Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 3rd June 2002

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Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Author of Government's snooping e-mail apologises (9 Jun 2002)

- Prime Minister 'regrets' e-mail, or so he would have us believe (6 Jun 2002)

- "Resistance is futile" or so Labour spinmasters would have us believe (6 Jun 2002)

- Conservatives 'Euro' policy in disarray (6 Jun 2002)

- Francis Maude calls for Tories to change or face ruin at next election (6 Jun 2002)

I have taken several days off to celebrate my recent birthday, so some of this week's reports are a few days late.

Author of Government's snooping e-mail apologises (9 Jun 2002)

The text of a series of e-mails between Dan Corry, Transport Department Special Adviser, and the Labour Party headquarters have now been published:

Mr Corry is now in Japan attending the World Cup matches and has apologised unreservedly for having sent his initial e-mail. This sordid tale of the way this Government operates has of course received the Labour 'spin' machine treatment; various Labour ministers and MPs have been wheeled on to say they see nothing wrong in inquiring into the political affiliations of people who have the temerity to question Government policy. Barbara Roache's performance on BBC1 'Question Time' on Thursday (7th June) was quite surreal.

This e-mail exchange took place quite recently and it has since been stated by many newspapers (including many who do not support this Government) that Dan Corry is one of the few people whom they consider to be exceptionally careful in what he does and indeed something of a rarity in that he is said to abhor 'spin'. Quite why he, of all people therefore, should have initiated this crass exchange is not known, and I have seen no convincing explanation for his lapse. One can only surmise that the 'backs against the wall' atmosphere which seemd to prevail in the final weeks before Stephen Byers was forced to resign as Transport Minister had begun to infect even such a level-headed individual as Mr Corry.

Of course, nothing has been heard from our beloved Prime Minister, or indeed any other senior minister, since the resumption of normal activity on Wednesday last, after the end of last weekend's Golden Jubilee celebrations. Perhaps they believe we will all forget about their attempts at totalitarian intimidation if they keep out of sight for a week or so? - sorry to disillusion them, BUT WE WON'T!

Prime Minister 'regrets' e-mail, or so he would have us believe (6 Jun 2002)

Following on from the previous article (see below), it seems that Tony Blair has said he 'regrets' that an e-mail was sent by the Transport Department Special Adviser, Dan Corry, to the Labour Party seeking information about the political affiliations of members of the Paddington Survivors Group. Perhaps. At least as likely, though, is that he regrets the fact that such an e-mail has been discovered. Mr Corry has since left the Department, leaving at the same time as Mr Byers resigned.

Pam Warren, one of those seriously injured (and badly disfigured) in the Paddington rail crash, has described the effort to try and find out personal political information about victims and their families as "sneaky and despicable". How right she is!

So far, the Government has refused to publish the full text of the e-mail and no government minister has been prepared to be interviewed about the matter - so far, only statements have been issued, and there has been no opportunity to ask questions of them. This government seems to think it acceptable to use tactics of intimidation against people who ask awkward questions - luckily, there remain individuals who are unwilling to be cowed by such tactics. The price of freedom really is eternal vigilance!

"Resistance is futile" or so Labour spinmasters would have us believe (6 Jun 2002)

The scandal surrounding the events leading up to the recent resignation of our much unlamented former Transport Minister, Stephen Byers, took a new turn overnight and during this morning.

After initially saying it could find no trace of it, the Transport Department finally admitted today that there had been e-mail traffic between the Department and the Labour Party, sent by one of Mr Byers 'Special Advisers', seeking to find out information on any political affiliations of members of the Paddington Survivors Group. A spokesman said: "I can confirm that there was email traffic between a former special adviser at the then DTLR and the Labour Party. The emails were not about Pam Warren but sought to find out whether the people taking over from Pam Warren in the Paddington Survivors Group had any known political affiliations. The Labour Party response makes it clear that they do not. The new Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, strongly disapproves of the fact that this enquiry was made and has made it clear that it must stop immediately. The department would also wish to apologise unreservedly for any distress that this story has caused to Pam Warren, the Paddington survivors or their relatives."

Mr Byers has issued a statement in which he is quoted as saying: "As this email was sent during my period as Secretary of State and by one of my special advisers, I want to apologise to Pam Warren and other members of the Paddington Survivors Group. This email should never have been sent. Indeed, had I been aware of it I would have stopped it. I have always had the greatest respect for Pam Warren and the Paddington Survivors Group and for the motives behind their campaign to improve safety on the railway network."

Mr Byers is reckoned by many to be amongst Mr Blair's firmest allies in the so-called 'New Labour Project'; this latest revelation of the mendacious and manipulative techniques allowed to occur during his period as a Minister, with or without his active approval (and I reserve judgement on that, although only with difficulty), casts further doubt on the basic ethics of this Government.

Conservatives 'Euro' policy in disarray (6 Jun 2002)

Conservative 'Director of Strategy' Dominic Cummings has done the unthinkable, he has said out loud and in public what many close to Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, it seems, think in private. He said yesterday that, in any campaign against the UK joining the Euro, the Conservative Party would take a back seat, because he believes that the unpopularity of the Conservative Party itself would be detrimental to the anti-Euro cause. He believes that part of the Labour Government's strategy if it chooses to recommend entry and hold a referendum is that it had assumed that the Conservative party would inevitably take up the anti-Euro mantra. He told the Independent newspaper "for many people, just about the only thing less popular than the euro is the Tory party. .... We have to talk about it [the euro] in a way that speaks to the whole nation... If there's a referendum, then the Tories will have a place in the coalition but won't define the coalition. That is the crucial distinction. The good thing about this battle is that it's all in our own hands... Blair can only win if we completely balls it up. I'm more confident than ever that the Tory party will change and that Blair will back off from a referendum he won't be able to win."

Such frankness has not gone down at all well with some in the Party's hierarchy, it seems.  Party Chairman David Davis said during a television interview yesterday evening, in what amounted to a public rebuke for Mr Cummings, that the Party would indeed take a leading role in the anti-Euro campaign. Mr Cummings said later that he had no reason to change what he had said before - leading many to think that there is a rift at the most senior levels within the Conservative Party as to the best strategy to adopt in any Euro referendum campaign. I happen to be generally in favour of joining the Euro, but I accept (as I have written before) that there is a perfectly respectable case to be made out for not joining the Euro - the Conservative Party seems to be too caught up in its own internal squabbling to focus on this. It is said that Duncan Smith has 'de-fused' the Euro controversy in the Party since he took over as Leader - this is palpable nonsense. What he has done, generally speaking, is to decline to focus on the debate - but not talking about something does not mean that it has gone away as an issue, as the recent fracas has high-lighted.

Francis Maude calls for Tories to change or face ruin at next election (6 Jun 2002)

Speaking on BBC1 'On the Record' last Sunday (2nd June 2002), senior Conservative politician Francis Maude called upon the Party to shed its "straight, white, middle-class male" image. He said that without quotas for women, ethnic minorities or gay candidates the Tories would face ruin at the next general election.

Mr Maude said his party should not rule out all-women shortlists, saying "Whether it's all-women shortlists or quotas or any kind of positive discrimination... it's all objectionable in principle. But what is more objectionable in principle is us being a party that is - looks - narrow and is not selecting a bench of candidates that is genuinely representative of the country. I think all of us find the idea of active intervention of this kind quite difficult. The penalty for not doing this is oblivion. We have to not just talk about change, but make change actually happen and that does mean making the case boldly, strongly, confidently for the kind of party we want to be."

Responding, Tory vice-chairman Shailesh Vara insisted that "positive discrimination" must be ruled out although he suggested Conservative Central Office should step in to ensure the party included adequate numbers of females, people of ethnic minorities and gay candidates if local associations failed to select them. He said only "guidance" would be given to associations that seek advice on selecting appropriate candidates. "Local autonomy is still a very strong feature of the Conservative Party," he told the BBC programme.

Mr Vara's comments sound to me like gobbledygook - the Party is going to give 'guidance' to 'ensure' that associations choose candidates that Central Office thinks are 'appropriate', but 'local autonomy' is to be respected. I don't particularly like the idea of positive discrimination, any more than it appears does Mr Maude, but this verbal legerdemain by Mr Vara is unconvincing. What it all seems to boil down to is that Central Office privately recognises that the sexism, bigotry, racism and homophobia which exist in many associations throughout the country  is a real barrier to the Party choosing candidates (in winnable and often in non-winnable seats too) that reflect the realities of modern Britain, and it recognises that unless it can change this it stands little chance of electoral success. It seems that the Party is stuck with the wrong kinds of members and it won't attract [back] other kinds of members until it can break out of this vicious circle and adopt policies which are less anachronistic, whilst still retaining some semblance of the 'local autonomy' it prizes. I've written about this basic contradiction many times before and it seems the Party remains stuck in the rut which has led it to disaster.

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Copyright © 2002 William Cameron