| Tony Blair: Spin-less strategy
London, July 26: Tony Blair will seek to use the departure of Alastair Campbell to reinvent himself as a “spin-free” Prime Minister worthy of the public’s trust and capable of winning a third term in office.
In an attempt to restore his battered ratings in the polls, he is expected to use his tenth conference speech as leader to draw a line under the Campbell years of aggressive briefing and rebuttal. He has told friends that he is determined to serve a full third term, dealing a blow to Gordon Brown’s hopes of taking over at No 10.
Blair’s friends are advising him to use his summer break in Barbados, which begins next week, to prepare a new, low-key image for the government, emphasising its record of fulfilling pledges such as the introduction of the minimum wage.
They want him to bring in a senior figure to replace Campbell to restore the credibility of the Downing Street communication machine. The front-runner is believed to be David Hill, the respected former Labour chief spokesman. But the Tories said Campbell’s departure would not change anything. David Davis, the shadow deputy Prime Minister, said: “The real driving force behind the culture of spin at the heart of this government is Tony Blair.”
Last night Downing Street stepped up its work on the “exit strategy” that Blair hopes will allow Campbell to make a dignified exit from front-line politics.
Campbell, his director of communications, who goes on holiday this weekend, is expected to stand down on the eve of the Labour conference at the end of September. In particular, he hopes to leave after the Commons intelligence and security committee has issued its verdict on the BBC’s claims that he “sexed up” evidence of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Campbell hopes it will clear him.
On Thursday he discussed with Blair how best to handle his departure, resuming a conversation that started on April 7 when he first told his boss he intended to go. It emerged yesterday that he had prepared a press release to announce his resignation as long ago as May 28. His plan was derailed next day by the broadcast of the BBC’s claim that he tampered with last September’s intelligence dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Downing Street dismissed as “wishful thinking” reports that Campbell was ready to resign. But it was clear last night that he had decided to go after nearly a decade as Blair’s leading adviser. Andrew Marr, the BBC correspondent who reported on Thursday night that Campbell was about to go, accused Downing Street of being “disingenuous” in its denial. He said that Campbell had “authorised” an aide to brief him.
But No 10 was said to have been angered by the suggestion that Campbell’s resignation was imminent and might be a snap response to the crisis over the apparent suicide of David Kelly.
Campbell’s departure is likely to coincide with that of Fiona Millar, his girlfriend, who is standing down as an aide to Cherie Blair. There is anxiety among Blair’s close advisers that the government could be badly hit by the loss of an influential figure who plays a key role in policy and presentation.
But there appeared to be a strong feeling elsewhere in the party that Campbell’s presence, and in particular his personal campaign against the BBC, was beginning to harm the government.