As mad cows - or sheep - rear their ugly heads again this week and
the media have a field day with a Government 'spinning out of control',
there is one aspect of the ensuing debacle that must not be
As widely reported, on learning that critical research into the incident
of BSE in sheep had potentially been carried out on bovine brain tissue
by mistake, rural affairs secretary Margaret Beckett felt compelled to
rush out what purported to be a statement about the 'flawed'
The offending release - which, while not exactly a masterpiece of
obfuscation, does leave many questions unanswered - was then released
just beyond the nationals' deadlines, in preference to a full press
conference the following day.
Crucially, all these actions, including the writing of the release, were
undertaken by Beckett alone, and against the advice of her experienced
press and communications officers, who no doubt reiterated the first
rule of crisis management - never be economical with the truth.
As shadow environment secretary, Peter Ainsworth pointed out 'this is
clear proof that the Jo Moore syndrome originates from ministers.'
This is in no way to excuse the actions of Moore, which PRWeek has
already condemned as deplorable. What is does highlight, however, is
that all too often accusations of spin doctoring are erroneously laid at
the doors of press officers and special advisers, when blame should
clearly by aimed at the ministers involved.
Beckett may have done Whitehall's press and comms advisers - and in
particular the incoming director of comms at DEFRA - a favour in so
flagrantly and publicly ignoring their advice.