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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Quiet alternative to Campbell spin
By Nick Assinder
BBC News political correspondent

"We are not looking for an Alastair Campbell figure, his reliance on spin and aggressive media management has been discredited."

Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair
Alastair Campbell controlled media access to his boss

So said a Tory spokesman in what you may be forgiven for suspecting is the first bit of spin to accompany the appointment of ex-News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as the party's new communications chief.

Of course they want an Alastair Campbell - all the political parties do, that is why they turn first to ex-Fleet Street hacks.

The only difference is, they don't want them to get caught being Alastair.

So, where Mr Campbell often operated in the full glare of publicity, the new approach is to take a step back out of the limelight - but carry on in much the same manner.

It is a fair bet that Mr Coulson's job will be to bring exactly those same hard-nosed talents and tricks to Tory Central Office, but with the added ingredient of discretion.


So, it is likely to be the call to the editor - probably an old Fleet Street colleague - and the quiet, private "briefing" of senior hacks that will replace the public bawlings out.

Media outside Downing Street
Spin doctors usually remain out of the glare of cameras

That is a strategy Mr Campbell also adopted when it suited him. Very often the first a political correspondent knew of "Tony's concerns" was when they received a call from their editor. (Tony, of course, probably never knew he was concerned in the first place).

It is quite likely, therefore, that the humble political reporters at the Westminster coal face will see little of Mr Coulson who will, instead of trying to influence or bully individual hacks, will be attempting to influence their media outlet's approach to David Cameron.

That is not only more discreet, it is also a far more effective way of operating.

As Mr Campbell used to say himself, the spokesman should never become the story. That is what their masters are for.

Mr Coulson starts at a key time for Mr Cameron, whose honeymoon is beginning to come to an end.

Grammar row

Tory-supporting newspapers including the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph still need some convincing he is the man for the job.

And the row over grammar schools has led to the first serious signs of a split within the Tory ranks.

It will be part of Mr Coulson's job to reassure the media that Mr Cameron is indeed the man for the job.

Rupert Murdoch entering No 10
Rupert Murdoch was wooed by Mr Blair prior to election victory

Any influence he may have with his former boss, Rupert Murdoch, will also come in extremely handy. It was, after all, Tony Blair's decision to woo Mr Murdoch before 1997 - undoubtedly masterminded by Mr Campbell - that neutralised one potential stumbling block to power.

Now, suggesting Mr Coulson's appointment is chiefly designed to woo his ex-boss is undoubtedly the sort of alleged cynicism Mr Campbell routinely deplores in the modern media.

It's not true, of course. The media is no more or less cynical about politicians than it ever was.


And, in fact, it is far better behaved in general than it used to be - but that is probably more out of fear of new privacy laws and the like than any bullying by spin doctors.

It is just that, thanks in very large part to the more ludicrous antics of spin doctors who did get caught, the media has been given more reason to be cynical.

Let's not forget the good-day-to-bury-bad-news affair - or run away with the notion it was an aberration or that it has all stopped. They are just more careful nowadays.

And, as Labour displayed, the closer a party gets to power and the closer a leader gets to Downing Street, the greater the pressure will be on the spin doctors to control and manipulate.

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