GICS hearing warned of dangers of politicisation

The Prime Minister’s press secretary Alastair Campbell is in danger of creating a hotbed of discontent by destroying the impartiality of Government communications, Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher told the Parliamentary Select Committee on Public Administration on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary Alastair Campbell is in danger

of creating a hotbed of discontent by destroying the impartiality of

Government communications, Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to

Margaret Thatcher told the Parliamentary Select Committee on Public

Administration on Tuesday.



Ingham told the committee, which is investigating reforms to the

Government Information and Communication Service (GICS) and the lobby

briefing system initiated last year, that Campbell was blurring the

lines between Government and party. He said there was a legitimate place

for party politics, but added: ’It is not the role of the press

secretary to attack the Opposition ... Alastair Campbell is a civil

servant when he wants to be and not when he doesn’t want to be.’



If Campbell’s role was a party political one his salary should not be

paid by the taxpayer. Campbell was just one of many advisers being paid

as civil servants by the tax-payer but who were effectively serving an

apprenticeship to the party, said Ingham.



He added that the pressures on the current Government towards

politicisation were greater than during his time at 10 Downing Street.

Ingham suggested that the practice of spin doctors showing favouritism

to certain journalists in lobby briefings was not new, but when

practised so blatantly by the chief press secretary, it was highly

damaging.



Meanwhile press Lobby chairman John Hipwood told the inquiry that the

GICS had failed to improve its performance despite a wide-ranging

shake-up since Labour came to power. He condemned attempts to revamp the

information service during questioning by the House of Commons Select

Committee on Public Administration.



’The aims of the Mountfield Report (outlining the GICS review) are fine

in theory. There have been changes ... but there has been no general

improvement whatsoever,’ he said.



His view was backed by former press gallery chairman and Times columnist

Peter Riddell, who told the committee: ’The GICS hasn’t recovered its

confidence since the battering it got last year.’



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