Ministers and mandarins clash over Moore

21 Feb 02
The row between Downing Street and the Whitehall establishment took a new turn this week when government sources claimed 'resentful' civil servants were trying to undermine the government.

22 February 2002

Several newspapers reported claims by senior Labour figures that the row over Jo Moore, Stephen Byers' disgraced spin doctor, had exposed 'the myth of an impartial civil service' and that civil servants were putting 'their own interests before those of a democratically elected government'.

Senior officials were furious about the briefings, given just hours after the enforced resignations of Moore and transport department press chief Martin Sixsmith.

'It is astonishing that after a row that was all about spin and anonymous briefing they were straight back to briefing anonymously against the civil service,' said one official.

'Apparently, it's all our fault. Suddenly it's the civil service that invented the spin culture,' said another.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid tried to smooth ruffled feathers by praising the service. 'Nothing could be further from the truth than the suggestion that the civil service is undervalued,' Reid told the BBC.

Officials also believe that Downing Street is trying to blame civil servants for its inept handling of the row over Labour's links with Indian tycoon Lakshmi Mittal. Last week, Number 10 blamed 'unreliable information' from departmental officials for a series of confused briefings on allegations that ministers had helped Mittal secure a contract with the Romanian government following a £125,000 donation to Labour.

Sixsmith has widespread sympathy among officials angry at the influence of dozens of outsiders brought in to run key areas of Whitehall. One official said: 'The civil service has bent over backwards to accommodate these spin doctors and advisers. People are fed up with it. If they don't want a career civil service, they should say so.'

Most have little faith in the official channels for dealing with complaints against special advisers. 'When a special adviser is involved, Downing Street will be the final arbiter and the feeling is they will always protect one of their own,' said a senior official.

The Moore affair may revive long-awaited proposals for a statutory code of conduct and a limit on the number of special advisers, which have been bogged down in the Cabinet Office for months.


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