Deluge of embarrassing headlines was 'buried' by terror crisis

Labour email furore: Spin
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Indy Politics

The Government has used the international crisis over terrorism to camouflage several unpopular decisions and embarrassing policy U-turns.

Whitehall officials said that ministers felt it was "a good time" to slip out unpopular decisions that would normally attract unfavourable front-page news stories.

While Tony Blair has told aides to spend less time fretting about "tomorrow's headlines" in his second term, in practice the Government's spin doctors still go to great lengths to secure positive treatment for "good news" stories – and to bury "bad news".

Whitehall sources say that news of the appointment of Gavyn Davies, a Labour donor and friend of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, as the chairman of the BBC governors, was rushed out after the terrorist attacks in America to dilute the inevitable headlines about cronyism. The plan worked; the story was largely relegated to the inside pages.

During last week's Labour conference in Brighton, the Government news machine went into overdrive at a time when it is normally in limbo. The decision to replace the widely-criticised student loans scheme with a graduate tax was Mr Blair's most spectacular U-turn since becoming Prime Minister. Yet the move was drowned out by the international scene.

On the same day, the Government sneaked out a long-awaited decision to give the go-ahead to a controversial British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) radioactive fuel recycling plant at Sellafield in Cumbria. The next day, ministers scrapped plans for a national athletics stadium at Picketts Lock, north London, after another fiasco over a huge sporting project. At about the same time, there were hints from Mr Brown's normally reticent aides that taxes might have to rise before the next general election to maintain the increase in spending on public services.

Mr Blair was emboldened to make it clear for the first time that he would like to call a referendum on the single currency during this Parliament. The reaction of the Eurosceptic press was muted: The Sun, which has promised to wage war on Mr Blair over the euro, was too preoccupied with the war on terrorism.

At the weekend, details emerged of another big policy change – the Government's decision to pull the plug on Railtrack and turn it into a "not-for-profit" trust. This would have been on Monday's front pages but was overshadowed by the military strikes.

Tim Collins, the Tories' Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said on Tuesday that several "bad news" announcements had been rushed out.

He added: "These were controversial decisions which would normally have been front page news and led the television bulletins.

"It is important, particularly when normal politics has been suspended, that no one is open to the charge of exploiting the truce when the public's attention is elsewhere."