Tories claim departure was timed as a final act of spin

Click to follow
Indy Politics

As tributes were paid by his political friends last night, Alastair Campbell's foes accused him of staging a final act of spin designed to deflect attention from the Hutton inquiry.

The highest praise was lavished by his boss and friend, Tony Blair. The Prime Minster said: "The picture of Alastair Campbell painted by parts of the media has always been a caricature.

"The Alastair Campbell I know is an immensely able, fearless, loyal servant of the cause he believes in, who was dedicated not only to that cause but to his country.

"He is a strong character who can make enemies but those who know him best, like him best. His contribution to the Labour Party's modernisation, and electoral success, was enormous."

He was joined by high ranking Labour politicians past and present. David Blunkett, the The Home Secretary, said: "Alastair has often been controversial and occasionally infuriating, but has always been the most effective, talented and committed spokesman for the Prime Minister, Government and party that any prime minister has ever had."

The former Labour leader Neil Kinnock described him as a "loyal, brave and audacious man". And even though Mr Campbell was often described as the "real" deputy prime minister, John Prescott - who actually has the job title - declared yesterday "a sad day. I'm grateful for [his] contribution to the Labour government," he said.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, who was said to have been advised by Mr Campbell after news of his marital infidelity broke, said: "I have a lot of respect for Alastair. He has been a great asset to Labour. I always found Alastair straight and was always glad when I took his advice. He deserves to be remembered for his contribution over a whole decade in giving the best possible presentation to our message, in opposition and in government."

Lord Guthrie, a former chief of the defence staff, said: "I never found him anything but helpful, someone who gave good advice and understood the problems of the services. I speak as a cross-bencher with no political affiliation, but as someone who got to know Alastair very well during a number of international crises, notably the conflict in Kosovo."

James Rubin, a former US assistant secretary of state, worked with Mr Campbell during the Clinton presidency. He described him as "always steadfast, working at the highest possible distinction".

But others were more sceptical. Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: "His resignation should not divert us from the central question of whether Britain went to war on a flawed prospectus."

Richard Ottaway, a Conservative member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said he thought Mr Campbell was "quite clearly going to take the full blame to protect the Prime Minister".

He said it was "true Campbell style" to choose to resign on a Friday afternoon in the middle of the summer recess when the story would have the maximum impact.

Theresa May, the Conservative Party chairman, said: "Alastair Campbell was sacrificed because his position was untenable after the Kelly affair. We don't need a new spin doctor in Downing Street, we need a new Prime Minister in Downing Street."

Criticism of Mr Campbell was not confined to the opposition benches.

The Labour rebel and former Europe minister Doug Henderson said: "The timing of this announcement makes it look like a spin to end a spin. The real issue remains unanswered. What evidence did the Government have to lead them to believe that Saddam Hussein was a threat and that the country should go to war?"

The former Labour MP Tony Benn said Mr Campbell's role in Government had been "unacceptable". He added: "The problem isn't who does [the job], the problem is, is the person to replace Campbell to be a press officer or is he to be made deputy prime minister?"

The former independent MP Martin Bell said: "It was widely felt that it was time he moved on. We have gone into a war which to my mind was insufficiently justified. Presentation and spin had been overdone and I think it's time to go back to basic, honest politics."

GERALD KAUFMAN 'I AM SORRY HE IS GOING'

I AM very sorry that he is going. I think he has done great things both for the Government and the Labour Party before we won in 1997.

He goes vindicated: the allegations against him not having been sustained, as the evidence to the Hutton inquiry shows.

I have always got on very, very well with Alastair. I first knew him when he was a young journalist on the Daily Mirror. He is a nice guy.

The Government will continue and the Government will continue having got this episode (Hutton) out of the way to prosper. Obviously he was very valuable to Tony Blair, but everyone moves on. His strengths are the knowledge of the practice of journalism and relating that to his commitment to the party. I think that in the way that Peter Mandelson was indispensable to Neil Kinnock in saving the Labour Party from becoming the third party in this country, he was indispensable to Tony Blair and Gordon in establishing the Labour Party as the New Labour brand and laying the foundations for the huge victory in 1997 and the follow-on victory in 2001. Whoever follows Alastair will be that person, it will not be a second Alastair or someone trying to be a second Alastair.

I think it is absolutely amazing that six years in and with all the problems, that the Conservatives don't have a lead in the opinion polls and we're sure to win the next election.

GLENDA JACKSON 'PARTY HAS BEEN DAMAGED'

We knew he was going to resign, it had been trailed; but I found the timing odd. I saw part of his interview with Sky and he must be leaving feeling absolutely gutted because he was making his dedication to the Prime Minister clear. But the Prime Minister's standing has plummeted because of the Hutton inquiry and because of the phoney war by Downing Street with the BBC.

It is recent events that have damaged the party most seriously and grievously, and also damaged the country. What he has done has been with the full backing of the Prime Minister and from 2001 it has not been a pretty picture. Now it is very serious indeed.

He was not alone in making the changes that took place in the Labour Party. The changes started with Neil Kinnock, continued with John Smith and were then taken on by Tony Blair. We became an extremely effective opposition, particularly in the two years leading up to the 1997 general election. The taking on board of the rebuttal mechanism ... was excellent. However, it has moved into a realm that is not helpful to the party at the moment.

I found it odd that this announcement has come before the Hutton inquiry has concluded, but I am in no position to know why the timing was now. But whatever emanated from 10 Downing Street is the responsibility of the Prime Minister. However powerful Mr Campbell might have been ... the ultimate responsibility is the Prime Minister's.

Comments