Ali fires Exocet at the Beeb

WHEN in the line of fire, the best form of defence is to attack – thusPrime Minister Tony Blair's communications chief, armchair general Alastair Campbell, decided to deal with criticism of his so-called "dodgy dossier" by triggering an Exocet into the BBC.

WHEN in the line of fire, the best form of defence is to attack – thus

Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications chief, armchair general Alastair Campbell, decided to deal with criticism of his so-called "dodgy dossier" by triggering an Exocet into the BBC.

He dismissed the row over the dossier, which led to many MPs with severe doubts on the wisdom to support the Prime Minister, as a "storm in a tea cup." – and accused the BBC of lying.

He said Radio 4's Today programme defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan had not told the truth when he quoted intelligence sources as saying Mr Campbell had "sexed up" an earlier, intelligence-led document.


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Giving evidence to the House of Commons all-party Foreign Affairs Committee, he said the allegations by the BBC that intelligence material had been abused and falsified in order to lead the country to war was as grave as possible.

"In relation to the BBC story: it is a lie, it was a lie, it's a lie that's continually repeated and until we get an apology for it I will continue making sure people know it's a lie," Mr Campbell told MPs.

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"The story that I sexed up the (September) dossier is untrue. The story that I put pressure on the intelligence agencies is untrue. The story that we somehow made more of the 45-minute command and control point is untrue and what's even more extraordinary about this whole business is that within an hour of the story being broadcast it was denied emphatically."

Alistair Campbell is a bruiser. As New Labour's spin doctor-in-chief, he is a master in the black arts of media manipulation. He has not been averse to robustly putting gloss on this Government's appalling trait of double and treble announcing spending plans and making them sound like new.

As a Daily Mirror journalist, he was hardly impartial or fair to the Conservative government he set out to destroy.

His performance before the Select Committee has been praised in some quarters as masterly, diverting the fire to the BBC when the real culprit was Campbell himself.

The BBC, of course, is answerable to nobody and considers itself as impervious to criticism. It is meant to be impartial but regularly upsets all political parties.

Last month, the Tories were rightly angered when BBC1's election night programme experts berated the party for a bad set of election results when in fact the Conservatives had a net gain of more than 500 seats.

But whatever credibility Mr Campbell had with ordinary voters may have been irrevocably damaged by his attack on the BBC. The average man or woman believes, rightly or wrongly, that the BBC is an institution beyond reproach.

The BBC rebuffed his criticisms. "We do not feel the BBC has anything to apologise for. We regret that Alastair Campbell has chosen to accuse Andrew Gilligan and the BBC of lying.

"We have always been clear in our reporting. Our senior and credible source told us that he and others in the intelligence community were unhappy that real intelligence based on a single source was given undue prominence in the dossier of September 2002 and that the dossier was transformed."

The statement added: "It remains unclear why the assertion that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could be ready within 45 minutes, based on a single source, was given such prominence."

To accuse the BBC and a journalist of telling lies is a grave charge, which he may be called upon to prove. Mr Campbell is said to be considering quitting his role in Downing Street. His intemperate attack BBC may hasten his departure.

And yesterday, Downing Street renewed the attack. "Why did the BBC's journalist not check the story with us before broadcast? Is this now normal BBC practice for all stories? If so, would it broadcast a story, for instance, alleging financial malpractice by a member of its board of management without checking first?

"Finally, does the BBC believe that its one anonymous source outweighs the combined weight of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the chairman of the JIC, the security and intelligence co-ordinator and the heads of the intelligence agencies?"

BRAINTREE MP Alan Hurst has called on the Government to introduce proper procedures to end tax evasion among the self-employed in the construction industry.

Initiating a debate in the Commons this week, Labour's Mr Hurst said that for the past 30 years, following the notorious "lump" scandal of cash payments to uncertified workers, the Inland Revenue had attempted to overcome the problem "without any real and lasting success."

The tax loss to the Government of the industry sub-contracting casual labour was estimated at between £1.2billion and £2billion a year, "a loss to every taxpayer in the country."

Although it was planned to introduce a revised scheme using the Revenue's computer system from 2005, Mr Hurst told MPs: "My fear is that, unless we are careful, there will be further disappointment and public confidence will wane further.

"The new scheme is based on verification. It switches the burden from the sub-contractor to the main contractor. It is a very positive move forward, which means the buck will stop with the main contractor."

Mr Hurst added: "Successive government have lightly jousted with the problems of the construction industry for more than 30 years. During that time, workers have lost employment rights, sick pay, redundancy pay, and pensions. Training has fallen away and apprenticeships have disappeared.

Safety at work remains a mortal problem and the Exchequer has lost billions of pounds.

"Now is the time to resolve the dilemma created by false self-employment. We need a test to determine self-employment that is open, clear, logical and obvious."

Replying, the Paymaster General Dawn Primarolo said it was for "workers and those for whom they work to agree the terms and conditions under which work will be done. If the agreed terms and conditions amount to employment, rights will flow from that."

She added: "A special tax deduction scheme for the construction industry has existed since 1972 to tackle the culture of a cash economy and tax evasion. The present construction industry scheme, known as CIS, was introduced by the Government in August 1999 to safeguard tax revenue previously thought lost through abuse of the last scheme."

CIS, a paper-based scheme requiring all sub-contractors in the construction industry to hold a registration card CIS4, would be replaced by a computer scheme under which contractors will have to declare that the subcontractors they are paying are correctly within the scheme and not employees.

Ms Primarolo assured the House: "That declaration will be policed."

BURY St Edmunds Tory MP David Ruffley today chairs a meeting at Moreton Hall community centre of the town's football forum, which will discuss the future of Bury Town FC and its relocation from Ram Meadow, and separately the state of the pitches used in the Bury and District League.

Tomorrow, he has convened a meeting at 11am in St John's Church of the "24 Hours for Trade Justice" campaign. "I share the main goals of the Trade Justice Movement – a fair deal for poor countries on international trade," said Mr Ruffley.

CHRIS Mole (Labour, Ipswich) has added his name to a proposal to help credit unions. He has signed an Early Day Motion, welcoming the growth of credit unions and calling for support to help with running costs and initiatives such as business rate relief.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Essex boy John (Jack) Whitaker Straw, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, described Downing Street's so-called second "dodgy" dossier containing 12-year-old material lifted from a student's thesis on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as "a complete Horlicks."

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