When Labour was in power the Conservatives had their Whitehall moles. For example, as shadow immigration minister Damian Green cultivated a junior official called Christopher Galley. This ultimately led to Mr Green's ill-judged arrest by the Metropolitan Police. Members of the Labour Government such as Jack Straw affected to be scandalised by Mr Green's behaviour.
Now the boot is on the other foot. In opposition moles are necessary. In government they must be rooted out and condemned. This may explain why the Tory communications chief, Andy Coulson, is upset about several stories that have appeared in The Sunday Telegraph. There is a suspicion that a Labour-friendly mole is lurking in No 10, and may even be having his strings pulled by mischief-making former Labour spin doctors.
Patrick Hennessy, political editor of The Sunday Telegraph, is certainly not being spoon fed stories by the new regime. The Old Etonian hack is regarded with some suspicion by Mr Coulson because, like his counterpart Andrew Porter on The Daily Telegraph, he was associated in Tory minds with the Brownites, and used to be on friendly terms with Damian McBride, the excitable No 10 spin doctor sacked after sending lurid emails. Nevertheless, Mr Hennessy has produced a number of striking stories without any help from Mr Coulson's operation.
The most notable was the full text of the Queen's Speech, which The Sunday Telegraph published on 23 May, two days before it was delivered in almost identical form by Her Majesty. A pared down version of the same story also appeared in the Sunday Mirror under the byline of its political editor, Vincent Moss, who sometimes rides in the same posse as Mr Hennessy. The Sunday Telegraph's political editor also revealed before last month's Budget that the civil list would be frozen, and eight days ago he correctly informed his readers that there would be a torture inquiry involving our intelligence services.
The leaking of the Queen's Speech seriously browned off No 10, and Mr Coulson was not overjoyed by the other two pieces, though it is difficult to see how they could have damaged the Government. A hunt is on to track down the mole suspected of leaking the stories who is believed to be working in No 10. You would not have thought that the list of potential suspects was very large, but so far no one has been run to earth.
If there are one or more sackings, or even a larger clear out of civil servants identified with the former regime, let's hope that such actions are not accompanied by sanctimonious cluckings from ministers in the Coalition. Naturally I would be sorry if the Queen had been embarrassed by the comprehensive leaking of her speech, but no one could possibly pretend that national security or matters of importance to the State were compromised by any of these stories. Hats off to Patrick Hennessy, I say.
Mr Harding may be on his way out
There are some editors who long to be executives, and Will Lewis, a former if fairly brief occupant of the editorial chair at the Daily Telegraph, would seem to be one of them. Last week it was announced that he is becoming the group general manager of News International, which means he will be deputy to the chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.
According to some observers, Mrs Brooks does not enjoy the more boring tasks that go with a high flying management job. Mr Lewis will be expected to roll up his sleeves as he co-ordinates editorial spending across the four Murdoch-owned national titles. This entails cutting a lot of costs since The Times and Sunday Times have been losing an amazing £240,000 a day. He will doubtless be spending many hours with James Harding, editor of The Times, and, as it happens, one of his dearest friends.
Mr Harding is himself at the centre of rumours sweeping through his newspaper and the rest of Fleet Street. It is suggested – as I wrote here over two months ago – that he and Mrs Brooks do not see eye to eye, and that his days as editor may possibly be numbered. A new twist to the speculation is that he could be succeeded by Roger Alton, recently installed as a senior executive on The Times, and previously editor of this newspaper.
Perhaps Mr Lewis, being so close to Mr Harding, and now serving as Mrs Brooks' right hand man, is in a perfect position to clarify matters. No newspaper gains by constant chatter about its editor's supposedly impending doom. For Mr Harding's good, and that of his paper, Mrs Brooks and her immediate boss, James Murdoch, should make clear whether he is staying put or being "promoted" to some management job of his own within the vast Murdoch empire, possibly at the Wall Street Journal.
Why did the Telegraph nip this in the Budd?
The Business section of last Tuesday's Daily Telegraph carried a story about Sir Alan Budd's unexpected resignation as chairman of the newly created Office for Budget Responsibility. None of the other newspaper first editions carried the story, and I have been unable to find any mention of it in later editions. Most newspapers carried news of Sir Alan's resignation the following day, Wednesday.
Why was the Telegraph first off the blocks? And why, since it was, did it not make more noise, confining what was arguably a major political story to its Business section? It would seem the news did not tumble into the paper's lap at the last moment since Damian Reece had time to opine on it in the Business pages. So why tuck it away? A mistake, I suppose.