Alastair Campbell, While Facing MPs, Carried a Pin to Push into His Hand When He Felt He Might Lose Control. since When Have Honest Men Needed to Draw Blood to Tell the Truth? (Watching Brief)

Article excerpt

Two disgraced communications chiefs stepped into the world spotlight last week screaming their innocence. Saddam Hussein s Comical Ali said he had never meant to lie; he was just passing on information given to him by his masters. Meanwhile, Tony Blair's Cynical Ali was singing from the same hymn book.

First, we had the select committee, then the select audience of Channel 4, two masterful and premeditated performances by the master of spin. Campbell's storming of the Channel 4 news studio was as dramatic as it was misjudged. Physicians may be able to heal themselves, but spin-doctors can't.

Not since Peter Mandelson toured the studios protesting his innocence just hours before he was forced to resign for a second time have we seen such desperate attempts by a new Labour luminary to save his skin. I was less than 20 feet away, in the Five News studio at the ITN building on Gray's Inn Road, that Friday night when it happened. An assistant called Channel 4 at about 7.05pm to say Campbell was on his way.

No member of the government, however senior, would have such audacity. Within minutes, a wild-eyed Campbell was on the set, facing up to Jon Snow. The BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, was right when he said Campbell's performance was jaw-dropping. That was the only sound you could hear as he raged around the building: the jaws of very experienced television executives dropping to the ground.

One told me he could not remember a single occasion when a politician had arrived unannounced and hijacked a live television show. If a minister had done the same thing, Campbell would have destroyed him.

In the end, there was no comfort of camaraderie, even from the left. The Guardian accused Campbell of starting a phoney war to obscure the ugly truth -- that the Prime Minister had exaggerated the case for a real war. The Mirror asked, "Just how dodgy is the sexy dossier?", and answered that for the 45-minute threat, the African uranium, the missing WMDs, the deadly build-up, there was no evidence found". The Independent concluded that the BBC "furore stirred up by Mr Campbell" could not obfuscate "the suggestion that Mr Blair sent British troops to die on the basis of a lie".

Perhaps the most damning of all pieces was written by Simon Walters in the Mail on Sunday, in which he recounted that the bully-boy tactics used by Campbell were exactly those deployed against him during the Black Rod scandal -- first "the big lie", then Campbell's favourite tactic of denying an allegation that has never been made. …