'Walter Mitty' spokesman waits for PM's return to learn his fate

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Indy Politics

When Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell return from their summer breaks, Tom Kelly will be waiting. Waiting to learn his fate.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman, a well-regarded young man, is the latest member of the Prime Minister's inner circle to fall foul of New Labour's culture of spin.

But apart from Mr Kelly's career, spin itself - and the way the Government handles its relations with the media - will meet its moment of truth.

Behind the country's most famous front door at No 10 Downing Street, the senior figures who have blustered, bullied, belittled and besmirched in the name of politics are peeling away from the Prime Minister's side.

Most crucially, Mr Campbell - officially the Government's director of communications and strategy, unofficially the high priest of spin - is preparing to quit after nine years as Mr Blair's right-hand man.

As Labour's fortunes in the polls have declined, Mr Campbell has done the only thing he knows how to: spin furiously. But not for the first time his strategy misfired.

Though Mr Campbell cannot leave now (that would be seen as an admission of guilt), nameless sources have said he will go at a time of his own choosing. Insiders believe his decision may have been prompted much earlier in the year by his partner Fiona Millar's decision to step down as an adviser to Cherie Blair.

Ms Millar and Mr Campbell, in it from the start, will not be the first to leave. Anji Hunter, Mr Blair's former "gatekeeper", left for a highly paid private sector job as director of communications for BP in November 2001. David Miliband, responsible for drawing up Labour's two election-winning manifestos, left No 10 to become an MP in 2001. Now Godric Smith, a bright civil servant and Mr Blair's other official spokesman, has announced that he too will leave.

Others have been forced to go, most embarrassingly Peter Mandelson. One of the architects of New Labour and known as the "Prince of Darkness", Mr Mandelson was forced out twice in separate scandals. Though Mr Mandelson is never far from the machinations within, he is unlikely ever to be granted a full and open comeback.

So Mr Blair must seek out new blood - or old, untarnished blood at least. Several names have been touted, including Pat McFadden, current head of Mr Blair's political office, and former Times journalist and head of the strategic communications unit in Downing Street, Phil Bassett. But Westminster insiders believe the only credible name to emerge so far is David Hill, Labour's communications chief until 1997.

One thing is certain, however. Whoever is appointed will have to find a new way of doing things, to prevent spin bringing about his or her demise - or even that of the master he or she will serve.