Magazine article The Spectator

I Work for Lord Hollick, but I'll Still Dish the Dirt on Mr Blair

Magazine article The Spectator

I Work for Lord Hollick, but I'll Still Dish the Dirt on Mr Blair

Article excerpt

There's nothing I like more than giving Tony Blair a hard time. It's nothing personal. I rather admire him, actually. It's just that I think it's the duty of a healthy press to keep politicians - all of them - on their toes.

It's not to say one shouldn't report the good things too. If Blair abolishes taxes, finds the secret of eternal life or builds a new hospital in my neighbourhood, I'll be the first to praise him. But splits, rows and leaks are generally where the real political stories are to be found.

It is my job to get them and when I do they usually go straight onto the front page of my newspaper. Which paper is that? The Express on Sunday, yes, the one owned by would-be media mogul Clive Hollick, Labour peer and friend of Tony Blair. But stay, isn't he the one accused of teaming up with the Prime Minister's chief press spokesman, Alastair Campbell, to control the appointment of Express political hacks to make sure they all toe Tony's line? If that is what Lord Hollick is trying to do, he has made a pretty bad job of it. In the last year we have probably printed more stories exposing what is going on behind the scenes in the Labour government than any other Sunday newspaper.

Perhaps the most damaging story to appear about Campbell since the election is the leaked faxes which showed him treating Harriet Harman and Frank Field with contempt. It was our story and we devoted two pages to it. We were joint first with the Observer to report Tony Blair's explosive row with Gordon Brown over the recent biography of the Chancellor. We have reported so many detailed accounts of rows at PLP, Cabinet and other meetings that we were accused of smuggling in tapes. Praise indeed. We were the first to report that Labour was about to break its pledge to cut hospital waiting lists and, just two weeks ago, the looming crisis over its pledge to cut class sizes.

Not long ago, Campbell made an official complaint to the Express about our hostile stories. The then editor, Richard Addis, wrote back telling him to get lost.

And what about the new editor, Rosie Boycott? Just after her arrival, the frontpage article in the Express on Sunday started as follows: `Tony Blair was accused of breathtaking arrogance last night.' It didn't come from a Downing Street press release. We have been just as firm but fair with the Tories. Am I saying Hollick has no influence over the paper? Of course not. Everyone knows that all newspaper proprietors influence their papers and that is partly why they buy them. It doesn't mean they distort or censor every news story, otherwise much of what I have written since joining the paper two years ago would never have been printed. In fact, not a single word has been changed.

The recent fuss about the Express stems from the decision to make the former Independent political editor, Tony Bevins, and not Gordon Brown's biographer, Paul Routledge, political editor of the Daily Express. To claim that Bevins is some kind of government poodle just because Campbell once, rashly, called him great is ridiculous. Everyone at Westminster on all sides knows Bevins is one of the most brilliant and anarchic journalists in the business. He recently wrote a paean of praise to William Hague - not an idea that would have been planted by Campbell. And he has frequently been first to print stories adversely critical of Blair and New Labour.

It is revealing to see where the attacks are coming from. Stephen Glover savaged the Express in The Spectator two weeks ago (Media studies, 16 May). …

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