James Macintyre: How the Government spun itself into another mess

Share
Related Topics

It began on Monday as a piece of diversionary spin that by the end of the week had backfired spectacularly and created a fresh crisis in an already turbulent housing market.

With an increasingly frantic Downing Street desperate to distract media attention from the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and his domestic manifesto, as well as the news that Northern Rock needed an injection of taxpayers' money, ideas abounded about how to regain the initiative. At times of crisis, New Labour often turns to Rupert Murdoch's media vessels. Sources last night suggested that it was someone at No 10 – and not, as has been reported, the Treasury – who approached The Sun newspaper with the idea of a stamp duty "holiday". The Prime Minister is known to feel that the only way to tackle gossip in the Westminster "village" is to bring out "real world" stories that affect people's lives.

The problem, inexplicably not anticipated, was that this story was a little too "real world". Tuesday's edition of The Sun splashed on the story, and that morning on BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, was caught off guard as he refused to deny the plans and confirmed that "a number of measures" and "a range of options" were being considered.

For a few hours, it seemed like a populist and substantial plan, capable of replacing a windfall tax to tackle fuel poverty. But by Wednesday, the backlash among estate agents had begun. Peter Bolton King, the chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, backed the move but added: "If the Government is going to come up with something, then we need to know about it now." Others warned that the speculation was resulting in people pulling out of planned purchases in anticipation of not having to pay the tax later. Suddenly, with experts warning of a further slump in a downturning market, the matter was urgent.

On Thursday, John McFall, the normally loyal Labour chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said that Mr Darling had been misinterpreted but "he should have been more specific". The Chancellor pulled out of a separate BBC interview and disappeared.

By yesterday, Labour MPs were dismayed as another week of poor coordination and miscommunication drew to a close. After Caroline Flint, the Housing minister, popped up on Radio 4's World at One to confirm that the Government was "looking at a range of options [and] stamp duty is one of them", and later told Sky that the measure was anyway "not the Holy Grail", one former minister said she was floundering. Ms Flint's claim that "the only people continually talking about it are the media" was dismissed by the former minister, who said it was "nonsense" to suggests that the media made up the story.

But Ms Flint may have been right about one thing: the Treasury's relative ignorance of the matter. Sources say Mr Brown is keen to take personal charge of a policy "blitz" the minute he returns from the Olympics closing ceremony at the end of August. He has been itching to end the break prematurely but been advised that this would look desperate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent