Can we believe Campbell on Blair’s departure?

Can we believe Campbell on Blair’s departure?

Alisrair campbell + blair.jpg

    Does the ex-PR boss KNOW that Blair will be out in September 2007?

This week’s Spectator, out this morning, is carrying a report about a chance conversation between the ex-editor and now shadow minister, Boris Johnson and Alistair Campbell which seems to confirm that Tony Blair will step down at the 2007 party conference.

The political column notes “At a coffee stall inside Lord’s cricket ground on Monday, two customers bumped into each other with a start. Alastair Campbell and Boris Johnson have not met since No. 10 Downing Street took this magazine to the Press Complaints Commission for exposing Tony Blair’s attempts to interfere with the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state, but that subject was not raised. Mr Johnson offered the usual icebreaker — when will Mr Blair resign? To his surprise, he was given a straight answer: ‘A year and a bit.’ It is now all but official: Mr Blair intends to leave the stage at next year’s Labour party conference.”

Even accounting for the heat and the charged nature of the atmosphere on the final day of the first Test against Pakistan it is hard to conclude anything other than Campbell knew exactly what he was doing.

He is too professional an operator not to have been aware of Johnson’s reputation. In June 2004 the colourful Tory caused by ripples when he wrote about a conversation he had in the Mall on his bike while stopped at traffic lights with fellow cyclist, Jonathan Powell – Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff.

Asked by Johnson about relations between No 10 and the Treasury, Mr Powell is reported to have said: “It’s a Shakespearean tragedy. Gordon Brown is the guy who likes to think he’s going to be king but never gets it. He’s never going to be prime minister.”

The most improbable thing about that story was the idea that two cyclists should stop at the same red lights!

    Although Campbell stepped down as Blair’s media supremo in September 2003 he has continued to be closely involved and was back at Downing Street during the General Election campaign. If anybody is in the know about the date then Campbell, surely, would be at the top of the list.

But before punters rearrange their betting in the Blair departure market there’s the current police investigation into the cash for honours affair to take into account.

Andrew Grice in the Independent reports this morning that “..There is a shiver going down the spine of No 10,” one insider said yesterday. “The paper trail is proving stronger than the police expected. They are pretty good at persuading people it is in their best interests to talk.”

It would be really good if a betting market could be devised on whether or not there will be charges arising out of this investigation. There’s a big division of opinion and it’s the sort of thing that punters would put money on – either way.

Mike Smithson

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