I'm not surprised that the Prime Minister's press spokesman has
decided to change jobs after the election. The only surprise is that he
didn't do it earlier.
Months before I resigned as Gordon Brown's press secretary, Alastair
Campbell and I had a lengthy chat about how long the media would
continue its obsession with 'spin doctors'. We both thought that the
emphasis by the newspapers and broadcasters on the process of government
rather that its policies would get worse not better and that our jobs
would probably not last long.
Mine lasted just 18 months in government and I left having been pursued
on holiday in the Highlands by hacks wanting to ask me if I had been the
one to shop Mandelson over his pounds 375,000 loan from Geoffrey
Robinson. I had become a bigger story than the economic strategy of my
boss and so I decided to call it a day.
Campbell was not sorry to see the back of me but he resented all the
publicity that came my way - even if most of it wasn't favourable! Ever
since Gordon Brown and his office co-operated with the making of the
award-winning 'fly-on-the-wall' documentaries showing Brown powerful in
both opposition and in government, Campbell wanted to show that it is
actually him who wields the power.
He wasn't happy until the BBC made a documentary about him. He was
supposed to ensure that his boss the Prime Minister looked good in it
but the clip the BBC used of Blair was the one that inspired the
brilliantly accurate portrayal of Campbell in Rory Bremner and
Campbell is obsessed with his own image and is still desperate for as
much publicity as possible. The problem with this is that publicity
about him damages the Government and makes his job almost impossible,
hence his decision to change it.
Apparently, Campbell fancies himself not just as spin doctor but as some
sort of government super PR guru. Let's hope he makes a better fist of
the recent PR efforts designed to save the British tourist industry.
Having initially backed the subsidised farming industry, the Government
suddenly woke up to the fact that tourism is ten times more important to
the economy than livestock farming. Having been told that the
countryside was closed we were suddenly told that really it was open.
The problem is, it isn't.
I'm writing from Sutherland in the north-west Highlands where there have
been no outbreaks of foot-and-mouth. There are signs everywhere telling
you not to walk because of sheep grazing. I can't even get to some lochs
to fish because they're in grazing land. And what does the Scottish
minister for tourism do? He goes to Italy for an Easter break.
Bernard Ingham returns next week.