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The BBC's carole Walker
"The spin has got out of control"
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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
New press chief at Number 10
Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell: less time with the press, more time election planning
The Prime Minister's official spokesman Alastair Campbell is scaling down his face-to-face meetings with journalists, Downing Street has confirmed.

Speculation about a change in his role mounted after Mr Campbell failed to attend his last four meetings with lobby journalists, whom he normally briefs twice a day - in Number 10 every morning and at the Commons in the afternoon.

Later Number 10 announced that a new chief press officer, Anne Shevas, has been appointed to take some of the press briefings in Mr Campbell's absence.

Mr Campbell's deputy Godric Smith, a career civil servant, has been conducting many of the press briefings in recent days, and it is expected that Ms Shevas, who has been transferred from the Scottish Executive, will help Mr Smith to brief political correspondents.

New role

Some commentators speculated that the change in Mr Campbell's role may be a reaction to criticism of Mr Blair's disastrous speech to the Women's Institute last week.

It has been thought that Number 10 has been stung by criticisms from senior figures in the Labour party that Mr Blair has been conducting government by spin.

But others think that Mr Campbell is withdrawing from his day-to-day role in order to head up Downing Street's new Strategic Communications Unit, and concentrate on planning strategy for the election campaign.

He has already confirmed that under civil service rules he will resign from his 93,562-a-year job as a special adviser to Mr Blair once the date for the next election has been announced,

It may be that in the run up to the election the government does not regard the regular lobby briefings as sufficiently important to take up so much of Mr Campbell's time.

"Fighting over every headline"

Mr Blair said, in his speech to the WI last week, that the government had to learn to trust people more, and did not "need to fight over every headline".

Mr Campbell's deputy Godric Smith said to journalists on Tuesday: "I would point out that speaking to the media is only one part of his job."

At the same lobby briefing Mr Smith said "it's no secret that you have seen me sitting in front of you in the last few weeks,"

"I have been doing more briefings but he (Mr Campbell) will continue to talk to you."

Mr Smith has been regularly conducting Tuesday briefings of journalists and it is understood he will continue to do so, although he made it clear that Mr Campbell would return for Wednesday's briefing.

Mr Campbell is the central figure in a BBC documentary film currently being made about the government's relations with the media.

The former political journalist also gave an unusually lengthy and frank interview this week to the British Journalism Review where he reflected on when he might give up his post.

The move comes on the same day as the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life revealed its annual report in which they reiterated their recommendation that the government should limit the number of special advisers it brings in to government

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