The Media Column: Why transport chiefs had no reason to say sorry

I would like to apologise to Pam Warren. Mostly because I am just about the only person in Britain, it seems, who hasn't. The present Secretary of State for Transport grovelled before her, as did the past Secretary of State for Transport. A Mr Dan Corry, formerly special adviser to Mr Byers, said sorry, and so – over the weekend – did Ms Barbara Roche, a minister who has absolutely nothing to do with all this.

On Saturday the Today programme featured a substantial three-way discussion, pegged to the Corry e-mail, between John Humphrys; a professor who has just written a book on political corruption; and Martin Bell, the former MP and great moral figure. Humphrys wanted to know whether history proved that corruption of the Corry kind was inevitable, given the lust for power. Bell opined that New Labour sleaze, like this e-mail exchange, was worse than the Tory kind, which had involved cash in envelopes, money for questions and, of course, the Aitken perjury.

And I thought, "This is just mad." I don't agree with corruption. I don't think lying is a good idea. But I cannot, for the life of me, see what is wrong with the Corry e-mails. Of course, it helps that I have actually read them. And here, to remind you, is the text of the first one, sent when Stephen Byers (SB in the mail) was being accused by the Paddington Survivors Group of having lied about his plans for Railtrack. "Can you," Corry asks his Labour Party contact, "get some sort of check done on the people who are making a big fuss on the Paddington Survivors Group attacking SB please (ie the ones taking over from Pam Warren). The names are in the press." When asked to clarify his request, Corry asks, "Basically, are they Tories?" In a further e-mail Corry asks, "I'm told that their spokesman Martin Minns (?) works for a PR company. Can we find more on this please."

That's more or less it. This is what is supposed to constitute a vile smear against Pam Warren (despite the fact that she is specifically exempted from the request), and an attempt by the Government to spin, distort and otherwise lie their way out of trouble. This is what triggers a major BBC discussion on political corruption.

Mr Minns is, indeed, a Tory. And not a casual, occasional one either. He underwent training as Conservative Party agent and acted as agent in the 1983 and 1987 general elections. For three years, until late 1992, he worked at Conservative Central Office as an assistant campaign director, before going off to help the Europhobic Democracy Movement. On the day the euro came into being, Mr Minns had the telephone number of a hotline – where anti-euro information could be obtained – daubed on the nether cheeks of five young ladies. Since then he has run his own PR company. He is, if you like, pure spinner.

None of this means that Mr Minns is not (a) sincere and (b) good at his job. But the question is whether a special adviser is entitled to discover what the Minns history is. On Sunday, in The Observer, the journalist Christian Wolmar, a stern critic of the Government's transport policy, said the virtually unsayable about the Survivors Group. "Such campaigners start with tremendous public sympathy which sections of the media then shamelessly exploit for their own political ends," Wolmar pointed out. "The campaigns... are legitimate political targets because their leaders are demanding changes in government policies, which would cost taxpayers billions of pounds."

Wolmar is right. If I were a minister under fire from a group for reasons unconnected with their own campaign, I would most certainly want to know who was attacking me and why. And, in truth, this is what ministers believe. But it isn't what they can say. Even Tony Blair's expression of regret was not enough for the un-wronged Mrs Warren. "I don't call that an apology," she complained. "If I punched you and then said those words, would you think that was an apology? I wouldn't."

So there she was effectively demanding that the PM lie. The strange truth here is that the e-mail was honest. It was the apology that was spin.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower