Inside Whitehall: What Downing Street doesn't want you to know

Last month Tory strategists issued an edict to Government departments banning them from highlighting events that do not chime with the party's key themes

Share

Take three seemingly unconnected events.

One: a ground-breaking speech by Britain’s first Muslim Cabinet minister warning that Islamic sectarianism is a “deep and dangerous” problem that is being used to justify acts of religious extremism. Two: the publication of a Department of Work and Pensions-commissioned report setting out a plan to help people with mental health problems stay in employment. Three: proposals to make it illegal for cosmetic surgery companies to offer treatments without their staff undergoing training.

What do they have in common? Well, Downing Street doesn’t really want you to know about them. Not because they are bad news – in fact quite the opposite – but because they no longer fit into the Conservative Party’s strategy to win the next election.

Last month senior Tory strategists in Number 10 issued an edict to Government departments effectively banning them from highlighting speeches, initiatives and events that are not central to the party’s key election themes of crime, the economy, immigration and welfare.

A quick comparison between the number of Government press releases made in January 2013 and those issued last month makes the point. The Department of Transport: 17 compared to eight; the Department of Education: 18 compared to 10; the Department of Health: 25 compared to three.

It is causing some irritation in Whitehall – and some anger among affected Conservative ministers. The criticism is that Downing Street is “burying” important work being done by the Government which may actually be counter-productive in the longer term.

Take, for example, flooding. Political sources suggest that the Government was perceived to be slow off the mark in dealing with the issue because it failed to flag it up early enough. Defra and the Environment Agency were well aware of the potential problems they were facing after weeks of prolonged rainfall – but because it did not fit with the Number 10’s agenda of talking about the economy, too little effort was made to warn the public of the risks or what the Government was doing about it.

It is telling that only one press release about flooding was released by Defra in the whole of January. It was only when the problem became a crisis that the machine sprang into action – but by then it was too little too late.

Others complain that an unrelenting focus on certain subject areas is inadvertently distorting priorities in government. There is a sense of drift in parts of Whitehall that now feels unappreciated by a centre whose message appears to be – be seen and not heard.

Some of this is simply irritation by junior ministers that they are being muzzled from talking about their pet projects. But there is a wider point. Governments should have some sort of obligation to promote and talk about issues beyond the narrow focus of party political gain. Just because an issue isn’t going to win you votes doesn’t mean it isn’t important. That applies particularly to speeches like Baroness Warsi’s on religious intolerance.

But there is one amusing postscript to this new Downing Street diktat: it is bringing some Liberal Democrat ministers closer to their Tory counterparts. Nick Clegg has made it very clear that his ministers will not be bound by the strictures that now affect their Coalition partners.

So in order to get their schemes and plans noticed some Conservative ministers are turning to their Liberal Democrat colleagues for help. “Who says we’re not working well together?” remarked one Lib Dem dryly.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon and her former boss Alex Salmond  

I voted Yes in the referendum – but that doesn't mean I'm going to vote for the Tory-esque SNP

Alasdair Clark
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power