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Blair’s Media Chief to Resign Amid Controversy

BY Admin  August 29, 2003 at 12:00 PM EDT

In his resignation statement, Campbell said: “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.” Campbell played a central role in drafting a British government dossier on Iraq’s alleged weapons programs that has come under intense scrutiny during an inquiry into last month’s suicide of weapons expert David Kelly.

British media reports have long suggested that Campbell, 46, planned to leave the government later this year, but the timing of his announcement — while both he and Blair are embroiled in an inquiry into the government’s case for war in Iraq — surprised many political observers.

But, Campbell said his resignation was not related to the inquiry, noting that he had informed Blair last April that he would leave his post this year.

“We agreed on April 7 this year that I would definitely leave this summer and I have now given the prime minister formal notice of my decision to leave,” Campbell said.

Campbell also revealed he had wanted to leave the government last summer, but agreed to stay in his post for the Iraq crisis.

“My family, friends and close colleagues know that I have been thinking for some time about leaving my position as director of communications and strategy,” he said. “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.”

Campbell said his family had paid a heavy price for the “real and intense” pressures of his job and it was “time to move on and do other things.”

His partner, Fiona Millar, media adviser to Blair’s wife Cherie Booth, also will resign from her position at the same time, which would happen “in a few weeks.”

Campbell said in an interview with the BBC he wanted “to get a life back for me and my family.”

As far as his future plans, Campbell said he did not want to take on “another big job,” but hoped to write, broadcast and make speeches.

Campbell has been Blair’s director of communications and strategy since 2001 after serving as Blair’s press secretary. But, his role reportedly reached beyond the traditional duties of a media chief. Campbell regularly attended cabinet meetings, sat in on talks with foreign leaders and wrote many of Blair’s speeches.

Blair praised his outgoing communications chief 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.”

Over the last three years, Campbell, a former political editor of the Daily Mirror, was often criticized for manipulating the media and characterized as the government’s “spin doctor.”

Blair on Friday defended his media chief.

“The picture of Alastair Campbell painted by parts of the media has always been a caricature. He is a strong character who can make enemies, but those who know him best, like him best,” Blair said. “In the extraordinarily difficult and wearing world of the modern media, he operated with tremendous skill and dedication.”

Campbell said he chose to announce his decision Friday because it would not have been appropriate to do so while the inquiry was in session. But, he said he would continue to assist Blair in the inquiry and further investigation as needed.

“I shall of course continue to be available to assist [Blair’s] inquiry in any way he wishes. I will also be available in the next few weeks to assist the handover to my successor,” Campbell said.

David Hill, Labour’s communications chief in the 1997 general election and former press aide to ex-Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley, was named to replace Campbell, the BBC reported.

However, it appears likely that Campbell will be cleared of charges made in a May 29 BBC report by defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan that Campbell had embellished, or “sexed up,” British intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The recent testimony of John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee in charge of overseeing the Iraq dossier, offered key support to Campbell’s version of events to the Hutton inquiry. A Foreign Affairs Select Committee has already exonerated Campbell of Gilligan’s charges in the controversial BBC report.