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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
The life and times of Alastair Campbell

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Campbell: His master's voice
In the early days after Tony Blair was swept into Downing Street, a Fleet Street photographer was despatched to get a picture of the new prime minister and his wife "at home".

The snapper had just finished lining up the couple for a particularly cheesy, nose-to-nose shot when Alastair Campbell burst through the door and demanded: "What the hell do you think you are doing?"

The photographer snapped to attention, expecting a rollicking from Campbell, only to realise the remark was not aimed at him, but at the prime minister.

On a separate occasion shortly after that 1997 victory Campbell was asked during an off-the-record press briefing if he could really do such and such a thing to a civil servant.

He turned to one of his assistants and, with a knowing grin, declared: "We can do what we like now can't we?" Oh how we laughed!

But that is exactly why Alastair Campbell, who is to resign as Number 10's director of communications, won his title as "the real deputy prime minister."

His master's voice

It's been said he is the one man - with the possible exception of Peter Mandelson - who the prime minister simply could not do without.

Tony Blair was happy to do as Campbell said because of his obvious skills in presentation and in dealing with the media.

He was the spin master supreme and, as even cabinet ministers quickly discovered, held sway across Whitehall. When Alastair spoke, Tony was speaking.

Indeed it was regularly claimed that, when Tony spoke, it was Campbell's voice we all heard.

Of course it could not last. Spin was fine in opposition, understandable in the early years of government but totally counter-productive as the New Labour government matured and the prime minister learned to fly solo.

"All spin and no substance" was the insult most regularly hurled at ministers.

Fiercely loyal

But as things became more serious - over issues like Cheriegate and the Iraq war - the opposition stopped pulling its punches and started simply stating that the government lied.

Campbell ran the London marathon for charity
And it became increasingly clear that voters often had trouble trusting what the prime minister said. Clearly the spin had to stop.

Alastair retreated to the backrooms at Downing Street, though there was little sign he had stopped doing his job.

What no one could ever accuse Campbell of, however, would be disloyalty, either to the Labour party or to his bosses.

He was fiercely loyal to Neil Kinnock during his term as Labour leader and easily extended that loyalty to Tony Blair.

Indeed his famous punch up with the political editor of the Guardian, Michael White, was often put down to loyalty.

It came when he was political editor of the Daily Mirror and on the day his proprietor, Robert Maxwell died after falling off his yacht.

White was one of a long list of hacks who could not resist poking fun at the disappearance of the much-hated proprietor - gleefully rechristening him Bob, bob, bob Maxwell.

Short fuse

It was a jibe too far and Campbell lashed out in what many put down to a spontaneous display of misplaced offence on his boss's behalf.

Actually it was more like irritation at being constantly interrupted while on the phone to his news editor at a stressful time.

Still, it spoke volumes about Campbell's short fuse which was regularly on display in the days he briefed journalists.

He arrived in Downing Street after a very successful career in newspapers, and a time writing erotic fiction for a men's magazine.

Like many in the business, he developed a drink problem and openly talks about his "breakdown" which led him to give up the booze.

He moved from his job with the Mirror to become Tony Blair's spokesman while in opposition.

He continued after the landslide election victory in 1997 and immediately extended his tentacles into every area of Whitehall.

Most recently , he has been blamed for a number of PR disasters for the government, including the saga over Stephen Byers, Cheriegate, alleged attempts to get a higher profile for his boss after the Queen Mother's death and the "dodgy" Iraq document.

It had become increasingly clear that, amongst sections of the media and the Labour Party itself, the knives were out for him long before the row over Dr David Kelly and the "sexed up" dossier.


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