Labour In Turmoil: Angry envoy blames ministers

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AS THOUGH he did not have enough problems, Robin Cook has now become embroiled in the controversy surrounding the departure of a senior Foreign Office official, Sir David Gore-Booth.

A critical telegram sent to the Foreign Secretary from Sir David, the outgoing High Commissioner to Delhi, has been leaked to the media. It was sent last month as Sir David left the Foreign Office after he was turned down as prospective head of the British Mission at the United Nations.

The telegram makes it clear that Sir David thinks ministers have lacked the courage to defend their civil servants. "No civil servant should be put in a position where he or she is pilloried in public - and mimicked on the radio, television and stage - without the chance to defend him or himself," he says. "The gradual erosion of trust between officials and ministers is one of the saddest consequences of the dumbing down of the media and the focus on personalities as opposed to policies."

This will further embarrass Mr Cook, who has been trying to restore flagging morale at the Foreign Office. Sir David has already blamed ministers for the collapse of his 35-year career. "Somebody out there is taking pleasure from seeking to destroy my reputation slice by slice," he was quoted as saying.

Sir David, an Old Etonian is known to the readers of Private Eye as "Gore- Blimey of the FO". During the Scott Inquiry into arms to Iraq he originated the phrase, "Of course, half the picture can be accurate."

In December 1997, it was revealed that he had cost a British Aerospace employee his job, after complaints about ineptitude at the British Embassy in Saudi Arabia. At the time Sir David was the ambassador in Saudi Arabia where he helped negotiate the pounds 20bn al-Yamamah arms deal.

In the telegram Sir David complains that "ill-judged but widely published comments" by the Foreign Office legal adviser about the case were "prejudicial to my personal and professional reputation".

Sir David also makes his bitterness over the UN job clear. "It is no secret that I had hoped to leave the Diplomatic Service from New York. But the dice fell the other way..."

By all accounts he is not a man to excite moderate passions. His critics say he is a plummy voiced old Etonian out of step with Mr Cook's Diplomatic Service. His admirers say that he was one of the Foreign Office's finest high-flyers.