If the press has teeth, Campbell will find himself in the soup

It has been a fascinating fortnight. I have ended up being used to justify the unjustifiable actions of the Prime Minister’s press secretary because of my allegedly unjustifiable behaviour in the same job a decade ago. There is apparently nothing wrong with Alastair Campbell telling ministers to shut up by fax because in the 1980s I made some revealing comments about Francis Pym and John Biffen.

It has been a fascinating fortnight. I have ended up being used to

justify the unjustifiable actions of the Prime Minister’s press

secretary because of my allegedly unjustifiable behaviour in the same

job a decade ago. There is apparently nothing wrong with Alastair

Campbell telling ministers to shut up by fax because in the 1980s I made

some revealing comments about Francis Pym and John Biffen.



I shall not weary you by explaining how I was trying to excuse Messrs

Pym’s and Biffen’s extraordinary behaviour. Instead, what can we learn

from this feverish fortnight? The first is never to accuse journalists

of objectivity. My two most imaginative critics and Campbell excusers -

Magnus Linklater (the Times) and Andrew Marr (the Independent) - were

part of the failed conspiracy to break me as press secretary by smashing

the Lobby.



This is not to mention the Independent’s Anthony Bevins, leader of the

gang, who boycotted my Lobby briefings because he claimed I was

manipulating his poor colleagues. According to the Guardian, the

original conspiracy theorist now worships at Mr Campbell’s feet,

delights in his success and says: ’Journalism is a job for grown-ups and

all this whining and whingeing from the BBC is ridiculous’. I’m glad Mr

Bevins has grown up, however ridiculously.



This raises the question as to whether we now have a press - as distinct

from the BBC - which has one law for a Tory government and another for a

Labour administration. The evidence at this stage is overwhelming.

Whereas, among other things, there was a venomous zeal to quote my every

potentially embarrassing comment, there is now a remarkable reticence

over Mr Campbell’s indiscretions, even though he is nominally on the

record. The transformation is astonishing for a press which used to

pride itself on its muscularity.



How long will this novel state of affairs continue? Let’s return to Mr

Campbell. According to the Guardian, he is contractually a civil

servant, bound by its rules and conventions ’except to those aspects

which relate to impartiality and objectivity.’ In other words, Mr

Campbell is no civil servant. He should therefore not be paid by the

taxpayer.



This is not yet an issue. But it may well become one of many as

ministers and media get off their knees. As ministers grow bolder and

flex their muscles against No 10 - as is their wont - they will not put

up indefinitely with Mr Campbell’s dictatorship. Similarly, he has only

a certain shelf life with journalists, especially as the Government’s

entire media approach is to reward those who serve its purpose and

penalise those who don’t. No one knows when or how the blow up will

come. But come it will - unless, of course, the British press is now

utterly corrupt.



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