The scale of the New Labor fights and Tony Blair’s fight with allegations of sleaze have been underscored by cabinet papers showing that No. 10 aides privately believed Gordon Brown could have broken the law.
Files released to the National Archives show that Blair’s chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, in 1998 urged him to privately reprimand Clare Short, then international development secretary, after she publicly condemned cabinet colleagues as “vultures”.
And Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, warned him the same year that he needed to understand what he saw as a lack of discipline among government ministers, and expressed concern over the minister’s integrity. So serious was the problem believed to be that No. 10 was considering setting up a “Commissioner for Ministerial Ethics” to strengthen public confidence.
Powell even went so far as to suggest in writing to Blair that there was reason to suspect that his closest political friend and ultimately greatest political rival, Gordon Brown, was violating strict rules of ministerial standards, an offense that a cabinet member would normally expected to resign.
“At some point, we will have to deal with how some ministers handle their political work. How, for example, does Gordon pay for his newsletter to all party members and his receptions (almost certainly in violation of the Ministerial Act). He’s not the only one, “Powell wrote to Blair on February 20, 1998.
In another note, written to the prime minister about a month earlier about possible ways to deal with parliamentary issues of ministerial decency, Powell suggested sending an “edict to tell ministers to be more careful”.
The note read: “I think Gordon is probably right when he says people are too lax. Did [then foreign minister] Derek Fatchett really needs to take his wife to Australia, etc. Do you want to pursue this (with the implicit admission that not everything has been handled well)? “
A handwritten note from Blair in the margin reads: “Let me talk to the Cabinet and get them to do it word of mouth.” It gives an indication of the time and effort that went into trying to stick together on cabinet discipline in the early years of his presidency.
Three days before, for example, one of Blair’s closest advisers, Anji Hunter, felt moved to send an email to Powell and pass on concerns expressed by an unknown colleague that the Prime Minister only looked at the big picture and that No. 10 should not “take our eyes off”. off the sleaze factor ”, which was meant to erode the moral authority of the Blair government.
In another handwritten note, Blair’s political adviser Liz Lloyd replied: “I’m also worried about this. She suggested pushing a story that Blair privately admonished ministers over standards.
Blair was also urged to act privately with specific ministers, including Short, whom Campbell warned would likely embarrass the government. A documentary showed her accusing a ministerial colleague of telling a journalist that she had compared the Ulster Unionists to the Ku Klux Klan during a cabinet meeting. Short dismissed the claim, telling the filmmakers: “It’s just completely malicious, it’s someone from the cabinet because it’s a lie about a discussion that took place. It’s very sad. It’s extraordinary that people on your own side would do such things. thing.”
When he briefed the Prime Minister on the affair, Campbell wrote: “As you may have seen, I sought to kill the recent Clare story by being supportive. The problem is that she will believe it. Her office has already been on that say how grateful they are.In other words, she will do something again soon.
“May I suggest you write to her along these lines: For public consumption, we have been supportive of your comments in the documentary. However, I have to tell you that I consider such comments to be unhelpful and self-indulgent. I understand, that your department was advised not to collaborate on such a project, given the way these filmmakers generate publicity, and since there is no evidence whatsoever that a member of the cabinet oriented against you, other than presumptions, it was bad to say that. “
The confidential papers were released to the National Archives as part of the plan to release government records when they are 20 years old.
Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown wanted to redesign the House of Commons in a “hemisphere” shape as a symbol of his party and New Labor’s common reform agenda, according to recently released official papers.
Ashdown was keen to expand cooperation between the two parties – called the “project” – after Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997. In a letter to Blair, he suggested that the Commons chamber could be transformed into a hemisphere in recognition of the new culture with “consultation”. , pluralism [and] debate ”, which they hoped to inaugurate.
He wrote: “As a symbol of this, we can even say that we want to change the shape of parliament itself, make it a hemisphere and create a design competition to do this before the millennium.”
The proposal met with little enthusiasm in No. 10. In a note to the Prime Minister, Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, wrote: “I can not believe he has proposed a hemispherical lower house. Are you sure you want to move forward with this project?”
Dome wow factor
Tony Blair was concerned about the lack of “wow” factor in the early plans for the Millennium Dome, a project he inherited from John Major’s Conservative government and decided to move forward despite opposition from many of his cabinet colleagues.
Recently released documents from the National Archives show that Charlie Falconer, who inherited responsibility for the dome after Peter Mandelson’s resignation due to a controversy over a personal loan, often lamented the lack of “wows”.
“We need at least 10 wows,” but the zones were “too uniform and too dignified,” Falconer wrote in a memo to Blair. Blair commented on the note: “This is worrying.” The Dome was a controversial plan, but Falconer wrote to Blair: “We have a dome and we must all work to make it a success.”
Mandelson wanted to retire after his resignation in a form of enduring role in the Millennium Experience, and Blair had a kind of “PPS” in mind. [parliamentary private secretary] role for Peter on the Dome ”, the documents show.
Claire Pillman, of the Millennium Unit in the Department of Culture, said Mandelson could not be appointed as a special adviser to the Dome as it would be seen as a return to “shady figure behind the throne”, and Lord Falconer risked being portrayed as a “practical puppet”.