Silence from the spin doctor whose e-mail wrecked the sombre mood of national unity

Labour email furore: Government
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Indy Politics

Nearly four years ago, Jo Moore was in Downing Street celebrating her departure from Labour's Millbank headquarters to take up a lucrative lobbying job in the private sector.

The party, hosted by Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, was an extravagant example of the high regard in which one of the party's most trusted "spin doctors" was held.

On Tuesday, as the details of her e-mail of 11 September dominated the news, Ms Moore was not in party mood, locked instead "in meetings" at the offices of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

For perhaps the first time in her life, her pager did not respond, her mobile was switched off, and her telephone was on voicemail. The special adviser to Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, was decidedly unavailable for comment.

Ever the expert in handling the media, Ms Moore believed that the best thing she could do was to issue a short statement of apology through Downing Street and to sit and hope the story would go away.

But as news of her e-mail was made public, the 38-year-old mother faced accusations not just of gross insensitivity but of single-handedly wrecking the mood of national unity at a time of war.

Worse still for the Government, the judgement of Mr Byers, her long-term boss, and that of the Prime Minister himself, were being questioned. They were insisting she be kept in her post.

As Mr Blair set off abroad for another bout of whirlwind diplomacy, he was confronted by journalists on his flight who were all keen to talk about Ms Moore's claim that 11 September was "a very good day to get out anything we want to bury".

Ms Moore has a long track record of impressive spin-doctoring skills, having risen from a council press officer in London to become Labour's second most senior Millbank media operative. From 1993 until late 1997 and that Downing Street party, she served loyally as Labour's senior press and broadcast officer, playing an important role in the general election landslide.

As well as being ultra-efficient, she was also an early believer in Mr Blair's New Labour project, a stance that ensured she worked well with Mr Byers later.

Despite her reputation, with colleagues at Millbank frequently referring to her as "scary", she impressed friends with her dedication to her family, Paul Williamson, her partner, and her two children.

In 1997 she decided to break with Labour and became an account executive with the lobbying firm Westminster Strategy. She was not alone in breaking out of Millbank for the private sector, with 27 staff taking the same route, an exodus that triggered claims that Labour hacks were profiting from personal contacts with ministers.

Nevertheless, Ms Moore attracted little attention until she returned to front-line politics as the new special adviser to Stephen Byers when he was appointed as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry after Peter Mandelson's resignation in December 1998.

While at the DTI, she worked tirelessly for Mr Byers, developing a close relationship with him despite working only part time, three and half days a week, as she balanced motherhood with work.

Ms Moore would brief a selected circle of journalists off the record and weigh in with a tough rebuttal whenever there was any criticism of her minister. It was she who encouraged Mr Byers to go on the offensive when the Daily Mail published a story claiming that he had suppressed an official report into the financial affairs of a former minister, Geoffrey Robinson. Ms Moore persuaded her boss to threaten legal action, a move that eventually resulted in an apology by the paper just last week.

She was also extremely effective in ensuring Mr Byers did not lose out in the spinning war against Gordon Brown as the pair clashed over issues such as the national minimum wage.

However, although she was admired by her friends, Ms Moore developed a reputation among some civil servants for being too abrasive and dogmatic, a reputation that may have resulted in her enemies leaking her infamous e-mail.

When Mr Byers was switched to Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, in the post-election reshuffle, his special adviser went with him, moving from Victoria Street to Eland House. Again, she did not impress some of the civil servants who believed she was "too political" even by the standards of New Labour advisers.

When the World Trade Centre attacks took place on 11 September, Ms Moore, sitting in her office, tapped out her message that now was the time to get out "anything we want to bury". It was a measure of her meticulous eye for detail, although enemies describe as "pure paranoia" her suggestion in the e-mail that a minor story such as councillors' allowances was one such example.

But as she briefed journalists about the Railtrack rescue plan on Saturday, she could not have realised the consequences of her actions. Last night, it was none other than Charlie Whelan, admittedly not a friend of hers, who said she had to go. Mr Whelan, Gordon Brown's former "spin doctor", said he was "astonished" that Downing Street had decided to back her.

Mr Whelan, who was himself forced to resign his post over claims that he had triggered Mr Mandelson's first resignation from the Cabinet, predicted that Ms Moore would be fired some time soon.

"You can't say 11 September was 'a very good day' by any stretch of imagination. It's a very bad mistake. I would be very surprised if she was still in this job by the end of the week," he said.

"It's hugely embarrassing. When Mr Blair sees the full ramifications of this memo, he's just going to have to say she's got to resign."

Whether she will go after a Mandelson-style drip-drip of stories remains to be seen.

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