| Tony Blair
London, Aug. 31 (Reuters): Britain’s opposition Conservatives launched a bitter attack on Prime Minister Tony Blair today, insisting that the departure of his media chief would not end his government’s culture of spin and deceit.
Blair’s communications director Alastair Campbell announced his resignation on Friday after six years of masterminding the government’s presentation.
Blair’s office said his successor David Hill, would head a “new structure” in government communications, suggesting the slick political spinning and media management favoured by Campbell was on the way out.
But Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said an obsession with presentation and manipulation was ingrained in Blair’s government and would continue to dominate it unless and until Blair himself stepped down.
“The machinery of spin and deceit power’s Blair’s government,” Duncan Smith wrote in the Independent on Sunday newspaper. “Tony Blair, the leader, has become the ‘misleader’.” Duncan Smith, whose Conservatives are still struggling in the polls despite growing public mistrust in Blair fuelled by an ongoing inquiry into whether he exaggerated the threat from Iraq to justify war, sought to paint Campbell’s departure as a reason for Blair to follow.
“It’s not the resignation of the servant that matters but the departure of his master,” he wrote. “The real Downing Street director of communications must go — Tony Blair himself.”
Blair is very unlikely to do so, but instead is widely expected to use Campbell’s resignation as an opportunity to relaunch his government’s image.
The Independent reported that a new “ministry of truth” would be set up by Blair to handle the media in a different way, with Hill — a straight-talking public relations expert and former Labour Party press officer — seeking to rid the government of its spinning reputation.
But Hill was already facing trouble, with some Sunday newspapers zeroing in on his financial affairs and pointing to a potential conflict of interests emerging from his ownership of thousands of share options in a political lobbying firm.
A spokesperson for Blair’s Downing Street office said Hill would comply with the “rigorous rules governing the employment of special advisers, including those in relation to any potential conflict of interests”.
In a sign that Blair may find it hard to leave the spin culture behind, newspapers said his new media strategy is being devised by Peter Mandelson, another master of presentation who is widely seen as the architect of Blair’s political success.
Political commentators used the pages of Sunday newspapers to warn Blair he would find it lonely without Campbell, a colleague, friend and right-hand man who helped him rebuild and rebrand his party into the New Labour which won power in 1997.
“Tony Blair... will feel most acutely the loss of the alter ego who has been closest to him through every disaster and triumph of his premiership,” wrote analyst Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer newspaper.
Political commentator Matthew D’Ancona, writing in the Sunday Times, also pointed to Blair’s isolation at the top. “Can Blair manage without Campbell',” he asked. “Of course he can. But he will have to manage alone.”