How the sultans of spin have turned into whirling dervishes

Jonathan Haslam, John Major’s press secretary, is not leaving the Government Information Service because of a row with a junior minister about the contents of a press notice. If my ex-colleagues went every time they stopped the likes of Education Minister Stephen Byers trying to rubbish his predecessors in a Government press notice, Whitehall would be a game of musical chairs.

Jonathan Haslam, John Major’s press secretary, is not leaving the

Government Information Service because of a row with a junior minister

about the contents of a press notice. If my ex-colleagues went every

time they stopped the likes of Education Minister Stephen Byers trying

to rubbish his predecessors in a Government press notice, Whitehall

would be a game of musical chairs.



Nor is Jean Caines, my former deputy at No 10, leaving the DTI because

of problems with Margaret Beckett and her team. She wants to enjoy her

husband’s retirement. And Mr Haslam, having done the best job in town at

No 10, as he puts it, wants a new career. The fact remains that five

other colleagues have been disposed of and the Government is now faced

with an even bigger communications crisis than I have been forecasting

in this column. The fates of Andy Wood (Northern Ireland), Liz Drummond

(Scottish Office), Steve Reardon (Social Security), Gill Samuels

(Defence) and Jill Rutter (Treasury) are merely a symptom of the mess

into which the Government has spun itself.



The problem stems from ’New’ Labour’s very existence. To secure

election, it had to pretend to be something much of it isn’t - namely, a

passable imitation of the Tories without the sleaze. That required a

great deal of cosmetic. Spindoctoring triumphed. Tony Blair went to No

10 with, as he admits, a limited programme as well as a philosophical

void. Just what does Labour stand for? Hence its 60-odd policy reviews,

if you believe the Liberal Democrats.



Spindoctoring became even more important. It was now necessary to put a

shine on, by my standards, a politically bankrupt administration. Hence

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s press secretary, running the Government

like a news desk. There are, he says, three parts to a story - the run

up to it, the story itself and follow up. And the greatest of these is

the run up. To create an impression of activity, every measure has been

repeatedly trailed in a media which has so far mislaid its formerly

fiercely rigorous approach to Government.



This worked until events intervened. We then had presentational shambles

in the form of Monserrat, Cabinet pay rises, the exploitation of

Princess Diana’s death, the Queen’s tour of India and, within five

months of taking office, an incredible line of Ministers being canvassed

for the chop - Frank Dobson, Chris Smith, David Clark, Gavin Strang and

Clare Short, and now a single-Euro currency row. Worse still Treasury

spindoctor Charlie Whelan has revelled on TV in manipulating and

misleading journalists.



Spindoctors have become the issue. That is the measure of Labour’s

presentational crisis. They’re spinning out of control.



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