Politics: Resist the Labour bias, Heseltine tells civil servants

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The Independent Online
Civil servants are being corrupted by the Government's party political propaganda machine, Michael Heseltine said yesterday.

Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on a call to arms.

Sir Robin Butler, head of the Home Civil Service, and the First Division Association of senior civil servants should resist "with all their might" Labour's attempt to politicise Whitehall, the former deputy prime minister said yesterday.

Speaking at a London conference on publishing, he said that the exodus of eight senior information officers since the election seemed more than a little careless on Labour's part.

As someone who had just left government, Mr Heseltine said he had worked with Whitehall information officers most days of his working week for the past 18 years, and he added: "There was the clearest understanding that their job was to present factual answers or policy guidance.

"They were not there to advocate or enhance the interests of the Conservative Party. I can never remember the understanding causing any tension or indeed misunderstanding."

Any half-experienced minister knew where party political advocacy took over from the defence of government policy, he said, and, when it did, Conservative Central Office provided an excellent conduit to the media.

But Mr Heseltine said: "I deeply distrust any attempt now to blur the clear distinction that used to exist.

"There can be only one purpose behind the Labour Government's determination to politicise the Government Information Service," he added. "That purpose is to use their press officers to distribute propaganda as opposed to information.

"It is a corrupting process that will inevitably draw the civil service deeply into party politics. It is not possible to draw a line in the sand between the civil servants who would work for this new breed of party hacks and the hacks themselves."

Mr Heseltine warned that the process would stimulate leaks, and bring an inevitable retaliatory backlash from the next Tory government.

"This unwelcome and divisive process will encourage civil servants unsympathetic to the government to leak contrary information to balance the books," he said.

"It will encourage any subsequent government to demand the resignation of men and women known to have been sympathetic to the outgoing regime.

"It will bring into question the traditional independence of the Civil Service, particularly at election times."