Alastair Campbell has made an explosive entry into the EU referendum debate, condemning newspapers that back Brexit for plumbing “fresh depths of dishonesty” and peddling lies and propaganda that insult the intelligence of their readers.
Tony Blair’s ex-director of communications, who is due to appear on the BBC’s Newsnight this week to discuss the media’s role in the EU debate, says he thought he had seen the worst that “the wretched rightwing press” could do in his time as a journalist and spin doctor.
But writing in the Observer, Campbell claims that several newspapers have stooped even lower and totally given up on trying to inform their readers or to debate issues, and instead promote the anti-EU views of their owners, regardless of the facts.
“More than in any such debate I can remember, large chunks of the press have totally given up on the role of properly informing public debate. The Mail, the Sun, the Express, and the Star in particular, to a lesser extent the Telegraph and, on a bad day, the Times, are more propaganda sheets for one side of the argument.”
He anticipates a wave of criticism and inevitable counterattacks from Eurosceptics and journalists who he knows will blast him as a hypocrite and propagandist himself, and cite his role in the “dodgy dossier” about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. “Before any of you start bleating or tweeting ‘dodgy dossier’, the accusations against me of lying, deceit and misinformation in relation to Iraq have been thoroughly investigated by three inquiries (we await the fourth) and I have been cleared by all of them.”
Campbell describes a story in the Sun last week, which asserted that the Queen backed Brexit, as “cock”.
“The Sun has dragged the Queen into the whole thing, taking something that was almost certainly never said to make a claim that she supported the Out campaign. I had a fair bit to do with the royals and the often crazy coverage of them in my time in Downing Street. Based on that experience, and her ability to shrug off without complaint so many false stories written about her, I can pretty much guarantee this – the fact the Palace has made a complaint to Ipso, the so-called independent press regulator, means the story is a load of cock.”
The newspaper has stood by its story, insisting it had “multiple sources”.
On Saturday, the justice secretary Michael Gove, who is campaigning for Brexit, stopped short of ruling himself out as the source of comments the paper said were made by the Queen at a meeting five years ago, at which Gove was present.
Buckingham Palace has lodged a formal complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) about the report which appeared under the headline “Queen backs Brexit”.
Speaking on a visit to Hampshire, Gove said: “I don’t know how the Sun got all of its information.” Pressed on whether it was unfair to drag the Queen into the row about Britain’s future in the EU, he replied: “I’ve already said that enough has been said about this story, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to say any more than I’ve already said and others have already said.”
Asked if he thought the Queen would be pleased to see him when he next has an audience with her, he replied: “I don’t know. I wouldn’t speculate on a matter like that.” A source close to Gove later denied that his boss had been the source.
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