Former Downing Street press secretary Alastair Campbell today claimed the editor of the Daily Mail is “evil” and denied that he had “bullied and bribed” journalists.
Speaking to the House of Lords communications committee he launched an attack on Mail editor Paul Dacre saying: “I think the man is evil. When the senior Rothermere and David English were there alongside Paul Dacre it was somewhere close to the edges of humanity. But without the senior Rothermere and David English it has become absolutely poisonous. I really do believe it is a poison in our national life.”
Campbell, Tony Blair’s former chief press secretary, was giving evidence to the cross party House of Lords communications committee which is examining the impact of newspaper ownership on the way news is presented.
Campbell said he thought the way the Sun covered Europe was ‘A joke”. But he said: “At least the Sun does have a sunny disposition towards being alive, towards being British.”
By contrast he said the Mail ‘has a view of the world which is utterly poisonous”. He said: ‘I wouldn’t allow it in the house, certainly not.”
Campbell disputed the claim by Lance Price, a former Downing Street special adviser who worked in the press office, who claimed in an article that he had been told on arrival at Downing Street that the government would not change its policy on Europe without talking to Rupert Murdoch first. He said: ‘I don’t accept that characterisation at all.”
Campbell said he also did not accept the claim by The Sun in the 1997 election that ‘it was the Sun wot won it”.
He said that Blair wined and dined newspaper proprietors and accepted that he may have seen more of Murdoch because he found him more interesting.
Asked whether he had any favourites when he was in Downing Street, Campbell said: ‘It is unrealistic to think there are some journalists you are going to trust more than others and that you are going to be more open with them.
‘There are some journalists, some of whom are still operating, I respect more than others.”
He said: ‘It is routinely said by some of the media that we went around and bullied them and bribed them; I don’t accept that at all.”
Campbell attacked the Press Complaints Commission ‘as a pretty useless organisation’and ‘part of the cosy media club’but told the peers: ‘I really don’t know what you would replace it with.”
Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the PCC and a former press secretary to John Major when he was PM, also gave evidence to the Lords today and said that when he was at Downing Street the policy he pursued was to have no favourites and to ensure that all journalists in the Lobby had equal access to stories.
He said he had learned his craft from Sir Bernard Ingham, press secretary to Margaret Thatcher. ‘I thought he was a great press secretary.”