The Prime Minister’s press secretary Alastair Campbell is in danger
of creating a hotbed of discontent by destroying the impartiality of
Government communications, Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to
Margaret Thatcher told the Parliamentary Select Committee on Public
Administration on Tuesday.
Ingham told the committee, which is investigating reforms to the
Government Information and Communication Service (GICS) and the lobby
briefing system initiated last year, that Campbell was blurring the
lines between Government and party. He said there was a legitimate place
for party politics, but added: ’It is not the role of the press
secretary to attack the Opposition ... Alastair Campbell is a civil
servant when he wants to be and not when he doesn’t want to be.’
If Campbell’s role was a party political one his salary should not be
paid by the taxpayer. Campbell was just one of many advisers being paid
as civil servants by the tax-payer but who were effectively serving an
apprenticeship to the party, said Ingham.
He added that the pressures on the current Government towards
politicisation were greater than during his time at 10 Downing Street.
Ingham suggested that the practice of spin doctors showing favouritism
to certain journalists in lobby briefings was not new, but when
practised so blatantly by the chief press secretary, it was highly
Meanwhile press Lobby chairman John Hipwood told the inquiry that the
GICS had failed to improve its performance despite a wide-ranging
shake-up since Labour came to power. He condemned attempts to revamp the
information service during questioning by the House of Commons Select
Committee on Public Administration.
’The aims of the Mountfield Report (outlining the GICS review) are fine
in theory. There have been changes ... but there has been no general
improvement whatsoever,’ he said.
His view was backed by former press gallery chairman and Times columnist
Peter Riddell, who told the committee: ’The GICS hasn’t recovered its
confidence since the battering it got last year.’