Iain Duncan Smith: End the culture of deceit

The real problem with the last six years is that Labour hasn't just ruined its reputation, it has poisoned the whole of politics
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The Independent Online

I've watched the David Kelly tragedy unfold with growing horror. I've been appalled that per- sonal vendettas could be allowed to come before decent behaviour; that an independent institution such as the Civil Service can have been so emasculated; that a public servant like Dr Kelly could have been so shamefully treated. Yet this, sadly, is where we are now.

Alastair Campbell has been rightly blamed for many of these excesses of the New Labour project. Because of this I called for the Prime Minister to sack Campbell some months ago. But now he's going, let's not be deceived that his departure - the exit of Tony Blair's closest friend - will mean an end to Labour's culture of spin and deceit. He wasn't at Blair's right hand by accident, but by design. Campbell was nicknamed the "real Deputy Prime Minister" because everyone saw the power and influence given to him by the Prime Minister. Those who talk of a fresh start would do well to recall Blair's words on Friday. The Prime Minister referred to his departing director of communications as a "loyal servant". That single phrase shows how all of Campbell's work was carried out with the blessing of his master - Blair.

The Prime Minister cannot distance himself from the failure of his government, or the abuse of its power. The whole Downing Street machine reports to him, and it oversaw the mistreatment of Dr Kelly. For New Labour is not just a cast of miserable characters, it's a culture - a culture of deceit. The machinery of spin and deceit powers Blair's government. It saw the tragedy of 11 September as a good day to bury bad news. It tried to discredit the Paddington train crash survivors and, even during the week of his funeral, it attempted to smear Dr Kelly as a "Walter Mitty" figure.

Wednesday's evidence to the Hutton inquiry from Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, did us a strange service. For Hoon betrayed the domination of the Downing Street spin operation over his own department. All the big decisions about how Dr Kelly's name got into the press were taken by Campbell and Blair. In the immediate aftermath of Dr Kelly's death, the Prime Minister told reporters that he had had nothing to do with the public naming of the Nobel-nominated defence expert. But then - on Thursday - Blair admitted that he orchestrated the convoluted exposure of Dr Kelly. Even at the height of the tragedy this government's first reaction was yet more deceit.

And now Campbell is even trying to spin his own departure. His final service to his master is to script what will be billed as another new beginning for Blair's government. So: stand by for yet another relaunch. At the Labour Party conference a new and more focused Blair will be unveiled. His new, "straighter" spin-doctors will talk about their master's renewed sincerity - forged, they will say, because of his anguish over the death of Dr Kelly. A more sober set and slogan will form the backdrop to his relaunch. Forgive me for being suspicious, but we've seen it all before.

The real problem with the past six years is that Labour hasn't just ruined its own reputation, it has poisoned the whole of politics. While it is true that the British people are now angry at New Labour, they don't just want to change the occupant of Downing Street. They want a different kind of government altogether.

That's why the Conservative Party's great task over the next two years is to dismantle all of the control freakery that has characterised New Labour's failed project. A new Civil Service Act will be a necessary first step to ensure that no political appointees can ever misuse power in the way that Camp- bell did. We must also return many powers to Parliament. But that won't be enough.

Even more important is that Britain's schools and hospitals are freed from Labour's culture of control. The same instincts that have tried to subjugate journalists in the "Westminster village" have driven the desire to control Britain's public services. Despite the talk of "boldness" and "decentralisation", this government uses a bloated, centralised bureaucracy to run every hospital, school and police station from Whitehall. But its matrix of targets and control hasn't worked. It never will, because money taken from hard-pressed taxpayers isn't reaching the professionals on the frontline of Britain's public services. It is being wasted. The British people have never been more regulated and licensed in the way they lead their lives.

At the next general election the British people won't vote for politicians whose only plea is for them to be trusted with even more power. They don't want another know-all government that promises the earth but delivers nothing. They want a government that is ready to pass Whitehall's power to local communities and to the doctors, teachers and police officers who serve them.

I am determined to give the British people that kind of government. It will be a repudiation of all that New Labour has come to embody, and an end of the political culture that Blair has masterminded. Tony Blair, the leader, has become the "misleader". The one who misled the British people about his tax plans. Who misled Parliament about the "dodgy dossier". Who misled the media about his involvement in the naming of Dr Kelly. As Campbell goes - on this I'm absolutely clear - it's not the resignation of the servant that matters but the departure of his master. The real Downing Street director of communications must go: Tony Blair himself.

Iain Duncan Smith MP is Leader of the Opposition