Monday, October 16, 2006

Did I do Stephen Byers a disservice?

David Blunkett's tape-recorded diaries The Blunkett Tapes are published today having been serialised in the Grauniad last week. I have already made clear my view that the content should be viewed primarily as entertainment rather than enlightenment, in particular the assertion that Tony Blair was ready to sack Gordon Brown unless he backed the Iraq War in 2003.

One little gem did catch my eye though in Friday's final instalment. Had I not been in a very important meeting for most of that day, and had my home dial-up connection not been buggered for most of the weekend, I would have blogged on it before now.

Anyway....I refer to a passage in which Mr Blunkett gives his take on one of the infamous episodes in the entire history of the Blair administration, the email sent by Stephen Byers' special adviser Jo Moore on the afternoon of 9/11 stating that it was now "a very good day to get out anything we want to bury."

Blunkett's account casts a completely new light on the episode, and therefore merits reproduction in full:

October 2001

[Leak of email sent by Jo Moore, special adviser to Stephen Byers, to Department of Transport press office on September 11 saying it would be a "very good day" to "bury" bad news]

The world has gone crackers, and the cause célèbre of the week has been the débâcle over Jo Moore, which is going on and on. Steve was intending to sack Jo Moore, but by early afternoon it had all changed and apparently it was because, quite rightly, Tony had perceived that this was a try-on by the civil service. It was felt that they were the ones who had received the email and leaked it, and no matter how appalling the email, the declaration of war by the civil service and their ability to leak emails and thereby bring down special advisers had to be countered. Unfortunately life is not as simple as that. Tony's interpretation of the situation is right, but Steve's initial decision to sack Jo Moore for the content of the email was also right because this story has run and run and run.

In dictating this I had no idea just how catastrophic it was going to be for Steve Byers. I think those advising really did mean well, and it was a difficult situation to call. There is no doubt that Jo Moore paid the price, but what price.

Now this, to my knowledge, is the first time anyone has claimed that the decision not to sack Moore after her initial, appalling misdemeanour was not Byers's, but Blair's.

I was of course working in the Lobby at the time as Political Editor of the Newcastle Journal, and since Byers is a Tyneside MP, it is fair to say I took a keen interest in the story. It was common knowledge within the Lobby that Alastair Campbell, then at the very height of his powers, wanted Moore out, and the supposition was that it was Byers - not Blair - who was resisting this.

I have myself written on a number of occasions in my Journal column and elsewhere that not sacking Moore was the mistake that wrecked Byers' career. Yet it now turns out that it might not have been his decision at all.

It would be too much to expect a loyal Blairite such as Byers to now confirm the truth of Blunkett's account at the cost of dropping the Prime Minister in it. But once Mr Blair has left office, it will be interesting to see if Byers chooses to set the record straight.

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4 comments:

an interested party said...

it is interesting to view this as a demonstration of the level of tension between the civil service and the special advisors.

Woffle said...

>>>It was felt that they were the ones who had received the email and leaked it, and no matter how appalling the email, the declaration of war by the civil service and their ability to leak emails and thereby bring down special advisers had to be countered.

Man has a point, surely?

MorrisOx said...

Whatever the truth about the Jo Moore e-mail, Byers wasn't up to scratch anyway.

Read the book 'BMW and Rover - a brand too far' to see Byers in all his glory.

skipper said...

Paul
I remember reading somewhere that Jo Moore was protected by the 'old guard' in number 10 as she way back with them to the early days of New Labour. That might explain why Tony was keen not to move too early on 'one of us' New Labour style.