The master of spin and the public's right to hear it

Nobody has spun a story better than Alistair Campbell. He was one of the big players behind new Labour and one of the big reasons they have won three elections. He is portrayed as a heartless and ruthless character and will use every trick in the book to get policy through. While Blair was the smiling face with the "like me, like me" speeches, Campbell was always lurking in the background - it all seemed rather sinister to me. He also always seemed to have the last laugh as well. Though now he is about to be apoplectic with laughter. The new rules to prevent the publication of politically damaging memoirs by former politicians and civil servants will not be in force until after Alastair Campbell’s diaries are released. This will mean Mr Campbell can spill the beans, make a cool million and we can enjoy the dirt being lifted on various characters (though I'm sure the truth will be spun somewhat). I wonder why Gordon Brown is so "psychologically flawed". I have a feeling we are going to find out! It won't come as a surprise, therefore, that (ugly) rumour has it that Tony Blair is personally delaying the introduction to allow Mr Campbell’s diaries. No love lost there then between Blair and Brown. There is a serious side to this story though...

Why on earth is this restriction coming in, in the first place? Is this not a restriction on the freedom of speech and hiding details that may well be in the public interest? Apparently the new guidelines would restrict authors from publishing anything that may “cause damage to international relations, may cause damage to national security and may cause damage to the confidential relationships between ministers, and between ministers and civil servants, or which would inhibit the free and frank exchange of view and advice within government”. If you want to avoid this sort of damage, don't act in a way that might compromise the relationships in the first place - you can not stop people talking about it afterwards! It is typical of this government that instead of getting it right, they would rather do it their way and then "bury it" afterwards.

Never let it be said that Campbell isn't a powerful man, he can even delay Parliamentary guidance, it would seem. Shame he can't scrap them altogether in this case.




One of the worst things this Labour government has done is to politicise the civil service to an extent never seen previously. Although I agree with you on grounds of free speech, (a) it is reasonable to constrain that free speech where people have signed the Official Secrets Act, and (b) it seems poetic justice that Labour (or indeed Tory-Lite) apparatchiks may lose this potentially significant source of income if they become placemen within the civil service. This could help to restore the distinction between the party-political machines and the professional civil service, whose code of conduct would previously have made such legislation unnecessary.

As for politicians, publish and be damned (within the constraints of the OSA), I say. What is politics if not the battle of ideas? It's going to be a pretty feeble battle if we tie their hands behind their backs. Let the defamation laws be their principal constraint.