If the PR industry were into good works, it would provide free
counselling for those about to be mugged by spin doctors. Labour peer,
Lord Winston, fertility expert and critic of NHS under-funding, would
have benefited enormously. Having spoken his mind about Government
’deceit’ over the NHS, he was duffed up by Alastair Campbell. He then
soft-pedalled his NHS criticisms until the New Statesman, which started
it all, issued a tape recording of what he had originally said. Lord
Winston’s political career and reputation as a man who knows his own
mind - and sticks to it - were left in ruins.
If we were entirely public spirited, we would also form a society for
rescuing spin doctors from themselves after the Winston affair and the
Government’s U-turn on admitting Mike Tyson. Lord Neill and his
committee on standards in public life certainly did next to nothing to
Surprise, surprise, no criticism of them. Instead, Neill thinks the
Government’s special advisers, of whom Mr Campbell is one, do a good
job. Why, he even found no evidence of civil service politicisation
resulting from them.
I suspected I might have been wasting my time when I gave evidence
before him last summer when he invited a Labour peer to open the bowling
against me. Nonetheless, I asked his committee to put itself in the
position of a civil service press officer who has so far survived Tony
First, you heard Mr Campbell telling the Government Information Service
to pull its socks up, turn itself into a political news factory and gear
itself up for 24-hour media, as if that was something new. Then you
discovered heads of information were disappearing at a rate of knots.
Within a year 25 out of the 44 top people had moved on. Only two of the
18 departmental heads of information in post when Mr Blair took over now
And all the time you found these publicly financed so-called special
advisers, who are really party hacks living cheek by jowl with ministers
with a brief to get Labour re-elected by manipulating the media, are
forever putting their oars in, trying to make you less than impartial.
You have come to experience what is described as the ’culture of blame’.
You would like to keep your job so you keep your nose clean. Any ethics
watchdog who can’t see insidious policitisation in all that should be
Lord Neill also refused to accept my point that the party, not the
taxpayer, should foot the bill for party apparatchiks employed inside
Instead, he accepts Governments should use public money to finance
privileged party political assistance, although not too much of it.
There should be a cap on numbers and a special code of practice for
them. This is the way to encourage politicisation. Add Lord Neill to the
list of those PR needs to save from themselves.