Monday, December 01, 2008

Green and Brown: Time to move to a less 'impartial' civil service?

There's a 'support Damian Green' Facebook group. But there isn't a 'Find Christopher Galley's mates and see if he said anything about being promised a job' group. Yet...

Seeing as the Tories think that Home Secretaries should interfere in police investigations, it raises a few questions. Hopi asks them here.

Either way, there seems to be a fair bit of misdirection going around on this Damien Green business. As synthetic outrage goes, the objection to the word 'grooming' has a hint of desperation about it:

"As details of the investigation emerged, the shadow Immigration minister told friends he was livid that detectives resorted to "provocative" language used to describe sex offenders and suicide bombers."
(Iain Dale: "According to an internet dictionary, grooming means....")

Desperation tells it's own story.

For me, one of the big problems is the way that it isn't leaked to the media as a conscientious objector would do, it's the way that it was leaked to Damian Green for a clear political advantage by someone who had also stood as a Conservative candidate, had asked for a job, and clearly wanted to get some sort of career in Conservative politics out of it.

Brian Barder put it quite well in response to Iain Dale in Toby Harris' comments:

" appears that the home office official concerned worked, or had worked, in the home secretary’s private office; that he has been arrested and bailed on a charge of leaking official documents without authority to a Conservative front-bench MP; that he has applied in the past for a job in the same Conservative MP’s office and has stood as a Conservative candidate in a local council election; and that the purpose of the leaks has been purely (or impurely) to provide the Opposition in parliament with ammunition to use against the government which employs him — not to blow the whistle on any injustice, impropriety, corruption or dishonesty on the part of his ministers, nor even to sabotage some aspect of policy with which he personally has a moral or ethical objection. Might Mr Dale not agree that this combination of circumstances makes these ’systematic’ leaks notably different from the ordinary run of leaks that we have seen in the past and that at the very least it calls for a mighty thorough investigation, even if a few sensitive political toes get trodden on in the process?"

Daniel Finkelstein puts the case for the (Tory) defence very well here:

Labour generally - and Gordon Brown specifically - did very well out of leaky bureaucrats for a long time - and though there's no commensurate suggestion (yet) that inducements were offered then, there's not a huge amount of daylight between the two parties.

The row seems to boil down to two arguments:
  1. Green's informant appears to be less of a conscientious objector and more of a young careerist - which may make Green's receipt of material slightly less defensible that Brown's.
  2. There is a constitutional problem with plod investigating this the way they would investigate a crime committed by an ordinary member of the public.
The latter point doesn't stand up at all - thus - perhaps - Dale / Green's desperate reaching for the 'grooming' smear?

If The Guardian's suggestion of a mole at the treasury were found to be true, however, this would up the ante very significantly. At a time of economic crisis, if the Tories were shown to be running interference on government announcements, the whole issue goes nuclear.

But for now, I still think that this whole story is very important. It's important because it foregrounds the role of MPs and Parliament, and for a change, the commentariat seem to be upset about a disrespect for elected representatives. But it also makes the case for more in-and-outers - the fetish for civil service neutrality in the UK is one that desperately needs puncturing, preferably cleanly in legislation, rather than damagingly, by stealth - as happens at the moment.

The reason that I say this is because there seems to be a quarter of this argument that is implying that this is really not that big a deal - that it's part of the warp and weft of politics.

If this is the case, then let's formalise it?

1 comment:

Chris said...

Isn't there a third argument, that if the plod investigated a similar crime committed by an ordinary member of the public in the same way it would still have been seen as heavy-handed and worthy of condemnation? If Alan Rusbridger was arrested and questioned for nine hours while police searched his home and office without solid evidence that he was commissioning leakers for profit there would be outcry, no?

I'm also not sure about the motivation aspect. People often have multiple motives for their actions, so it's not necessarily an either/or personal political/public benefit. It could equally have been leaked to a journalist purely for 'bad' motivations and still been in the public interest. And I'm not sure how it affects legitimate whistleblowing to say that prosecution might depend on what other people think your primary motivation was as well as to what extent it could be seen as of public interest.

But I agree that the outrage over the word 'grooming' is odd, especially if one is not simultaneously condemning comparisons with Stalin.