The new No 10 press secretary will have to adapt to civil service

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 Labour.

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

Labour.



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

Government.



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

Minister’.



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

them.



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

not?



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

by persuasion.



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.



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