06:50 GMT16 January 2021
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    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top political adviser, Dominic Cummings, appears set to ride out a storm after he breached COVID-19 lockdown rules to visit relatives in County Durham. But he is not the first unelected person to be accused of exerting undue influence in Downing Street.

    A junior government minister, Douglas Ross, has resigned following the refusal of Dominic Cummings to resign over his breach of the lockdown rules.

    On Monday, 25 May, after growing political pressure Mr Cummings held an impromptu press conference and explained he had acted "reasonably and legally" when he drove 250 miles north from London with his wife while she was suffering from the virus in early April.

    ​The pro-Tory Daily Mail said the UK lockdown "was dead in the water" after Mr Johnson refused to sack Mr Cummings over the breach.

    Several newspapers have expressed concern at the power Mr Cummings appears to hold in Downing Street but he is not the first person to induce such fears among Fleet Street’s finest.

    Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair)

    After a long career as a reporter and political editor with the Daily Mirror and Today newspaper, Alastair Campbell quit in 1994 to become press secretary for Tony Blair, who had just been elected as the leader of the Labour Party.

    ​Blair was to transform the party and lead it back into power - after 18 years in the doldrums - in a landslide election in 1997.

    Campbell became obsessed with keeping Labour MPs “on message” when they were in government and was assiduous in courting traditionally right-wing newspapers like The Sun and the Daily Mail.

    Several newspapers coined the term “spin doctor” to describe Campbell and his mastery of media manipulation and some questioned if this unelected mandarin  held too much power in the Labour Party.

    In 2003 Campbell got into a major row with the BBC after one of their reporters, Andrew Gilligan, claimed the government had “sexed up” an intelligence dossier about Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

    Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, claimed Campbell was conducting a "personal vendetta" against Gilligan.

    Gilligan’s source, biological warfare expert David Kelly, committed suicide in July 2003, two days after testifying to the foreign affairs select committee.

    Campbell left his role as Downing Street Director of Communications and Strategy the following month and brought out a book, The Blair Years, in 2007, shortly after Gordon Brown succeeded his old boss as prime minister.

    Last year Campbell was expelled from the Labour Party after admitting he voted for the Liberal Democrats in the 2018 European elections.

    Damian McBride (Gordon Brown)

    Between 2005 and 2007 the Labour Party was riven with disputes between supporters of the Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

    Brown finally became Prime Minister in 2007 and civil servant Damian McBride became his press secretary.

    Although not employed by the Labour Party, McBride was a belligerent defender of Brown and his interests.

    McBride was nicknamed McPoison and McPrickface by detractors who were both inside and outside the government.

    ​In April 2009 McBride was forced to resign after it emerged he had sent emails which discussed smearing senior Tories and included obscene and unfounded claims about Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, and Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne.

    The emails were leaked to the Tory-supporting Guido Fawkes blog.

    In his resignation statement McBride apologised for the “inappropriate and juvenile content” of the emails and added: "We all know that when a backroom adviser becomes the story, their position becomes untenable, so I have willingly offered my resignation."

    Marcia Williams (Harold Wilson)

    When Harold Wilson became a Labour MP in 1956 he employed Marcia Williams as his secretary and when he became Prime Minister for the first time in 1964 she became the head of his political office, a job she retained until he finally retired in 1976.

    She was Wilson’s gatekeeper and nobody could get to see him without her approval.

    ​Williams was given a life peerage in 1974 and became Lady Falkender, although she was dubbed “Lady Forkbender” by the satirical magazine Private Eye.

    Falkender died last year, aged 86, and in her obituary The Guardian said she “exerted an unrivalled degree of power throughout his four periods in office…but became a source of conflict and division.”

    She is most famous for drawing up a controversial list of people who were to be honoured by the outgoing prime minister, the so-called Lavender List.

    The list, which was drawn up by her on lavender-coloured notepaper, included a peerage for Lord Kagan, the manufacturer of Wilson’s favourite Gannex raincoats, Labour Party financier Eric Miller and James Goldsmith, a businessman who had donated money to the Conservatives.

    Kagan would later be convicted of currency offences and forced to give up his peerage. It was later disclosed that all three had bought houses for Williams or paid for her sons’ private school education.

    Nick Timothy/Fiona Hill (Theresa May)

    When Theresa May became prime minister in 2016, after David Cameron resigned in the wake of the Brexit referendum result, she brought with her from the Home Office two advisers who she relied upon heavily over the next year - Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.

    The pair were famously aggressive - Hill reportedly often sent text messages to colleagues and underlings which were full of expletives and Timothy had a furious row with May’s Chancellor, Philip Hammond, over the Budget.

    ​The Conservative Party’s head of communications, Katie Perrior, claimed their “rude, abusive and childish” behaviour soured the atmosphere in Downing Street and May appeared to turn a blind eye to it.

    Timothy and Hill both resigned in the wake of the 2017 general election, in which May lost her parliamentary majority and was forced to rely on support from the Democratic Unionist Party.

    Mr Timothy said he took responsibility for his role in the "disappointing" result and a manifesto promise on social care which was heavily criticised.

    John Poulson (Various)

    Although he did not directly put pressure on any prime ministers, in the 1960s and 1970s businessman John Poulson was extremely influential on several governments as well as local councils.

    The most prominent politician who was caught up in the cobweb of Poulson’s corruption was Reggie Maudling, a Conservative Party grandee, who resigned as Home Secretary in 1972 after being linked to him.

    Yorkshire-born Poulson was an unqualified architect who built up a thriving business designing buildings, mainly for the public sector.

    His business expanded beyond his "wildest dreams" and he ended up with offices were opened in London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Beirut and Lagos.

    But at the heart of his business was bribery and corrupt payments to buy friends and influence and win contracts unfairly.

    Maudling was given £5,000 a year from 1966 to chair one of Poulson’s companies, his son was given a job with one of his firms despite dropping out of university and large sums of money were donated to a charity patronised by Maudling's wife.

    Maudling then put pressure on the Maltese government to give Poulson a lucrative contract to build a hospital.

    In 1972 Poulson’s companies went bust and Maudline was dragged down with the sinking ship.


    COVID-19, Dominic Cummings, Labour Party, Conservative Party
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