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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Profile: Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair
Mr Campbell has a powerful role in government
He has been called 'the real deputy prime minister' and 'the second most powerful person in Britain'.

Alastair Campbell was certainly the most talked about press secretary any prime minister has employed.

Since the last election, he has taken on a more backroom - though no less powerful - role at Downing Street as the prime minister's director of communications.

But it has not kept him out of the headlines - and this week was no different as his role in a complaint about press coverage of Tony Blair's role in the Queen Mother's lying-in-state is dissected in the media.

Mr Campbell's detailed policy knowledge, short temper and - above all - exceptionally close relationship to Tony Blair leave virtually every member of government in his shadow, it is said.

Not all Labour MPs like it: some have accused him of briefing against ministers, although the charge is hotly denied by Campbell.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair has a close relationship with his press secretary
Now some are calling for him to be sacked or moved. Others speculate that he is biding his time for a safe parliamentary seat to come up.

Mr Campbell is the son of a Pennine vet who read modern languages at Cambridge, later making money by writing pornographic stories for the men's magazine Forum.

He entered journalism, rising to edit a new newspaper called Sunday Today at the age of 29. But the publication's launch faltered and the experience led him to have a nervous breakdown.

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

Pay cut

Around that time he gave up alcohol - a step which many colleagues say gives him the advantage of a clear head 24 hours a day to deal with the media.

In 1994 he took a massive pay cut to move from being political editor of the Daily Mirror to spokesman for Tony Blair, then leader of the opposition.

With the Labour election victory in 1997, he became the prime minister's chief press secretary, setting up a formidable Whitehall machine to put over the government's views and try to control the news agenda.

In 2000, ahead of the last election, Mr Campbell gave up daily briefings to Westminster lobby journalists to concentrate more on long-term strategy.

It was a move prompted by the fear that he, rather than his boss, was becoming the focus of media stories.

Authority

The year before he had been the subject of an unauthorised biography - ironically written by Peter Oborne, the journalist who started the latest row in the right-wing political journal The Spectator.

The book paints a picture of a man so close to the heart to government that ministers take for granted his words carry the full authority of the prime minister.

It recounts how when Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's marriage failed, he received a call from Campbell which implied he must decide between his wife and his mistress - to stop the story getting out of hand in the press.

But before the last election there were several embarrassingly high-profile PR failures for the government - notably when Mr Blair was booed by the Women's Institute convention for giving what they saw as an overtly political speech.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's spokesman Charlie Whelan resigned after some controversial remarks made him, rather than his minister, the focus of press attention.

High profile The same reason was suggested as one of the reasons why Mr Campbell decided to 'move upstairs' at Number 10.

But while his role has changed, his influence has not. His remains a high-profile figure whether he likes it or not.

And he has been blamed for a number of PR disasters for the government, most recently the saga over Stephen Byers.

It has been suggested by some that Mr Campbell is now the target of a band of right-wing journalists who - having won the scalp of Mr Byers - have now turned to Mr Campbell.

Mr Blair is said to be standing firmly with his press chief - and it seems likely that Mr Campbell will remain at the heart of government for some time to come.


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12 Apr 01 | UK Politics
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