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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Death by a thousand leaks
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair: every day a new trial
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

For the second time in a week Tony Blair has been blasted by the leaking of a memo telling him what everybody has been whispering for months - New Labour has lost its grip.

Philip Gould, a once-trusted senior adviser to the prime minister, has set out in blisteringly blunt language exactly what he believes is wrong with the Blair administration.

He even goes so far as to suggest that Labour's apparently unassailable majority might disappear like snow on a ditch come the next general election.

It is a long and, according to some Labour MPs, hysterical document which suggests Mr Gould is near the end of his tether.

He is certainly no longer regarded as the golden boy whose focus groups and PR wizardry could pilot the New Labour project to a future of perpetual government.

And now that the tide has firmly turned against all things spin, Mr Gould is seen by many as an embarrassing reminder of the past. He may even have outlived his usefulness.

Dire threats

So it is no surprise that his memo is being rubbished by Downing Street.

The leak, clearly part of a carefully worked out - and successful - campaign to destabilise the government, is only the latest in a long line, many of which have originated in Mr Gould's office.

And it has seen the government issuing dire threats about hunting down the leaker and having him or her shot at dawn.

No one in Westminster is putting any bets on the likelihood of the mole ever being uncovered, however.

The Tories, meanwhile, are basking in the suggestion that they are somehow behind the entire campaign.

If they are, it displays the sort of organisation and cunning few have so far believed exists in Conservative Central Office.

And in any case, unless it is proved that a minister is the source of the leaks, the culprit's identity is of only limited interest to a few political anoraks.

What is doing the damage to the prime minister and his administration is that all the recent events have underpinned the growing view that Labour is out of touch with voters, is driven by spin and has no core beliefs.

Mr Gould sums it up perfectly himself when he refers to New Labour as a "brand" - rather like the latest soap powder - which has become "badly contaminated".

Box of tricks

And it is no good ministers going around rubbishing Mr Gould and insisting they are not going to be blown off course by the leaks.

The whole affair shows that their course has previously been mapped out for them by the likes of Mr Gould and his box of tricks.

And of course, it is exactly the reliance on people like Mr Gould that many believe is at the bottom of the government's recent troubles - all spin and no substance, as the Tories claim.

The leaks are just the latest in a long line of disasters to have rocked the government, from the prime minister's Women's Institute performance to his widely ridiculed on-the-spot fines suggestion.

And while all seasoned politicians accept that all governments have their bad patches, what has astonished many is the speed at which the wheels appear to be coming off Tony Blair's wagon.

Every time he attempts to put his dreadful year behind him, something else crawls out of the woodwork to undermine him and further damage the government's standing.

And despite what he says, he must wake up each morning wondering what awful obstacles the gods are going to place in his path that day.

Meanwhile, what is really spooking many of his backbenchers is the previously unthinkable scenario that the next general election might turn into a real fight.

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See also:

19 Jul 00 | UK Politics
New memo leak hits Blair
19 Jul 00 | UK Politics
What did the leaked memo say?
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