22 JUNE 2002, Page 30

Beware lamp-posts

From Mr Guy Walters Sir: The following sent a chill down my spine: 'He failed .. . because he cared only for the facade. This was a government of the media. by the media, and for the media. Instead of a philosopher-king, [he] was a journalist-dictator. . . . He asked not whether policies were good but whether they made headlines. . . His own first task each day was a prolonged study of yesterday's newspapers, and a planning of the next day's newspapers. and telephoning editors to explain what they must do. The head of his private press office saw him frequently and sometimes appeared at meetings of the cabinet.. . . He shut himself up, like a Byzantine in a palace, and surrounded himself only with flatterers. He rid himself of advisers who were independent or critical.'

The passage is taken from a book review by Owen Chadwick published in The Spectator 20 years ago. It is a review of Denis Mack Smith's biography of Benito Mussolini. I note in your 15 June issue that Peter Kilfoyle, in his review of Peter Mandelson's The Blair Revolution Revisited, similarly compares the Italian dictator to our present one. In that case Mr Blair had better not tarry below any lamp-posts.

Guy Walters

London SW1