- guardian.co.uk, Friday 28 May 2010 13.24 BST
The row between the BBC and the government over Alastair Campbell's Question Time appearance last night shows no signs of ending after No 10 accused the BBC today of behaving improperly by inviting him on to the programme.
A Downing Street source told the Evening Standard's political editor, Paul Waugh: "Campbell seemed to be on because he's flogging a book next week, so the BBC haven't behaved entirely properly here."
The BBC revealed last night that the government had refused to allow a member of the cabinet to appear on the programme unless Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, was removed as a panellist.
Gavin Allen, Question Time's executive editor, wrote on a BBC blog: "It is a fundamental principle of our independence that politicians cannot dictate who sits on the panel."
No 10 issued a statement after the show was broadcast confirming it had "questioned" the BBC's decision to book Campbell "in the place of an opposition frontbencher".
"In the week of the Queen's speech the BBC booked Alastair Campbell in the place of an opposition frontbencher to appear on Question Time – which we questioned," the government statement said. "Before a final decision was made on who might appear on behalf of the government, the BBC directly booked John Redwood MP to appear."
Campbell today hit back at government claims that he appeared on Question Time to promote his new book.
"[Andy] Coulson [director of communications at the Conservative party] is now briefing I went on to flog the book," Campbell told the Guardian.
The unedited version of Campbell's diaries, The Blair Years, are published next week. Extracts from the book will be published in the Guardian tomorrow.
Campbell said: "Question Time have been trying to get me on for ever. I've just never done it for various reasons. I thought in a sense it would be easier [if the Labour party was] out of power. I said to them: 'If we were to lose I'd come on at some point.' They wanted me to do next week and I said that would be a bit tacky."
The producers of the programme, the independent producer Mentorn, offered Campbell a series of alternative dates. "The only one I could do was last night," he said.
Campbell said the Conservative party's critical stance towards the BBC might have played some part in the government's decision to pick an argument with the corporation. "It may be part of the BBC agenda. There may be a bit of that," he said.
The Conservatives regularly criticised the BBC when in opposition, complaining that its executives were over-paid and lambasting the corporation for failing to disclose the salaries of its biggest stars.
David Cameron also forced an emergency Commons debate on the BBC licence fee last year and called for the £145.50-a-year tax to be frozen.
However, the Tories appeared to have softened their stance on the BBC in recent months, even before entering into a coalition government with the more pro-corporation Liberal Democrats.
The coalition government's legislative programme, published last week, contains a proposal to allow the National Audit Office full access to the BBC accounts – a move backed by both the Tories and the Lib Dems.
However, there was no mention of plans to scrap the BBC Trust, which the Tories talked about before the election, or freeze the licence fee.
Campbell wrote on his blog in the early hours of this morning that he had no idea why there was no government representative on Question Time until he took his place on the panel.
"I only learned as the programme started the reason why there was no minister. I thought I must be hallucinating at first. Did David Dimbleby just say the government would only field a minister if I was bounced? I think he did."
A BBC spokesman dismissed the suggestion it had acted improperly by having Campbell on as a guest. "I think people recognise why we would have Alastair Campbell on the programme", he said.
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