Friday, December 05, 2008


Of Damian Green and the Home Office Mole

I initially thought this Damian Green arrest issue was trivial enough to sink out of the news within a few days. Shows how much I know. Bernard Ingham used to say that if nothing new had emerged after nine days, an issue could be said to have died. Alastair Campbell suggested the limit was 12 I believe. But by this standard the thing is still going strong as new items are injected almost daily. MPs love to stand on their dignity and get awfully exercised about liberty and honour and the sanctity of the House; you get the feeling they want to keep scratching at this one until it bleeds properly.

The important parts of the problem are:

1. Who knew the police action was going to take place? the Speaker? Home Secretary? Both say no and the police claim they acted independently of government anyway. John Reid, former holder of Ms Smith's office says he is 'surprised' she had not been told. But can she be blamed if the police did not tell her?

2. Why did the Sergeant at Arms, Jill Pay, let them in without a warrant? And why didn't the police tell her she could demand one? The latter point seems less important than the former. Jill Pay is new to the job so maybe that was a factor. Incidentally, I have to say I always visualise the holder of her office as a retired military old sweat, with shoulders broad enough to carry that mace and a permanently stern countenance. While she fails on the first two Ms Pay does manage to fulfill the third having a face-see above- which would silence the most riotous of stag nights in seconds.

3. How long had Chris Galley been feeding Green information? Had he been encouraged to do so? How important was the intelligence? Did it contain budget secrets for example as has been suggested?

All governments leak and ministers themselves are the worst offenders, though they claim that for them, this is a form of 'briefing'. All oppositions benefit from leaks too, for example the present prime minister gained hugely from leaks in the civil service during the 1990s. But should a free for all in leaking be tolerated? Surely governments, of whatever stripe, need to make policy with some confidentiality and need a legal framework to facilitate this?

Leakers may leak and Oppositions can benefit but if they get caught out they may have to pay a price. If Mr Green cares so much about the nation's right to hear his leaked information, he should be prepared to pay the price for having done so via a process which was possibly illicit. A short bout of martrydom won't do his career any harm in any case.

On reaading your blog I can't escape a feeling that Labour have something damaging up their sleeves and are letting the Tory front bench dig a deeper and deeper hole for themselves a la Gideon Osborne and the Corfu business. I hope so anyway.
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