Blair looks to White House TV briefings to counter spin

Plan to increase transparency after review describes a 'breakdown of trust between Government and the public'
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Indy Politics

Press briefings given by Tony Blair's official spokesmen are likely to be televised as part of the Prime Minister's drive to end the "culture of spin" which has bedevilled his Government.

White House-style press conferences by ministers and officials could become a daily event under a shake-up of the Downing Street communications operation that will follow the departure of Alastair Campbell later this month.

Mr Blair accepted the recommendations of an independent group, published yesterday, which will dismantle Mr Campbell's empire and put civil servants rather than party political appointees in overall charge of government communications.

The review was under way before the death of David Kelly but Mr Blair asked the committee to bring forward urgent proposals about his No 10 media machine in the wake of the tragedy.

Yesterday the Prime Minister asked the group to consider whether daily "on camera" briefings would enhance transparency and whether some or all of them should be given by elected ministers.

Mr Blair has previously ruled out US-style daily briefings but is now said to have an "open mind". They are seen by some advisers as a way of ensuring the Government's message reaches the public without going through the filter of the media.

The committee, chaired by Bob Phillis, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, says there has been a "three-way breakdown in trust between Government and politicians, the media and general public". The committee adds: "The response of the media to a rigorous and pro-active government news management strategy has been to match claim with counter claim in a challenging and adversarial way."

This has resulted in all information from political sources being mistrusted. "The public now expects and believes the worst of politicians and government, even when there is strong objective evidence in favour of the Government's position," the report says.

The Phillis team will now consider the media's role and Mr Blair hopes it will report politics in a more constructive way if his Government finally gives up spin. Yesterday he said the media "shares in the responsibility for improving this culture and enhancing relations to the public's benefit".

Under the shake-up, a new permanent secretary will be appointed at the Cabinet Office to oversee government communications. His deputy will be a senior official spokesman for the Prime Minister, also a civil servant. The strong favourite for this post is Tom Kelly, one of Mr Blair's two spokesmen. However, he may not land it if he is criticised by the Hutton inquiry for his remark that Dr Kelly was a Walter Mitty figure.

David Hill, the new director of communications, will have fewer powers and a smaller empire than did his predecessor, Mr Campbell. He will focus on party political work and may hold regular joint briefings with Mr Kelly to ensure a clear separation between government and party briefings.

The Phillis review acknowledges that the "power and status" Mr Campbell enjoyed had led to a perception that government communications were "being driven by an overtly political agenda".

In an attempt to sharpen up Downing Street's policy work, the Prime Minister announced changes to his policy unit last night. Geoff Mulgan, who has been running the "blue skies" strategy unit, replaces Andrew Adonis, who moves sideways to a new post as Mr Blair's senior adviser on education, public services and constitutional reform.

Matthew Taylor joins the policy directorate on secondment from the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think-tank he heads.

Pat McFadden is promoted to director of political operations, "with a strengthened remit in relation to political management".