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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 03:57 GMT 04:57 UK
Blair 'must curb spin doctors'
Tony Blair
Mr Blair should control the spin doctors, say Tories
Conservatives have launched a fierce attack on Labour over its "spin" debacle, saying the government machine is out of control.

Shadow cabinet office minister Andrew Lansley said from the outset, ministers had been more determined to secure their privileges and perks than to deliver on their election promises.

We will take no lessons from the Tories on cleaning up politics

Paddy Tipping
He called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to "curb political advisers and their corrosive influence".

The Conservatives' attack came after Labour-supporting novelist Ken Follett launched a withering personal attack on Mr Blair in the weekend press, challenging him to put a stop to "unmanly and cowardly" briefings against government ministers.

On Monday, the government was also attacked for the actions of its spin doctors by Baroness Thatcher, Labour MP Tony Benn and former party spin doctor Charlie Whelan.

Emperor and eunuchs

The row was further fuelled by an Opposition Day debate in the Commons, when Tories called on the government to implement the Neill Committee proposals limiting the number of special advisers.

They say press advisers - paid for by the taxpayer - are acting for the Labour Party, not the government.

Mr Lansley compared the prime minister to a Chinese emperor needing "eunuchs to do his bidding".

Advisers are assuming new roles in the government they they hadn't in the past

Tory MP Andrew Tyrie
Senior Labour MP Paddy Tipping joined an attack on Mr Follett which the party had started during the day, saying the novelist should stick to his "real job".

He said: "Mr Follett writes interesting books. They are pure works of fiction and I'm very sorry that my friend Ken Follett can't distinguish fact from political fiction.

"He ought to stick to his real job writing novels."

Accusing the opposition of opportunism, he said: "It really is quite inconceivable that 78 special advisers can corrupt and politicise the senior civil service of 3,700 or a civil service of 466,500 permanent staff."

He said: "The Labour party said it would clean up politics and we are. We will take no lessons from the Tories on cleaning up politics."

'No substitute'

But Conservative Andrew Tyrie said Lord Neill had accepted his idea of a cap on the number of advisers, suggesting they should be subject to a statutory code of conduct.

Mr Tyrie said special advisers had been on 500 trips since 1997.

"Advisers are assuming new roles in the government they they hadn't in the past," he said.

A good press team was no substitute for good government. The current situation was "corroding parliamentary activity", he claimed.

If Mr Campbell was doing exclusively party political work he should resign and be paid out of Labour Party funds, said Mr Tyrie.

'Media's job'

Liberal Democrat Paul Tyler reminded MPs that spinning had not begun with Labour but had existed under Tory administrations as well.

Labour MP Tony Wright, chairman of the Commons Public Administration committee, said he was surprised the Tories wanted to bring up standards in public life because it resurrected allegations of sleaze which hit their party.

He said politicians would control the news if they could.

"It's the job of the press, the job of the media to stop them controlling the news," he said.

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See also:

03 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Labour faces more 'spin' attacks
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Mowlam: Follett claims are rubbish
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
'No longer a luvvie'
03 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Spin-struck from the start
14 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Limit spin doctors, committee insists
12 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Spin doctors face greater controls
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