Monday, 30 April 2007

Another bit of favouritism for Tony’s Cronies?

Ministers, civil servants and the public have all been shocked and appalled by the recent fashion for kiss-and-tell accounts of the inner workings of government.

While I well-written memoir is wonderfully enlightening, and the details of the Hutton Enquiry and Butler Review exposed Blair’s sofa government for what it is, the salacious bean-spilling by some civil servants and ministers has been to the detriment of the service.

One can understand why the Government has sought to limit further breaches of the secrecy that must exist within ministerial offices. Personally, I find any effort to limit free speech to be worrying, and I fully support open government. However, there must be a degree of trust between ministers and their colleagues, and between ministers and civil servants, and it is not unreasonable to require people to commit in advance to secrecy. It is a normal practice for lawyers and Catholic priests, after all. One cannot compel a person to be silent, but one may justifiably insist that they choose between their right to speak freely and their desire to take a particular job. Accepting a post as a minister, civil servant or special adviser should carry with it a commitment to discretion.

Meanwhile, one would expect the law to be implemented blindly, without favouritism. So it is extremely disturbing to read that the Government has been accused of dragging its feet over implementation of its own rules so as to enable Alastair Campbell to publish his diaries before the new rules come into effect.

According to Chris Grayling, the Conservative Shadow Transport Secretary,

“The Government now appears to have a completely cavalier attitude to the rules
of Whitehall when it comes to looking after people who have been close to Tony
Blair and Gordon Brown. This is quite obviously a blatant attempt to delay
things so that Alastair Campbell can get on with publishing his diaries without
anyone intervening to stop him.”
Of course, without presenting evidence, Mr. Grayling is potentially making a scurrilous accusation. However, as the collapse in the confidence between ministers and civil servants is a direct result of the manner in which the Labour government has itself used leaks and spin to control the news, it seems hardly beyond them to play so fast-and-loose with the principles of good government.

Awkward memoirs and embarrassing leaks are a problem of their own making. Sadly, it now seems likely that they are further compounding the problem by once again turning them to their advantage.

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