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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK

UK Politics

Campbell's Nato role

Campbell: the all-powerful spin doctor

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

The prime minister's press secretary Alastair Campbell is gaining a reputation as a spin doctoring superman - and has now apparently added Nato to his list of conquests.

It has long been known that Tony Blair, and most of the Cabinet, do nothing without first checking the media implications with Mr Campbell.

He has unprecedented power in Downing Street and is quite happy to knock ministers' heads together if he believes they are straying off message or squabbling publicly.

He co-ordinates virtually every announcement from Downing Street and Whitehall in general.

But it has gradually become clear that his influence stretches beyond mere national boundaries.

It has now emerged that he travelled to Brussels last week to offer "advice" on the way Nato is handling its propaganda offensive against Slobodan Milosevic.

It is believed he even won a boost in resources for hard-pressed Nato spokesman Jamie Shea.

One voice

He has also been helping Nato capitals - notably Washington and Bonn - to co-ordinate their message so everyone speaks with one voice.

[ image: Jamie Shea: Criticised for handling of incidents]
Jamie Shea: Criticised for handling of incidents
The organisation has had a prolonged spell of bad press after the accidental killing of civilians in the bombing of a train and the latest attack on what appears to have been a refugee convoy near Djakovica.

Mr Shea has come under particular attack for his handling of announcements over both these incidents, particularly the convoy attack and confusion over whether a tape of pilot bombing a convoy was actually the one involved in the Djakovica incident.

Mr Campbell has also offered advice on how co-ordination can be improved between Nato capitals and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape), the organisation's high command in Mons, Belgium.

Distrust message

The growing fear is that the public may start to distrust the message they are receiving from Nato and that could hit support for the conflict.

Mr Campbell's objective was clearly to end the confusion and contradictory messages and to underline the point it is better to say nothing when correct information is not available.

But this is not the first example of Mr Campbell's formidable skills being used well beyond Downing Street.

He was accused of helping Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, to write a tabloid newspaper piece apologising for his country's war record.

He was also involved in a similar apology from Argentine President Carlos Menem for his country's invasion of the Falklands in 1982.

Unfortunately, both articles sparked huge controversy, with later denials they has amounted to apologies.

And MPs have seized on them, amongst more general claims about Mr Campbell's all-powerful role, to criticise the influence he has been given by the prime minister.

It remains to be seen exactly how effective his advice to Nato will be in turning the propaganda war back to the allies' advantage.

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