Opinion: Revealing the flaws in Follet’s fantasy

Some map out their role in life. Others find their calling. Still more, like me, are flotsam, going where the tide takes them. And others, also like me, have their role thrust upon them. My function in life since Tony Blair came to office has been to excuse every action and excess of Alastair Campbell, my successor plus four. This became clear when I appeared before the most pathetic select committee (on public administration) I have encountered a couple of years ago. The sole purpose of an assortment of Blair’s babes and poodles was to find precedents in my actions over 11 years in No 10 for Mr Campbell’s in his first 12 months.

Some map out their role in life. Others find their calling. Still

more, like me, are flotsam, going where the tide takes them. And others,

also like me, have their role thrust upon them. My function in life

since Tony Blair came to office has been to excuse every action and

excess of Alastair Campbell, my successor plus four. This became clear

when I appeared before the most pathetic select committee (on public

administration) I have encountered a couple of years ago. The sole

purpose of an assortment of Blair’s babes and poodles was to find

precedents in my actions over 11 years in No 10 for Mr Campbell’s in his

first 12 months.



Comparing myself with Mr Campbell is like judging Yorkshire pudding

alongside Scottish bagpipes. But that has not stopped Ken Follett, the

Blairite who has now stabbed his erstwhile hero in the back, from

accusing me of inventing ’malicious gossip (as) an everyday tool of

modern Government’ for which, he says, Mr Blair will be remembered. He

cites one piece of evidence against me - John Biffen. Even under-sexed

giant pandas manage a better strike rate than once a decade.



But even if you add in - as most do - Francis Pym, my resort to

’malicious gossip’ was still only once every 5.5 years. Hardly ’an every

day tool’.



The problem for Mr Follett, apart from exhibiting that hell hath no fury

like a novelist scorned, is that he cannot distinguish between

surreptitiously whispering ministers down, and openly responding to

their words and actions.



He is correct in claiming that this Government has seen the systematic

rubbishing of ministers. Frank Dobson, Chris Smith, Clare Short, Gavin

Strang and David Clark were early victims. Mo Mowlam is the most

recent.



Only journalists know who is responsible just as they guard the secret

of who said Chancellor Gordon Brown was ’psychologically flawed’. This

hole-in-the-corner game contrasts sharply with my responding in open

Lobby to remarks by Mr Pym - a speech of inspissated gloom just when

Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe was claiming the economy was emerging from

recession - and Mr Biffen, arguing on TV that Margaret Thatcher was a

liability and should be replaced by a collective leadership. In both

cases, the Lobby were clamouring for their scalps. I tried to excuse

them with an entirely accurate account of their personalities - ’It’s

being so cheerful that keeps him going’ (Pym) and ’That well-known

semi-detached member of the Cabinet’ (Biffen). Both spent another year

in Cabinet and Mr Pym rose to be Foreign Secretary.



But let my experience be a warning to all PROs. I did not do justice to

myself because I gave conspiracy theorists an opportunity to theorise me

into a reputation. Mr Follet does not do justice to his cause by failing

to understand why his former buddy’s Government is unusually poisonous

by Westminster standards.



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