David Davis: Don't just blame Alastair Campbell. These lies start at the very top

THE OPPOSITION VIEW: Spin - in which ends justify almost any means, no matter what the offence against truth - has infected ordinary civil servants, too
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This is not the moment to prejudge Lord Hutton's inquiry, but as he probes into the drafting of the dossier and the naming of Dr Kelly we are learning a great deal about the methods of the No 10 machine.

First, that the Government will attack anyone, or anything, that threatens its version of the truth. Second, that the corrupt culture of spin - in which the Government's political ends justify almost any means, no matter what the offence against truth, decency, or a good man's reputation - has infected ordinary civil servants, as well as the special advisers and their masters.

The infection is so deep that it continues almost irrespective of what happens elsewhere. Each time that events expose the activities of the government machine we have a rash of unattributable briefings about the "end of spin". It never happens. When Jo Moore left government service, her departure did not mark an end to the "burying of bad news". Neither will Alastair Campbell's much-trailed departure put an end to the ingrained amorality of the Government's behaviour.

The problem does not start or finish with Campbell. It originates with a calculated approach to government that dates back to New Labour's time in opposition, and which was overseen and approved by Tony Blair himself. In government it started on the first day, with the premeditated order in council, giving Blair's politically appointed lieutenants - Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell - the right to command civil servants, against every convention, for the first time in modern history. It continued with the appointment of numbers of Labour-leaning ex-journalists to senior posts in the previously non-partisan Government Information Service, and was reinforced by the trebling of the special advisers, the commissars in Labour's new model army.

Martin Sixsmith has detailed many of the methods of New Labour. The manipulation of expectations, the outright lies, are well known. There is the use of taxpayers' resources to investigate the backgrounds of innocent people in order to discredit them, as they did with Pam Warren, the injured rail safety campaigner, and character assassinations, such as the false racism accusation against Rose Addis, an elderly woman let down by the health service.

But Campbell's departure will not cure this malaise. We will still see the corrupting consequences of the New Labour doctrine of the "continuous campaign". This has suborned the most incorruptible civil service in the world into actions that have progressively disturbed more and more of its members.

To deal with this malaise we need a Civil Service Act that ensures that no political appointees ever again hold the powers that Powell and Campbell currently do; that formally protects civil servants from having to carry out actions that undermine their integrity; that strips Tony Blair of the right to be judge and jury in his own court on ministerial and special advisers' behaviour; and that puts in place a fully independent tribunal of privy councillors and law lords to police the new system.

Such an act - long promised by this Labour Government but, true to form, never delivered - would protect the impartiality of the many civil servants who dedicate their lives to implementing the policies of the party in government. Such an act could protect civil servants from the pressures put on them by politicians desperate to win the public battles. Such an act could give the taxpayers a guarantee that their resources were not being used for improper ends. And such an act could reinstate the reputation of our Civil Service, a reputation that stood unsullied for over a century until the Blair system undermined it. It would reverse the damage done during the last six years and take the politics out of the Civil Service once and for all.

David Davis is the shadow Deputy Prime Minister