'Poisonous' Campbell provoked cynicism, Mail editor tells MPs

The editor of the
Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, launched a highly personal attack on Alastair Campbell yesterday, accusing him of engendering a "poisonous" culture of spin within the heart of Government.

The editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, launched a highly personal attack on Alastair Campbell yesterday, accusing him of engendering a "poisonous" culture of spin within the heart of Government.

He accused the Prime Minister's former communications director of being a "red-top newspaper propagandist" and said he should never have been appointed to the post.

Mr Dacre, whose newspaper has been among the most vociferous critics of the Blair government, rounded on Mr Campbell for his "triumphalist" reaction to the findings of Lord Hutton into the death of the weapons expert David Kelly.

Mr Campbell's reign brought relations between No 10 and the media to a new low, said Mr Dacre, saying that the former spin doctor was "almost unhinged" in his attitude towards the Mail.

In a session before a Public Administration Committee inquiry into the Phillis review of government communications, the Mail's editor-in-chief called for a new relationship between journalists and the Government, with no more leaks to "Labour-friendly" newspapers.

When Labour first came to power in 1997, the Mail was not unsympathetic to the new government, but Mr Campbell's "spin machine" created an atmosphere of distrust among the media, Mr Dacre told MPs.

"The making more cynical of the government publicity machine by Mr Campbell and others provoked a cynicism from the media," he said.

"I think Alastair Campbell's departure has drained quite a lot of poison from the No 10 media operation. Since his departure there has been an improvement in the situation."

In a reference to Mr Campbell's previous career as political editor of the Daily Mirror, Mr Dacre attacked the decision to put "Labour flag-waving Mirror journalists in charge of government press machines". He said: "You shouldn't appoint red-top political editors, who are propagandists on their own paper, in charge of civil service press machines." Mr Dacre was particularly scathing about Mr Campbell's handling of the events leading up to the death of Dr Kelly, which he described as a "very cynical regime to try and break the BBC."

"It's part of Campbell's policy that if you don't support the Government you have got to be broken and demonised," Mr Dacre added, describing the aftermath of the Hutton inquiry as a "terrible, terrible tragedy" for the BBC.

He seized on Mr Campbell's diaries in particular, saying he thought some people would "find it offensive that, every night, the head of communications was going home and writing a diary - presumably breaking confidences - which will make him millions of pounds, while Dr Kelly was hounded out by the Government for talking to journalists".

He added: "I was also quite horrified and shocked with the triumphalist press conference Mr Campbell gave following Hutton, as were many members of the public. As I was with the tour which he has taken around the country on the back of Hutton, while a widow grieves with quiet dignity."

Dr Tony Wright, the committee's Labour chair, suggested that Mr Dacre had a "pathological hang-up" about Mr Campbell.

However, Mr Dacre was more complimentary about the new Downing Street press chief, the former Labour Party director of communications Dave Hill, who replaced Mr Campbell last year, describing him as "a much more honest and straightforward person to deal with".

He criticised the appointment of Howell James, formerly political secretary to John Major, to the new post of permanent secretary in charge of government communications. "Here is a man who is deeply involved with friendships in No 10. It was recommended somebody with a Civil Service background come in and you tell me it's hunky-dory for a professional spin doctor to do it?"

Sir Christopher Meyer, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and John Major's former press chief, also gave evidence to the committee, saying he disagreed with most of the recommendations of the Phillis report.

* Godric Smith, one of Tony Blair's two official spokesmen, is to become head of strategic communications and will withdraw from the twice-daily briefings for journalists after Easter.

CAMPBELL ON DACRE

"If I were chief executive of the Albanian tourist board, I would put an ad in the 'Mail' every day, saying, 'Come to Tirana, it must be better'," Mr Campbell on the opening night of his one-man show in the Customs House Theatre, South Shields, on 30 January, where he branded the 'Mail' "a poison in our media culture".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test