Campbell 'played vital role in Sixsmith's exit'

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Indy Politics

Alastair Campbell played a key role in the negotiations over the departure of Martin Sixsmith, Stephen Byers's communications director, according to the 18,000-word dossier on the affair compiled by Mr Sixsmith.

On Tuesday, Downing Street denied that Mr Campbell was involved in the talks about a face-saving compromise over Mr Sixsmith's future, after Jo Moore resigned as special adviser to Mr Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport.

Under the possible deal, Mr Sixsmith would have moved to another Whitehall job rather than leave the civil service. Mr Sixsmith's dossier claims Mr Byers blocked the deal – which the Transport Secretary denied when he made a Commons statement on Tuesday.

During the negotiations over his future, Mr Sixsmith, who is a former BBC journalist, took verbatim shorthand notes of his telephone discussions with Mr Campbell.

He also wrote up his recollection of his talks with Sir Richard Mottram, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR), immediately after the meetings. It will be extremely difficult for either Sir Richard, Mr Byers or Mr Campbell to contest the authenticity of such a highly detailed and contemporaneous account.

Lengthy extracts from Mr Sixsmith's dossier, which have been obtained by The Independent, show that Mr Campbell – far from being unin- volved, as Downing Street had claimed – was at the heart of the negotiations.

Mr Campbell was Mr Blair's official spokesman and press secretary and took part in daily briefings of Lobby journalists before he was promoted to the specially created post of Director of Communications and Strategy last year.

The transcript reveals that although he may have stepped out of the limelight, Mr Campbell's power behind the scenes is as formidable as his critics have long suspected.

True to his reputation as New Labour's chief spin doctor, the extracts show that he was more interested in how the deal with Mr Sixsmith was to be presented to the media, rather than the deal itself.

"I think this compromise deal you've been talking about with Granatt [the head of the Government Information and Communication Service] and Mottram might be the best way forward," he told Mr Sixsmith in a phone call at 9.30pm on Saturday, 16 February.

"What I am concerned about is the timing and presentation of any announcement we make about it. Could we do the deal and just not announce it; in other words, we just proceed with your redeployment and don't tell anyone?"

When Mr Sixsmith pointed out this would not work because he needed a public statement of exoneration from Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, Mr Campbell tried again.

"Could we then at least delay the announcement for a couple of days to put some distance between the furore at the moment and the next element in the story?" he asked.

In a phone call at 12.45pm on Sunday, 17 February, Mr Campbell stated: "Steve [Byers] really does think a lot of people are out to get him, including, to be quite frank, you and Mottram." Mr Campbell then said that "the way forward" was for Mike Granatt and the Cabinet Secretary to "get more directly involved in trying to persuade Steve".

Mr Campbell is also revealed as promising, in a further phone call at 5pm that day, to "talk to Steve" about the compromise deal.

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