Watching Brief - Amanda Platell on a cyclone around a sarcophagus

Blair has a nerve to say he doesn't like spin distracting from government. It was his vanity that tu

Henry II it was who asked "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?", but then, it is said, he was surprised that his trusted henchmen proceeded to hack Thomas a Becket to death as he prayed in Canterbury Cathedral.

In much the same way, our Prime Minister would have us believe that his aides acted independently when they made at least a dozen calls to Black Rod's office, attempting to define and refine Tony Blair's role in the Queen Mother's funeral - despite being repeatedly told that he had none.

Blair unleashed his dogs of war - Alastair Campbell against two hostile newspaper groups and Lord Irvine of Ludicrously Expensive Wallpaper against Black Rod's aides - so it is difficult to suspend disbelief and accept that our PM was, in the words of one of his favourite phrases, whiter than white. When Lord Irvine said of the persistent interference: "It's not Tony, it's his aides," his argument was about as plausible as saying after Stalingrad: "It's not Hitler, it's von Paulus."

The Queen Mother's lying-in-state had become Part 746 of the Prime Minister's lying-in-office. The Press Complaints Commission complaint was, as I predicted in early May, an ill-advised, barely disguised act of revenge against two off-message journalists - Peter Oborne and Simon Walters - who needed to be taught a lesson by new Labour and, perhaps more importantly, against the Telegraph Group and Associated Newspapers, which had steadfastly refused to be charmed, bribed or bullied by the Blair spin machine.

Blair has a nerve to say that he is angry with these spin distractions because they get in the way of the important business of government is: after all, it was his decision to complain to the PCC, his vanity that turned a storm in a teacup into a cyclone around a sarcophagus.

As the Times pointed out, "His [Blair's] determination to silence them [Associated Newspapers and the Telegraph Group] is doing more harm than any of their criticisms."

As anyone who has ever worked as an adviser to a senior politician knows, we have ways and means of giving and receiving information and instructions that enable our leaders, later, to put their hand on their heart and say: "I know not what they do."

But these techniques are, as we all know, the semantics of deception. Although he may be in denial, Blair is what his advisers do. The public, rightly, draw no distinction between the motives and actions of Blair and Campbell, of Blair and Jo Moore, of Blair and Peter Mandelson, of Blair and Stephen Byers.

Surround yourself with liars, cheats and bully boys and it will rub off on you, Prime Minister.

New Labour's spin machine has tried everything to bring the media to heel - rewards, punishments, threats and smears - everything, that is, except telling the truth. But be sure of one thing: this is a party of vengeance. One can only wonder how long it will be before the PCC becomes its next target of "reform"?


And it doesn't stop at home. "Too much spin from the top, PM", screams the headline across the normally even-handed and pro-Commonwealth West Australian newspaper.

It is interesting to see how British politicians are viewed abroad. They are given little in-depth coverage, hence the reduction to stereotypical truths - the Prime Minister of Great Britain is seen in Australia as a bit of a show pony, obsessed with spin, not first cousins with the truth and, in the local vernacular, right up himself.

Australians seem less concerned about the Queen Mother's funeral and more offended at Blair's attempts to muscle in on the good publicity surrounding another national icon, the former Oz tennis champion Pat Cash.

And he's not even dead yet.


A talkback show on BBC Radio 5 Live before the World Cup asked the question: Why are Australians so good at sport?

The World Cup itself, for which their country hasn't qualified since 1974, holds the secret - Australians just love sport, even when they're not any good at it. Everywhere you go, there's a television set tuned to the latest World Cup game.

Advertisers, capitalising upon the captive (mainly male) audience, have been filling the screens with that other bloke obsession - erections, or, more importantly, the lack of them.

In a country able to laugh at its little sexual foibles, a country that sells men's underpants with "Free Willie" stamped all over them, no one blinks an eye at the Pele impotence ad that seems to be running 24 hours a day.

My heart sinks to think that, in 30 years' time, it will be David Beckham wandering through the deserted Yokohama Stadium ruminating on how England couldn't get it up.