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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Blair launches televised briefings
Tony Blair at the news conference
Tony Blair, top left, at the press conference
Tony Blair has sought to put his troubles with spin-doctors behind him in the first of a regular series of televised news conferences in Downing Street.

After a statement about the forthcoming EU summit in Seville, the prime minister dismissed questions about his government's troubles with spin, saying: "The polls come and go - what matters is getting the job done."

I am going to beat a diplomatic silence on that particular one

Blair when asked if taxpayers should subsidise minor royals
He was repeatedly quizzed about whether New Labour had a tendency to spin too much and whether he was concerned about recent polls that suggested there was a lack of trust among voters for his government.

But he insisted that dips in popularity were all part of politics adding that during the 2000 fuel crisis Labour had fallen behind the Tories.

Ultimately it was down to voters to make a judgement based on what the government had delivered, he said.

Wide-ranging session

Asked if he felt he had personally made errors Mr Blair joked: "I think there are lots of mistakes I could own up to but I slightly take the view that it's for me to know and for you guys [the press] to find out."

All the public will be getting is lies on a more regular basis from the government.

Alistair, England
Other than spin, Mr Blair was questioned about a wide-ranging number of topics including the euro, Northern Ireland and immigration.

The latter issue is set to dominate in Seville.

Mr Blair said that the EU needed a common policy to tackle immigration.

Princess Michael

Europe also needed to ensure stronger borders and a new approach to those countries that had contributed high numbers of asylum seekers.

But the prime minister denied that in focusing so much on immigration he was pandering to a far-right agenda, saying that unless mainstream politicians engaged with such issues then they would be exploited by extremists.

The news conference, designed to give Mr Blair more "direct contact with the public", comes after David Blunkett talked about media "insanity".

The home secretary is insisting his remarks were a joke and not a fresh Labour attack on the press.

A question dodged early on by Mr Blair was one about whether taxpayers should be subsidising minor royals.

This was reference to the "peppercorn" rent paid by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent for their central London apartment.

Mr Blair said: "I am going to beat a diplomatic silence on that particular one, because I think it is probably the sensible thing to do in all the circumstances."

Scrapping the lobby

Downing Street announced last month it wanted to scrap, or at least modify, the lobby system.

Until now, lobby journalists have gathered every morning in a room in the bowels of 10 Downing Street to hear from the prime minister's official spokesman.

That system appears on its way to being replaced with US-style news conferences open to a broader range of reporters where ministers might explain the government's stance on a story.

Mr Blair is giving the media conference after he chaired the weekly cabinet meeting.

Government officials want to portray the move as part of them being more open and more willing to be held to account.

Less spin?

They link it to Mr Blair's decision to face regular questioning from a committee of senior MPs.

But critics argue off-the-record briefing will continue and the changes mean means the government facing fewer questions from reporters with political expertise.

  • Thursday's move comes as a poll for the Daily Telegraph found less than half the people they asked thought the prime minister was personally honest.

    Six per cent of those polled by YouGov said they thought Mr Blair to be "very honest", while 39% thought him "mostly honest".

    The rest said they thought Mr Blair "somewhat dishonest" (36%), "very dishonest" (18%).

    The YouGov poll also found the proportion of people polled who thought the government was honest and trustworthy has fallen from 58% in 1998 and 47% in 2001 to 28% now.

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