Lord Butler lambasts Blair over 'bad government'

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Tony Blair's autocratic style of government was savaged yesterday by Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary.

Tony Blair's autocratic style of government was savaged yesterday by Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary.

Lord Butler, who led the inquiry into intelligence failures on the Iraq war that largely exonerated the Prime Minister, said the Blair Government was guilty of "too much emphasis on selling" its own policies, "too much central control" and too little cabinet discussion.

He accused the Prime Minister of presiding over "bad government in this country" with too many "bad Bills", and a "huge amount of regulation".

Lord Butler's assault went further than his attack on the sofa-style of the Government in his report in July, and opened Mr Blair to criticism.

Michael Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, said: "Lord Butler has blown open the reasons why this Government does not deliver on the things that really matter to people. He was an insider at the very heart of the Blair Government. It's certainly the most damaging testimony I can remember from someone in such an eminent position."

The Independent learnt last night that a Labour-led Commons select committee was also planning to deliver a wounding attack on the Blair Government in the new year for the way it has handled the "whitewash'' public inquiries by Lords Butler and Hutton on the Iraq war and its aftermath.

Tony Wright, the Labour chairman of the Commons select committee on public administration, which took evidence from Lord Butler and Lord Hutton, said his report will be "pretty strong in that area".

He also revealed that he had written to the Prime Minister to demand more details about the action by Downing Street to implement the Butler report on the need for more formal note-taking of minutes of meetings.

In his report, Lord Butler painted a picture familiar to viewers of the American television drama The West Wing, with decisions taken informally. Downing Street has failed to spell out how it has changed, said Mr Wright.

"I don't think the Cabinet has been a formal decision-making body for a long time on many things. But on key issues it ought to have been. Butler's point was that on the war, it ought to have been, and it wasn't. At a crucial moment, it should matter greatly," he added.

Lord Butler's latest assault on the Government came in an interview with Boris Johnson in The Spectator which Mr Johnson, a Tory MP, edits. He said Mr Blair should restore open debate in government at all levels up to the Cabinet. "The Cabinet now - and I don't think there is any secret about this - doesn't make decisions," said Lord Butler.

Margaret Thatcher was much more formal, he said. "She certainly wanted to get her own way and she was very dominant but she certainly took the view as Harold Wilson did that important decisions should be taken by cabinet."

Downing Street insisted yesterday that more note-taking had been introduced since the Butler report, while conceding that many decisions were taken in cabinet committees instead of the full Cabinet. Yesterday's Cabinet met for one hour and 15 minutes.

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