The lack of leaking made Paddy’s farewell a most pleasant surprise

Nothing more became Paddy Ashdown than the manner of his announcing his intention eventually to go a la Charlie Whelan. He conducted the operation as you would have expected him to carry out a Special Forces raid: without warning. Not so much as a hint of a leak. This is so unusual these days that I feel bound to investigate the case of the dog which did not bark in the night.

Nothing more became Paddy Ashdown than the manner of his announcing

his intention eventually to go a la Charlie Whelan. He conducted the

operation as you would have expected him to carry out a Special Forces

raid: without warning. Not so much as a hint of a leak. This is so

unusual these days that I feel bound to investigate the case of the dog

which did not bark in the night.



Given that we are told Mr Blair knew of Mr Ashdown’s intention to go and

that we know his Government is deliberately incontinent, I conclude that

No 10 saw no advantage in nudging and winking at the Sun. It had already

extensively leaked its Bill, to be published on the day of Mr Ashdown’s

bombshell, to abolish hereditary peers - and the idea of ’people’s

peers’ who might follow them - as well as the appointment of former Tory

arch-fixer Lord Wakeham as chairman of a Royal Commission formally to

advise on the more detailed constitution of an upper house. Mr Ashdown

could therefore be given a clear run to raise the inevitable queries

about the demise, with his departure, of the Lib Dem-Lab pact.



This would cheer the Neanderthal Left, who are causing increasing

problems, and would give Mr Blair another chance (popularly, he thinks)

to display his macho by goading them - as he did - with a commitment to

an eternal Lib-Dem love-in. By the weekend, further leaks reported talks

on extending their co-operation.



This is as good an explanation as any for Mr Ashdown’s being allowed to

cause journalists to run around Westminster like the proverbial

blue-bottomed flies. But spare a thought for the poor hacks whose lives

are now made so predictable by officially sanctioned ’trailing’ - ie

leaking.



How do you think they felt, having their day messed around by Paddy?



I only ask because the Government has just announced that departments

are to publish annual reports on their press and publicity offices,

including ’an assessment of (their) delivery of services to (their)

customers, including the media’. In other words, they are going to tell

us how they think they rate with journalist whose fascination with

gossip and personal tittle-tattle often exceeds their interest in

substance. Which minister is on the up or on the way down the greasy

pole, or is destined for the equivalent of managing a power station in

Ulan Bator, grips them far more commandingly than the intricacies of

welfare reform. So, how do you measure on that Richter scale?



I can’t wait to discover, for example, how departments quantify their

success in ’killing’ duff stories (which is often a press officer’s most

useful work) and how well their selective leaking policies have gone

down with the generality of journalists. Paddy, sensible chap, treated

them all alike.



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