The Sketch: Out of the loop? I smell a rat

Simon Carr@SimonSketch
Tuesday 01 April 2014 06:12

Liam "Blinky" Byrne is the nice, intelligent, likeable minister for the Cabinet Office. He has a thousand-dollar smile. But I'm sorry to have to say, when you open him up, you find a bag of rats in there. In a moment, we'll have to take them out and pet them.

He was giving evidence to Tony Wright's committee. Special advisers. There are 74 of them in Whitehall. They are the dark angels of ministers. When Tony Blair advised his young protégé to smile at his enemies and let others kill them [ Sic] – it was Spads who'd wield the knife. So it was a great pleasure to hear Blair's ex-adviser Lance Price make the Freudian slip "Gordon McBride".

Did Gordon know what McBride was up to, with the email smears? Gordon Prentice noted Lance Price had written this was "unlikely". "Why was it not 'inconceivable'?" Because, Lance said (and this surprised us all, I think), he himself had sat around in the evening or on long flights, talking about opposition sex lives with Tony Blair. Oh come on! Don't act shocked!

Richard Mottram was there. He'd been the departmental head when Jo Moore recommended using 9/11 as "a good day to bury bad news". Mottram was on the side of the good angels. It was unacceptable, he said, for taxpayer-funded advisers to be going round, "denigrating colleagues – or even political opponents".

Minister Byrne took out his rats and put them in our hands one by one.

* The code is working well in spirit and in practice. Transparent. Accountable. Clear.

* A "new code" has been distributed. All relevant people had signed a document saying they had read "and understood" it.

* Attempts to reform the system further would be an attack on the constitution.

Now wash your hands, they're covered in rat. Why do these people need a "new code" telling them not to behave like snakes? The old code was explicit on the point of issuing lies, smears and slander (forbidding it, just to be clear). "Automatic dismissal" is promised for infractions of the code. But it's written by legislators and interpreted by lawyers – it can mean anything the hell they want it to mean.

For instance, the Spad who issued the misleading stats on knife crime – against loud civil service protests – is still employed in Downing Street and answers to the PM. Meanwhile, Jacqui Smith was the one who apologised to the Commons. Huh? What?

Liam said everything had worked properly, transparently, accountably, but if it hadn't, he knew nothing about it. He wasn't, "in that managerial loop".

Too much rat, even for me. I've got to wash my own hands now.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments