The economy in crisis: Ingham warns Major on news management

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

SIR BERNARD Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, said yesterday that he would shoot himself if he was confronted by the tide of criticism facing John Major.

Sir Bernard's warning that the Government has 'stopped thinking politically' is shared by senior Cabinet ministers alarmed at the failure of the Government to win the propaganda battle on the closure of coal mines.

They are pressing the Prime Minister to improve the Government's news management before public expenditure cuts are announced.

With Tory MPs openly asking how much bad news the Government can stand, ministers are braced for worse to come. Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, is to publish shortly a report on the closure of up to four London hospitals.

The public expenditure cuts, to be announced early in November with the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, will add to the Government's agony. They are certain to provoke an outcry and the possibility of confrontation with public sector unions.

Ministers are privately urging Mr Major to re-establish a group of senior ministers who acted as troubleshooters and planners in the run-up to the general election. The group included Richard Ryder, the chief whip, Lord Wakeham, leader of the Lords, and John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport.

They met at Number 12 Downing Street, the chief whip's official residence, to co-ordinate the presentation of government policies and announcements.

Sir Bernard, who held Monday conferences with the heads of all Whitehall departments to ensure that bad news was carefully managed, was criticised for politicising his civil service job.

Former colleagues said he tried to avoid bad news being announced on Tuesdays and Thursdays to avoid upsetting Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament. Gus O'Donnell, his successor, has avoided politicising the job under Mr Major.

Sir Bernard said it was 'amazing' that the full Cabinet had not discussed the coal mine closures until after they were announced.

'You could argue they were working to a clear policy, to just leave it to the market and prepare for privatisation and that within that policy framework you get on with it.

'The fact that ministers are making it known (that they were not consulted) suggests that there is a lot of worry about it. The Government, early in its life, has stopped thinking politically.'

Asked on BBC Television what he would do, he said: 'I would probably shoot myself. But we have been through these times before . . .

'It is a pretty appalling day. There is not much you can do about it. The country is very upset that two-thirds of the mining industry is being knocked out with barely no notice.'

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