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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 16:19 GMT
The power behind the headlines?
Alastair Campbell and Michael Cockerell
Corridors of power: Alastair Campbell (right) and Michael Cockerell
Alastair Campbell is said to have been a key figure in events that led to Peter Mandelson's second resignation. Once again the prime minister's press secretary has been cast in the spotlight.

Alastair Campbell could justifiably claim to have been the power behind the headlines of the Blair government.

As Tony Blair's official spokesman he has been in charge of the presentation of a government which, perhaps more than any of its predecessors, has been concerned with image.

At times that image has taken a battering - the latest example being events leading up to Peter Mandelson's resignation.

Peter Mandelson
What was Mr Campbell's role in Peter Mandelson's downfall
Mr Campbell was furious that he had to backtrack on comments he made to the press about Mr Mandelson's dealings with the Hinduja brothers

On Wednesday morning he all but publicly accused Mr Mandelson of misleading him, telling reporters: "One of the problems there has been is actually establishing ourselves all the various aspects of this."

In the past, disgruntled Labour backbenchers have described Mr Campbell as the second most powerful man in Britain.

Despite remaining in the prime minister's shadow, and hardly ever speaking on television, the controversy that surrounds Mr Campbell has made him something of a household name.

Plain speaking

His reputation for blunt speaking - which some claim veers into "bully boy" tactics - has won him few friends among the media.

But that has never seemed to bother Mr Campbell, who fiercely believes that a firm hand is needed to ensure the government's message gets through to the people.

Alastair Campbell
Strong-arm tactics
The "people" however, have not always warmed to these strong-arm tactics which, frequently have been interpreted as examples of spin over substance.

His co-operation with BBC film maker Michael Cockerell, whose documentary last year recorded for the first time the unseen lobby briefings to political correspondents, raised many eyebrows.

For although the film revealed nothing to risk Mr Campbell's career, it did show just how seriously the government takes its image as portrayed by the media.

In the programme, Mr Campbell explained the decision to step back from day-to-day media briefings, which he and the prime minister took last year.

Out of combat

"We had, and I particularly had, got myself into a situation where combat was the only language that was being spoken, which is not necessarily terribly sensible either way," he said.

It is a comment which hints at the apparently aggressive nature of the briefings.

Blair and Campbell
Mr Campbell looks on from Mr Blair's shadow
While Mr Campbell remains close to Tony Blair, he is regarded with suspicion by some other members of the cabinet.

In part this is rooted in allegations that he has briefed against ministers. It is widely rumoured he was the source of comments designed to discredit the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. He is said to have called Mr Brown "psychologically flawed".

Mr Campbell has consistently denied making the comment.

If the members of the media regard him with suspicion, they know at least where he is coming from.

Before going to work for Mr Blair in 1994, he had established himself as a hard-nosed hack. The son of a Midlands vet, a fresh-faced Alastair Campbell launched his career in journalism as a trainee reporter at the Daily Mirror in 1983.

Gordon Brown
He is accused of calling Gordon Brown "psychologically flawed"
In 1986, at the age of 29, he took up the offer to edit a new newspaper called Sunday Today. But the publication's launch faltered and the experience led him to suffer a nervous breakdown.

He later blamed the low point on alcohol and he has not touched a drop since.

Campbell is said to have come out of the experience less brash, more disciplined and even more driven in his career ambitions.

Fifteen years later, Campbell seems to be every bit as determined to help the Labour Party battle for the next general election.

Peter Mandelson is at the centre of a row over passport applications

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24 Jan 01 | UK Politics

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