Press chief wants more spin doctors in new Labour era

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Indy Politics

A new cadre of politically appointed spin doctors could be employed to field all calls from the national press under proposals floated by the Government's most senior press officer.

Mike Granatt, director general of the Government Information and Communications Service, said a new cadre of political press officers would bring special advisers "out of the shadows" and allow ministers to play a greater part in the "cut and thrust" of political debate.

The proposal is contained in a submission to a Cabinet Office review of Whitehall communications, set up earlier this year with a brief to examine fundamental reform of the Government's press machine.

Details of Mr Granatt's submission came as Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications, was considering his future in the continuing furore over the death of Dr David Kelly.Mr Campbell is widely expected to leave his post in the autumn, but has told friends that he is determined to clear his name.

The Cabinet Office review, chaired by Bob Phillis, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, is likely to report later this year and was widely expected to herald a departure from the culture of spin, which has dogged the Government.

The review panel, which includes Godric Smith and Tom Kelly, the Prime Minister's official spokesmen, was set up to conduct a fundamental review of the Government information service.

Mr Granatt's paper, written at the beginning of May before the row between the BBC and No 10, said there was "no systemic problem" in the government press machine.

But the memo said: "Ministers are entitled to a politically supportive voice in the Westminster village. We all believe that media-focused special advisers need to come out of the shadows.

"Greater transparency, real management and proper career development would all help to produce a professional cadre of advisers who are publicly accountable for their actions.

"A radical solution would be for a group of political appointees to handle all national media enquiries. This major constitutional change would enable ministers to engage more freely to the cut and thrust of political debate, but might actually reduce public trust in this element of government communication."

Meanwhile, the BBC has launched a bitter attack on Whitehall "spin", accusing the Government of regularly putting out misleading information and blurring the line between professional civil servants and political appointees.

The corporation also criticised the status of senior special advisers such as Mr Campbell and Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, saying their ability to direct career civil servants added to fears of the politicisation of the civil service.

The corporation said the Jo Moore scandal was "only the tip of the iceberg" (Ms Moore was the special adviser who described 11 September as a good day to "bury bad news"). Its report said: "Information is regularly produced by the Government in a way which not only reflects its own policies in the best light but can be misleading in doing so.

"There are regular instances not only of sins of commission but spins of omission. The credibility of the Government's information operation cannot survive this in a sceptical age."

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, defended Mr Campbell's record yesterday, saying he had acted as a "force for great good" in the Government.

David Davis, the shadow Deputy Prime Minister, countered: "The real driving force behind the culture of spin at the heart of this Government is Tony Blair himself. Campbell may be the leader of the praetorian guard, but the guard will still be there after he has gone."