Leading article: Misconduct in public office

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:59

It's not often that you hear anyone say "sorry" in British political discourse, still less in a sentence that also includes the words "full responsibility". So it seems grudging to point out that Gordon Brown could have saved himself a lot of bother if he had delivered his public apology rather earlier and included the hardest word in the letters he took the trouble to write by hand. This sordid episode should now be regarded as closed, even if the some damage is bound to stick, not just to the Downing Street communications operation, but to the Prime Minister himself.

That is not just because the email smears – and the attitudes that made them possible – added up to a particularly scandalous act of nastiness, but because they seem all of a piece with so much else. The arrest of Damian Green, for instance, which had reached its only possible conclusion just an hour or so before Mr Brown made his apology.

It will be recalled that Mr Green's home and his office in the Commons had been subject to police raids of which the Home Office had been forewarned. Every plank of the case has now been shown to be rotten.

The Director of Public Prosecutions found that there was insufficient evidence to charge either the shadow immigration minister or the Home Office employee who passed the information to him. He concluded that the information leaked to Mr Green was neither secret, nor did it affect national security. For its part, the Commons home affairs committee found that the national security significance of the information leaked to Mr Green had been exaggerated by civil servants in order to prompt an investigation. The reference to civil servants is itself an ignoble act of buck-passing; as a matter of honour and convention, the minister takes the rap.

Ah yes, the minister. Mr Green was arrested on suspicion of "conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office". In the light of what has emerged, we have to ask whether there is not misconduct to be found elsewhere. If the might of the state was co-opted not for genuine security purposes, but to save the blushes of a singularly ineffectual Home Secretary, it would be no exaggeration to call this an abuse of power.

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