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Tuesday, June 23, 1998 Published at 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK

UK Politics

Spin doctor quizzed by MPs

Alastair Campbell: in the spotlight

The government's chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, is coming under scrutiny from a Commons committee of MPs.

BBC Political Correspondent John Kampfner on Blair's most influential aide
Mr Campbell, the prime minister's press secretary, will be quizzed on Tuesday afternoon over fears that the civil service is becoming increasingly politicised and that he, as an unelected official, wields too much power.

The Commons Select Committee on Public Administration is conducting an inquiry into the running of the Government Information Service, which oversees the governments relations with the press.

The committee chairman, Rhodri Morgan, explains the reasons for the inquiry
The committee chairman, Labour MP Rhodri Morgan, has criticised the power wielded by unelected advisers and the "control freak tendency" of the government. He has also raised questions over the prime minister's links with Rupert Murdoch, the head of News International.

Relations with Murdoch

Earlier this year Mr Campbell was accused by the Conservatives of misleading journalists over whether Mr Blair had lobbied the Italian Prime Minister on behalf of Mr Murdoch.

Mr Murdoch has said he telephoned Mr Blair in February to ask for his help in finding out whether the Italian government would resist his attempt to buy the television network Mediaset.

The Tories claimed that Mr Campbell tried to hide from journalists details of the telephone discussions that took place between Mr Blair and Mr Prodi about Mr Murdoch.

But Mr Blair has insisted he offered no "special treatment" to Mr Murdoch and his satellite television company BskyB, and Mr Campbell angrily denied he had misled journalists.

During the row, Mr Blair came to the defence of his press secretary at Prime Minister's Questions, saying:

"There is one reason why they (the Tories) attack the press spokesman - he does an effective job attacking the Conservative party."

New rules

Mr Blair's remarks brought claims from the Tories that the press secretary was going beyond the bounds of his remit.

However, the government rejected the claims, saying that the rules were changed when Labour came into power so that the chief press secretary now has a political role rather than being a non-partisan civil servant as in the past.

Mr Campbell has also come under criticism for ticking off ministers, who are elected representatives while he is a civil servant.

The criticism came after Mr Campbell told two ministers, Harriet Harman and Frank Field, not to brief the media over reports that there was a feud between the pair.

Mr Morgan has questioned whether unelected advisers such as Mr Campbell should be "talking down" to ministers.

Mr Campbell will be joined at the hearing by Mike Granatt, head of the Government Information and Communication Service, and Robin Mountfield, the permanent secretary to the Office of Public Service.

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