Unless the pollsters feel obliged by the election result to commit
mass suicide on Friday - and Tony Blair discovers the need to return to
the Bar - we shall soon begin to find out what life is like under
Nowhere will it be a more nervous voyage of discovery than in the
Government Information Service (GIS) which I once led.
Re-shuffles of ministers boost the adrenaline flow. But a change of
Government is a challenge and, after 18 years of dealing with the same
lot, it will probably be traumatic. There are several reasons for this
even though members of the GIS, like all professional civil servants,
are always anxious to show that they can work effectively for another
The most obvious reason is Labour’s inexperience. Only six of its shadow
government of 100 have known the luxury of hearing a minion say ’Yes
Even the Prime Minister and putative Chancellor and Foreign Secretary
are greenhorns. They know nothing, first hand, of how the machine works
and what makes it tick.
Unless they are dramatically different, they will have to be educated in
precisely what the GIS can and cannot do within the rules, which ban
party politicking and polemics. Junior ministers often find it
frustrating that this powerful communications tool is severely
handicapped in serving them. The issue of one or two ’hot’ press notices
may soon have to be aborted because they could only be properly sent out
by Labour Party HQ.
This can be a flashpoint.
Slightly longer term, there is the question of ministerial confidence in
the machine. Labour may be suspicious of press secretaries who have only
served Tory ministers. But they will store up trouble for themselves if
they by-pass the GIS by importing political apparatchiks. There are
enough tensions with the arrival of a new Government without creating
Which brings me to Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s press secretary, who is
to take over my old job in No 10. Is he going to be a GIS man or
Does he want to work with the system or just look after his Prime
Minister as Joe Haines did for Harold Wilson? On the face of it, given
Labour’s pre-election discipline, he will wish to keep a tight grip on
both the civil service and political apparatus.
He can only do this if he makes the GIS feel wanted. But he should
remember that departmental press secretaries owe their first loyalty to
their cabinet minister, not to the Prime Minister. He can only proceed
That requires him to give the GIS personal attention. Neglect it and it
tends to go its own way. I found trying to hold the system together the
hardest job I have ever done.