Tesco recruits two Blair aides

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Indy Politics

Controversy over Tony Blair's close ties to business deepened yesterday after it emerged that two key Downing Street advisers are employed by Tesco.

Tesco, Britain's most powerful supermarket, has paid Philip Gould, one of Mr Blair's trusted political advisers, to help reorganise its publicity, media and lobbying operation.

Two weeks ago, the supermarket hired David North – the Prime Minister's private secretary and a specialist in rural affairs – to take up a new position as director of government affairs, a post that was introduced as a direct result of Mr Gould's advice.

The appointment of Mr North is a major coup for Tesco. He was Mr Blair's key adviser on the environment, farming and GM foods after serving as a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now part of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Mr North, who starts work at Tesco in late February, represented Mr Blair on the Rural Recovery Task Force set up to rebuild British farming after the foot and mouth crisis. He also helped to run the Cabinet Office's unit to support biotechnology at the height of the GM foods controversy in 1999.

The disclosures have led to a fresh row over cronyism and the "revolving door" phenomenon that first erupted after Mr Blair's closest political adviser and friend, Anji Hunter, left No 10 to join BP last month.

Peter Ainsworth, the Tory spokesman on environment, food and rural affairs, said that Tesco risked being "contaminated by cronyism".

He added: "This reinforces the sense that there is a charmed circle around the Prime Minister which major corporations feel they need to get inside".

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