Opinion: Peerage row won't be ended with spin

It is curious but true - unlike the Cabinet colleagues he selects, the Prime Minister has no statutory powers. Even so, when he enters office, the unwritten power of patronage - to appoint or disappoint - has extra­ordinary potency.

The PM’s mood, prefer­ences and even phraseology are followed slavishly throughout Whitehall. In 1997 this was the surge tide of a new government carrying all before it, propelling an army of ideas and change. Its vigour and enthusiasm swept aside dissent and doubt.   There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what elections are for. 

But invariably and inevitably, the political tide goes out. So does authority, and even a sense of the ridiculous. 

Take the early morning arrest of Downing Street aide Ruth Turner in the cash-for-honours investigation last month. Various Labour worthies leapt forward in unison, shouting ‘police theatrics’, curiously unaware that they had perpetrated their very own Whitehall farce.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Having worked in Whitehall and New Scotland Yard, I can safely say neither is free of dramatists.

But in this case, the Yard has nothing to gain from theatre or leaking. For a start, no police officer in his or her right mind wants to be handed this sort of investigation. It is the classic poisoned chalice.

Investigate quietly, and the media will cry ‘pussyfooting’. Investigate robustly, and ‘friends’of possible suspects will growl about ‘grandstanding’. Investigate thoroughly,  and the accusation is of ‘foot-dragging’. Find nothing, and it’s a ‘whitewash’.

Worst of all, end up with nothing but a charge against some lonely middle-ranking functionary and you will cop the lot. So, good investigators conduct their business silently and professionally, without the antics that could cause a mistrial.

And at the end of the day, it is Blair’s tide that is in full ebb, and something rather unsavoury has been left on the beach, rotting away in full public view.  It is the remains of the New Labour mindset that thought crises could be bullied and spun into oblivion.

Mike Granatt is a partner at Luther Pendragon and former director-general of the Government Information and Communication Service.

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