Yesterday saw two former tabloid hacks and the Guardian
journalist Nick Davies testify to the Leveson Inquiry
. This morning saw the first overtly political witness to do so. Although he had himself worked for the tabloid press, Alastair Campbell is better known as Labour's chief spin doctor during the Blair years. They may call it spin now, but it used to be known as propaganda.
Alastair Campbell's first major contribution to the mainstream media was when he covered the 1981 Penlee lifeboat disaster, which led to no less than 16 deaths and to photographer Andrew Besley suing a crook named Ted Hynds
for stealing his copyright. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Hynds went on to work for a major Sunday tabloid.
Although Campbell too went on not simply write for but edit a tabloid newspaper, he had bigger fish to fry, aspiring eventually to Director of Communications during the Blair years. This made him a person of extreme influence if not power, but today he was appearing not as a perpetrator but as both an interested witness and as a victim.
A small number of journalists had besmirched the name of journalism, he said, and in some respects the profession had become putrid. No, this was not a reference to sexing up
dossiers about the menace posed by Saddam Hussein and his non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
Campbell said there was evidence that Carol Caplin's phone had been hacked. Caplin was the so-called style adviser to Cherie Blair, the airhead wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Campbell said he had believed initially that Caplin herself had been leaking information to the tabloids, but had since apologised to her.
He had been a victim to some extent, but had developed a thick skin. He related what was undoubtedly a true anedocote of how one tabloid had reported on his reaction to the death of his father. As Campbell senior was very much alive at the time, he had little trouble extracting an immediate apology.
Leveson himself raised the question of what he said he had alluded to before as the elephant in the room, namely the Internet. Campbell offered his thoughts on this, which are worth both as much and as little as anyone else's, but he appears to share the consensus that the Internet is a monster that cannot be controlled (and may it always be so).
On his website
, Campbell is currently flogging copies of his book Power And Responsibility, 1999-2001
, and offering his services as a speaker. A signed copy of the book will cost you £25; hiring him to address your dinner party, considerably more. Alternatively you can make a massive saving by doing neither.
Although his evidence was concluded, Campbell will doubtless return at a later date wearing his other hat. The Inquiry continues on Monday, December 5; you can find full details and all the tesimony on its official website