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Campbell to resign as Number 10 communications chief

LONDON - Alastair Campbell has confirmed that he is resigning as the Prime Minister's spokesman and is set to leave the post in the next few weeks.

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Campbell's resignation as Downing Street's director of communications and strategy has long been mooted -- even before he became embroiled in the scandal over Dr David Kelly, the government weapons expert who committed suicide.

Campbell's successor is due to be announced shortly, with names in the frame including former Labour Party chief press officer David Hill, who has been working in public relations since 1997.

Usually reticent when it comes to his own name appearing in the media, Campbell issued a lengthy statement confirming that he is leaving his role. In it, he says that he had intended to leave last summer, but that he was persuaded to stay on by Tony Blair to oversee communications on Iraq "as the issue developed".

In his statement, Campbell said: "We agreed on April 7 of this year, however, that I would definitely leave this summer and I have now given the Prime Minister formal notice of my decision to leave. I did not think it appropriate to announce this on a day when Lord Hutton was sitting, and I shall of course continue to be available to assist his inquiry in any way he wishes. I will also be available in the next few weeks to assist the handover to my successor, who will be announced shortly."

Campbell is a former news editor at the Daily Mirror but has worked closely with Blair for nine years. There is talk that a £1m-plus bidding war is set to break out for Campbell's diaries, which are likely to be explosive.

Giving an unusual glimpse of humanity, Campbell said that while there were huge upsides to the role, there were downsides. "The reality is that in some jobs, and this is one of them, there is no such thing as a day off, or a night off, or a holiday without interruption. The pressures are real and intense, but in doing the job you learn to live with them. It is your family that pays a price," he said.

His partner Fiona Millar, a media adviser to the PM's wife Cherie Blair, announced she was quitting her job at Downing Street earlier this year to take up freelance journalism.

Tony Blair hit out against the media caricaturing Campbell as a master of the dark art of spin. "The Alastair Campbell I know is an immensely able, fearless, loyal servant of the cause he believes in, who was dedicated not only to that cause but to his country," he said in a statement.

"He is a strong character who can make enemies but those who know him best, like him best. His contribution to the Labour Party's modernisation, and electoral success, was enormous. And his contribution during the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular, were of great importance to the understanding of Britain's case here and round the world," Blair said.

The full text of Campbell's statement can be read at the Labour Party website.

There has been much speculation as to where Campbell can go next. He said that he was not ready to take on another big job, but that he would be writing, broadcasting and making speeches about issues which concern him, such as grassroots sports development.

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