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2000: Ex-Blair ally attacks prime minister

Millionaire novelist Ken Follett has made the most scathing personal criticism of Prime Minister Tony Blair since New Labour came to power.

Writing in The Observer newspaper Mr Follett, 51, questioned the prime minister's morals and described spin doctors as "the rent boys of politics".

Mr Follett also criticised the practice of issuing the press with information about MPs, saying, "there is a very nasty atmosphere amongst ministers and back-benchers because of this awful briefing".

He emphasises that responsibility for these briefings rests with the prime minister and not his spin doctors.


"The lurid, over-the-top language of Ken Follett's remarks show why he is better known for his fiction than for his judgment"

Labour spokesman

As a long-standing Labour activist and prolific fundraiser for the party the novelist's remarks are bound to be taken seriously, Westminster watchers say.

But a Labour spokesman was dismissive of Mr Follett's criticisms and said the author was opting for the "easy voice of opposition".

He added: "It is sad to see people who purport to be on the Left peddling the propaganda of the Right.

"The lurid, over-the-top language of Ken Follett's remarks show why he is better known for his fiction than for his judgment."

Cardiff-born Mr Follett raised millions of pounds for the Labour Party in the run-up to the 1997 general election.

His wife Barbara, 57, was elected MP for Stevenage in 1997 and was celebrated as one of the "Blair babes".

The couple, who married in 1985, had been part of the Blairs' influential circle of friends.

But in 1995 they began to fall from favour when the press were tipped off about the Blairs' attendance at a fundraising dinner at the Folletts' 4.5m mansion in Chelsea.

Mr Follett's criticisms come at a crucial time for Tony Blair as he seeks to restore his government's reputation amidst mounting concern about New Labour's pre-occupation with spin.

In Context
The row over Labour spin intensified as spin doctor Alistair Campbell rubbished Ken Follett's claims in the Daily Mirror.

Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam leapt to the prime minister's defence and said that she did not believe that she had been briefed against.

Margaret Thatcher, Tony Benn and the ex-adviser to Gordon Brown, Charlie Whelan, pitched in against the government and its use of the media.

In January 2000 the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life revealed that Number 10 employed 25 political staff, three times as many as under John Major, and the number of advisers in Whitehall had doubled to 79.


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