations on the day the Hutton report was published.

The presenter of Radio 4's Today programme said he believed Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke should not have resigned as chairman and director general over Lord Hutton's criticism of the BBC. "They'd already apologised and set in train a series of changes," he said.

In an interview with Radio Times published today, Mr Humphrys describes Mr Campbell's news conference after the Hutton report was released last month as a "presidential appearance at the foot of a grand staircase" at the Foreign Press Association, an event arranged by Downing Street even though he stopped being its director of communications in September.

"It felt like lying in the gutter while your head's kicked in," he says.

Mr Campbell's "triumphalist behaviour has probably helped the BBC", Mr Humphrys says - a view shared by some ministers, who also think Downing Street should not have demanded a full apology from the BBC over the report that it "sexed up" a dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Mr Humphrys says Mr Campbell had previously tried "to destabilise the BBC in a pretty tacky way", adding: "Maybe he thought we were an easy target because we're dependent on the Government of the day."

The presenter says he was "hugely surprised" by Lord Hutton's findings, "like anyone who read the totality of the evidence". He challenges a suggestion by Mark Byford, the BBC's acting director general, that the corporation's role was to report the news rather than break exclusive stories. "What are we meant to do - discover a story and let someone else report it?" asks Mr Humphrys. He is also "unhappy" about new BBC rules that have forced him to give up his column in The Sunday Times.

The attack on Mr Campbell scuppered a concerted drive by Tony Blair to "move on" from the Hutton report and the continuing controversy over the Iraq war by concentrating on the domestic agenda this week. Downing Street has ordered ministers to rush out policy announcements on "bread and butter" issues in an attempt to deflect media attention away from Iraq - a strategy dubbed "don't mention the war" by Whitehall officials.

Mr Blair's official spokesman reeled off a series of domestic policy announcements yesterday, summarising the main issue for the next five days as "crime, health, education, education and antisocial behaviour." He said: "It is clear that the public wants the focus to be on the domestic agenda. The Government is keen for the focus to be on the domestic agenda. There is a considerable amount of activity across the main delivery departments."

The Cabinet will discuss public services on Thursday.

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