Called to account

May 03, 2004 ,

TWO of the most prominent figures of the last year crossed my path in Parliament this week.
These two very different characters appeared separately as witnesses to the Public Administration Select Committee of which I am a member.

The first was Alastair Campbell, the bag-pipe playing, ex-journalist who famously gave up the booze after punching a colleague from another paper.

Along with sobriety he found a new purpose in life after the sudden death of the Labour Party leader John Smith, 10 years ago this week.

The new leader Tony Blair asked him to be his Press Secretary and the rest, as they say, is spin.
He gave us his version of his controversial time at Number 10, and pulled no punches in his condemnation of the media.
He argued that the newspapers themselves are responsible for 90% of the spin in press stories, because they are less interested in the truth than their own agenda.
We got him for free, but he’s currently touring the country charging twenty quid for his one man show.

Last year Campbell was interrogated by our second witness.
Step forward Lord Hutton, author of the report into the death of Dr David Kelly.
It was during that Inquiry that we found out that Alastair Campbell keeps a diary, which revealed his controversial role in the Dr Kelly affair.

As a High Court judge he usually asks all the questions.
This time he had to answer ours.

He could not understand why 55% of the public thought his report was a whitewash when it was published earlier this year.

Perhaps it is indicative of the breakdown of public trust in traditional institutions, that an independent report by a senior, distinguished judge was dismissed in this way.

And perhaps that is not unrelated to the culture of spin which was the hallmark of the reign of Alastair Campbell.