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Aide straw for Blair

London, Aug. 30 (Reuters): British newspapers today hailed the departure of top government media handler Alastair Campbell as offering Prime Minister Tony Blair a chance to shake off a reputation for putting style before substance.

They said Blair, in the midst of political turmoil over his policy on Iraq, should seize the moment and re-launch his government as he battles to regain the public’s trust. The left-leaning Guardian newspaper said Campbell’s resignation “creates the chance of a fresh start, not just for the government, but for our whole political culture.”

The Financial Times urged Blair to re-launch his Premiership at the autumn Labour Party conference “focusing more on the substance of policy than on the spin for which Campbell was often blamed.”

Campbell resigned yesterday, a day after Blair had been forced to appear before a judicial inquiry — into the death of an arms expert — to answer questions about a BBC report of claims that officials in the prime minister’s office had hyped intelligence on the threat posed by Iraq.

The BBC report triggered a dispute between Campbell and the broadcaster which many commentators had predicted would lead to his resignation.

“When the communications chief becomes the story, it is time to move on,” the Financial Times said. Newspapers hailed Campbell’s role as one of the architects of the election landslide that swept the Labour party to power in 1997 after 18 years in the wilderness.

But they said that as an unelected appointee he had been given too much power and by his heavy-handed media manipulation he had corroded public trust in the Labour government.

“This is a man who has so corrupted our political culture that nobody now believes a word this government says,” said the right-wing Daily Mail.

A survey this week showed that public trust in Blair has fallen dramatically, to just 27 per cent now from 74 per cent in 1998.

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