Assiduous readers of this column know that I never expected much
from the Select Committee on Public Administration. When I appeared
before its inquiry into the Government Information and Communication
Service (GICS), Labour members sought to demonise me in order to excuse
Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s spin doctor. A whitewash was always on the
Let’s ignore, for the moment, the Labour majority’s avoidance of the
GICS’s alleged politicisation under Mr Campbell’s tutelage and his novel
contract enabling him to rubbish the Opposition, provided he does not
use what Sir Richard Wilson, cabinet secretary, described as ’bricks and
Instead let me confess that, however often I am amazed by New Labour’s
brazenness, I was simply not prepared for the luminous spray job by
their majority on the committee, published last week after the Commons
had gone on holiday, following a ludicrously superficial investigation.
Like Swiss bankers during World War II, they went about their business
with their eyes and ears shut. They decided it was not within their
remit to go into the ’unusual turnover’ in departmental heads of
information since the election - not even when more than half of the
heads or deputy heads of information in the main ministerial departments
have moved on or out, often propelled by a ministerial boot. And not
even when, as their report says, some press officers believed their
departure ’was caused by the desire of ministers for information
officers to be less neutral than they thought was compatible with their
regular civil service terms of employment’.
Indeed, they never bothered to interview a single sacked information
head. Instead, they took Stalin’s way out: if there is a problem,
liquidate it. They call on the Government to explain why a GICS is
necessary and why it shouldn’t be integrated into the mainstream civil
service on the spurious grounds of improving career opportunities.
This idea is as old as Methuselah. And it has so far remained just that
because it would not effectively change anything. There is nothing -
except snobbery and prejudice - to prevent information officers becoming
But the fact is that most members of the GICS did not join up to become
pen-pushers and policy wonks. They sought a career in, for them, a new
and exciting branch of communications.
Now they see their route to the top being increasingly blocked. Since
the election a third of the top 44 GICS jobs have been taken over by
administrators (seven) or outside journalists/ communicators (eight).
This Government is installing a glass ceiling over GICS heads and it
cannot be whitewashed away by pious requests for it to examine how to
ensure GICS officers are not at a disadvantage when applying for the top
jobs in their own field.