Magazine article The Spectator

If Alastair Campbell Is Still There at the Next Election, Labour Will Lose

Magazine article The Spectator

If Alastair Campbell Is Still There at the Next Election, Labour Will Lose

Article excerpt

Here's what Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, told the BBC's Peter Sissons during her interview with him on Sunday morning. She's talking about the Gilligan affair, this interminable row between the corporation and the 'government'. Yes, I know. You're sick to death of Gilligan and Campbell and the whole shebang. Another mention of those tiresome bloody dossiers, and you'll gag. I understand entirely. But bear with me for a few seconds before you flick the page over.

Tessa had already said she thought it was a great pity that Greg Dyke was 'digging himself in' over the dispute and twice, early on in the interview, she made the point that the BBC had a 'constitutional responsibility to [sic] the accuracy and impartiality of its news coverage'. This is how the interview proceeded:

Jowell: 'It is not do or die for the BBC. The BBC should say: "We made a mistake, we regret it." And then everybody can move on. That is the point and it underlines. . . . '

Sissons: 'But if the BBC is not going to do that, can life go on as normal? Can the [BBC] governors put out of their minds any consideration such as now we're going to get the charter . . . will the licence fee go up as much as we want, will the licence fee be in existence in ten years' time? I mean, can you separate out from the acts that would bring the BBC, as you see it, into line?'

Jowell: 'Yes, of course. I mean there is . . . no question over bringing the BBC into line. . . . The BBC's constitutional responsibility is for accuracy and impartiality of news coverage. That is the central tension. Now it is perfectly possible to separate this row, now, which can be very shortly conceded, from the wider and absolutely crucial question of charter renewal for the BBC, the role of the BBC in modern broadcasting.'

So, there we have the minister responsible for overseeing the renewal - or otherwise - of the BBC's charter and its licence fee implicitly threatening the corporation that if it doesn't concede in this dispute, it might find itself in trouble. Her constant references to the 'constitutional' position of the BBC and that little phrase in italics are ample evidence, for me, of a direct threat. I'm not sure which adjective is correct, in describing such a threat. Disgusting? Astonishing? Authoritarian?

Interestingly, Tessa was deluged with telephone calls from Downing Street as she waited to go on air. Afterwards, in the BBC's Green Room, she apparently rowed back on the threats issued to the corporation. I suppose I'd better watch it, because I have only one source for this information. But that's what seems to have happened. You get the picture of someone who may have been, I don't know, a little uncomfortable with what she had been instructed to do. This is pure supposition, based on what was said on air and what happened - before and after.

Tessa was the latest minister to be co-opted into the front line of Alastair Campbell's personal vendetta against the BBC, a vendetta which is at best a smokescreen and at worst a bizarre manifestation of a bruised and frankly desperate ego. Ben Bradshaw has been wheeled around the interview rooms, as has the unpleasant Phil Woolas. John Reid has been stamping about making various belligerent allegations and accusations (my personal favourite being that there is a conspiracy within the security seivices designed to evict Labour from office. …

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