'Sultan of spin' Alastair Campbell rounds on Conservatives over treatment of regional press

Tony Blair’s former spin-doctor Alastair Campbell (pictured, Reuters) has criticised the Tories’ treatment of the regional press during its election campaign.

David Cameron has previously been accused of freezing journalists out of a carefully managed electoral campaign.

Huddersfield Daily Examiner reporter Joanne Douglas was excluded from his trip to a factory in Meltham and then given one minute of questions with Cameron . 

The Prime Minister later apologised, giving her a ten-minute interview. He said: “I think there was an administrative muck up that’s our fault. My apologies and it won’t happen again.

“I always want to try and give local journalists a fair chance to ask questions and see what we’re up to.”

However, within 24 hours of the incident, Cameron was accused of “snubbing the local media” – an accusation which was later removed by the Bedfordshire on Sunday, after the Prime Minister also gave that title an interview.

Campbell, who ran Blair’s campaign in 1997 and stayed with him until 2003, told the Manchester Evening News that Labour had given reporters access on “every visit”.

Campbell said: “In my day, we made sure we spoke to every local paper in the place we went. Often it meant arranging picking up reporters in lay-bys.

“I know, having been involved this time around, the local and regional press are part of the planning of every visit the party and Ed Miliband does.

“David Cameron has not met a single person he’s not been planned and scheduled to meet. The Tories, including Osborne, say they love being out campaigning and meeting real people. But the truth is, they’re not.”

He added: “Despite what I thought about John Major, you can’t say he didn’t get out there and engage with people. The media is very important in campaigns.

“And if you’re an undecided voter, you know what the big stuff is from the television; they don’t care about that stuff.

“Campaigning is about getting to people and actually speaking to them. Local media is a big part of that.

“I was a control freak. You do have to be in control of a campaign. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have real engagement.”

Campbell himself was not universally admired by journalists when he was Number 10 press secretary. He was described by journalist Nicholas Jones as the "sultan of spin", as one of the UK's first political 'spin-doctors'.

Writing for Press Gazette in 2007, Lobby correspondent David Rose said his legacy was to "allow truth to become the chief casualty of spin".

Several other newspapers have complained about their treatment by the Conservative Party during visits by high-profile politicians, including the Nottingham Post  and the East Anglian Daily Times.

Last week Jennifer Williams, MEN’s local government reporter, wrote a comment piece in which she argued that political parties’ lack of communication with the press had “strategised that basic human interaction out of their daily grid”.

The Conservative Party has also faced criticism over access given to the national press during the election campaign. Ann Treneman, sketch-writer for The Times, spoke out about the “world of campaign control freakery” after being refused entry to an appearance at a nursery by David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

Labour has also been accused of excluding sections of the media also. A Sun editorial last week said press exclusion "cuts both ways”. It said: “Labour has barred The Sun from theirs.

“Both main parties should be more open to all-comers from the press, especially at election time.

“But there is a big difference between the two: Labour actively seeks to silence critics.”

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