EDITORIAL: Minister's error to ignore advice

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

overlooked.



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'

evidence.



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.



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