We were in the Faroe Islands’ ’Whitehall’ in Thorshavn’s harbour
when our guide said ’Good morning, prime minister’ to a stout chap who
was strolling from his office to the symbolically turf-rooted parliament
next to the stone-built town hall. Our company noted the absence first
of security and then a press secretary. It was, I said, my concept of
At about that time in London, Mr Blair was reshuffling his Government,
if not his Cabinet. When I learned what a non-event it had been, I
imagined the rumpus in Thorshavn - and in London when I was in No 10 -
if the media had been so completely misled about the event. Yet the
great reshuffle that never was seems to have passed without much real
media angst as distinct from grumbling.
Indeed, Sion Simon, associate editor of the Spectator, won’t have a word
said against the Government’s bloated corps of chattering briefers. He
reckons that, if journalists are daft enough to believe anything anybody
in Downing Street tells them, other than the Prime Minister, they
deserve to be stuffed like turkeys.
This is dangerous and simply will not do. The Westminster media has
always had a one-track mind: who is on their way up and who is on their
way down - or out? In pursuing that interest, most journalists do not
make things up. They report what they are told or the conclusions they
draw from it.
In my time, I put the first symptoms of reshufflitis - occurring
anything from four to seven months before the event - down to careless
talk by Whips or Parliamentary Private Secretaries. The media got no
help from me - my job was to keep the temperature down - until it was
clear whether a reconstruction of the Government or a more limited
operation was contemplated.
I then confined myself to indicating its likely scope, without
The run-up to Mr Blair’s reshuffle was entirely different. Margaret
Beckett and Jack Cunningham were confidently presented for the chop. So
were Frank Dobson and Mo Mowlam, until they fought back. John Prescott’s
empire was to be savaged. And there was a distinct possibility that
Peter Mandelson would be brought back disgracefully early. And what
happened? Next to nothing at Cabinet level. Yet right up to the first
junior sacking, nobody had an inkling that it was merely to be a
tinkering with the lower ranks.
Journalists were comprehensively conned - unless, of course, Mr Blair
suddenly felt faint at the thought of Cabinet blood, as some
Either way, it was a PR mess. The Government will surely pay for it
unless journalists have become mere clay in the hands of cynical spin
Real PROs wonder just how much more our frank, free and fearless media
will take from this Government. They wouldn’t have got away with it in
Thorshavn or in London in the 1980s.