Hill takes over as No 10 signals new era

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Indy Politics

David Hill will succeed Alastair Campbell as Tony Blair's chief media adviser with a brief to end the attacks on "spin" which have dogged the Government. The straight-talking 55-year-old will break with the present media operation at No 10 to run a "new communications structure", Downing Street said.

Details of the new set-up will be announced next week as part of changes to the Government communications structure to be outlined by the Prime Minister, a spokeswoman said. But Mr Hill is likely to lose Mr Campbell's controversial powers over civil servants in an attempt to end the accusations of a culture of spin. It is unlikely that he will achieve the same notoriety as Mr Campbell.

Described as the man who can "spin with integrity", he is respected as a tough but fair operator by senior Labour figures and journalists alike for his direct "unspun" approach and is thought to be the ideal man to re-establish trust between Downing Street and the media.

He will join a press office in disarray over the David Kelly affair. Godric Smith has signalled his intention to leave his job as Mr Blair's official spokesman, and Tom Kelly, who shares the same job, has been forced to apologise for suggesting in a briefing that the scientist may have been a Walter Mitty figure.

Mr Hill is thought to accept that Labour lost direction by letting spin become the story and that it has cost public trust. He has more than 30 years of experience at the centre of Labour politics, acting as a political adviser and later chief of staff to Roy Hattersley from 1971. He also served as Labour's director of communications under Neil Kinnock during the ill-fated 1992 election, and to the late John Smith.

In 1998, Mr Hill left the Labour Party to take up a lucrative position as director of the public relations firm Bell Pottinger Good Relations, ironically working for Lord Bell, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. But he remained trusted by No 10, returning to Labour headquarters to help with the 2001 general election campaign.

Mr Hill ran the media operation during the 1997 general election campaign, and was also responsible for the Government's media strategy preparing for the referendums on devolution in Scotland and Wales. Lord Bell is said to have given him an "open door" guarantee that he can return to his job any time.

Mr Hill's appointment at Downing Street, said to have been discussed with Mr Blair even before the Government's row with the BBC over the Andrew Gilligan report on the Today programme, will form a new "power coupling" at No 10. A divorcee who has two children, he is the partner of Hilary Coffman, another former Kinnock aide, and now a senior media adviser at Downing Street.

Mr Hill was born into a staunch, Labour-supporting family in Birmingham. He gained scholarships to King Edward's School in the city and later Brasenose College, Oxford, where he gained a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics

After Oxford he joined Unigate, where he spent two years as a management trainee, but left to join Mr Hattersley's staff, staying for the next 20 years. An Aston Villa supporter, his interests include horror movies and holidays in Mexico.