LONDON—Alastair Campbell, controversial director of communications to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has announced his decision to step down. The announcement came in the middle of a major public inquiry into whether the Blair government manipulated public opinion in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and whether Campbell “sexed up” the dossier that made the case for war.
Based on the evidence so far, Campbell is expected to be exonerated, but he remains a controversial character, considered by many to be the architect of the government’s preoccupation with spin and media presentation.
Said Campbell, “It has been an enormous privilege to work so closely in opposition and in government for someone I believe history will judge as a great transforming prime minister…. I had intended to leave last summer but as the Iraq issue developed, the prime minister asked me to stay on to oversee government communications on Iraq, and I was happy to do so.”
He said he did want to take on “another big job” but hoped to write, broadcast and make speeches.
Blair described Campbell as “an immensely able, fearless, loyal servant of the cause he believes in who was dedicated not only to that cause but to his country ... he was, is, and will remain a good friend.”
Often portrayed as the second most powerful man in the British government, Campbell spent nine years with Blair, creating the communications strategy that helped get the Labor Party back into office in 1997. Previously, his eclectic career had encompassed positions at a writer for pornographic magazines Forum, and at left-leaning tabloid the Daily Mirror. He also worked as an unofficial adviser to Labour leader Neil Kinnock from 1987 to 1992.
David Hill will take over from Campbell. Hill was the chief aide of former party deputy leader Roy Hattersley and the Labour party’s director of communications between 1991 and 1997. More recently, he worked in the public relations agency business at Good Relations, a unit of Lord Bell’s Chime Communications.
In addition, the government announced plans to create what is already being called—in an apparent nod to 1984—a “Department of Truth.” The new department will be headed by a top-ranking civil servant and will oversee the entire government communications network. The department is viewed as an attempt to end damaging publicity about the role of politically appointed “spin-doctors.”