Tories in a spin as press chief quits

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The Independent Online
COLIN BROWN

Chief Political Correspondent

The Conservative Party's election campaign machine was thrown out of gear last night when the head of its press office resigned because he was disenchanted with acting as a spin doctor.

Senior Conservative Party sources said a clash of personalities with Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party chairman, led Hugh Colver to resign from his post after only six months.

His departure surprised colleagues at Conservative headquarters, but the sources said it was known he did not see eye to eye with Dr Mawhinney, who has a reputation for being a tough boss.

Mr Colver, 50, delivered his resignation letter to a surprised security guard at 1am yesterday at the Tory party's offices in Smith Square, near Westminster. However, Mr Colver made it clear last night it was due to his own distaste for "spin doctoring".

"The job demands a political propagandist. I am not that. You have to go zapping the other side, and I find that a bit distasteful. You have to be a certain kind of animal, and I am not that type of animal," he said last night.

"I just prefer to look at things in a straightforward way, on their merits, and pros and cons of issues, and it doesn't mean that everybody on the other side is always wrong and the other is always right.

"You have to be a zealot, a political zealot, and it tends to reduce the level of debate."

He said the regime had changed since he took the job, including the appointment of Dr Mawhinney in the July Cabinet reshuffle.

"There's been a change of chairman, which is very important in the leadership of an organisation. All the deputy chairmen and vice-chairmen, many of them have changed, it's a very different operation."

Mr Colver insisted: "I have never had rows with Brian Mawhinney. He's a very straightforward, focused, determined operator, he's very clear about what he wants, and why should he be anything other than impatient to get what he wants?

"That's fine, I have no problem with that, he and I never had a cross word."

Mr Mawhinney said he regretted Mr Colver's decision. "In his letter to me today he told me that on his appointment, he had decided to consider his position at the end of six months. On reflection, he clearly feels his talents, considerable though they are, are not best-suited for handling the run-up to the general election," he added.

A former Ministry of Defence chief press officer,he was hired by Dr Mawhinney's predecessor, Jeremy Hanley, to end the series of gaffes which had dogged the party chairman.

His position was thrown into doubt by the temporary return of the Tories' spin doctor, Tim Collins, the former press secretary to the Prime Minister in the 1992 general election campaign.

Dr Mawhinney appointed Mr Collins as his media consultant when Mr Collins was selected as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Westmorland and Lonsdale,forcing him to leave his civil service appointment as the deputy head of the Prime Minister's Downing Street policy unit.

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