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
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.