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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
In Newslog, Nick Robinson keeps a unique diary from the heart of the news. Add your comment too.

Tuesday 16 April

Gordon's busy
posted by Nick | 1038 BST | Add comment
Gordon has been busy. No, not writing the Budget but selectively leaking it to papers in ways he knows they couldn't resist.

The Sun's campaigned against high petrol taxes so yesterday they were given the story that "White Van Man Gordon" would freeze petrol duty - a story they put on the front page.

The Guardian is concerned about poverty. Yesterday it was given a story that "caring Gordon" is to give 2bn for a tax cut (what we all used to call a benefit rise, but that's a quibble) for poorer workers. It made the front page.

The Mail's big on the right of mothers to stay at home without losing out financially. You've guessed it. Today they were given the news that "Gordon the family man" is to create a credit that will go straight to Mums (it also, incidentally, will go direct to single Mums who the Mail cares rather less about!). It made - you're getting the hang of this now, aren't you - the front page.

Each paper writes that the chancellor's reacted to their hugely persuasive campaign.

A few years ago I used to think I was a failure as a journalist as I didn't get these stories but the words of one newspaper political editor cheered me. "My team of well connected hacks have had to work tirelessly chasing all their best sources to produce that 'puff' for Gordon", he said. Quite.


Monday 15 April

Beware Budget tricks
posted by Nick | 1722 BST | Add comment
Remember the time Gordon Brown announced a 40bn increase in spending on public services and it turned out to be 11bn?

Remember when he didn't tell us he'd left scrapping married couples tax allowance off his calculation of tax rises? All chancellors do it but none with quite Gordon's verve, determination and iron refusal to admit it when found out.

Look out this year for some more Gordon tricks

  • deferring tax rises so that they don't appear in this year's figures
  • counting tax credits (always in the past treated as benefits) as tax cuts


    The truth about Mo
    posted by Nick | 1312 BST | Add comment
    So this is the truth about Mo Mowlam. Yes they did brief against her. Yes they didn't think she was as good as the public, the party and Mo herself did. But no, no-one in senior positions in party or the government rushed to her defence. Isn't it possible that they were right and that she wasn't that good a minister? Shame though because she was - and clearly still is - good for business.
      More details


    Funds and favours
    posted by Nick | 1232 BST | Add comment

    It's Groundhog Day, complained the prime minister's official spokesman this morning as he batted off another flood of questions on whether ministers did favours for Labour donors.
      More details

    Downing Street has two stock defences now when these stories arise. Firstly, we were acting in the national interests. Secondly, we checked what we did with the civil service.

    It won't do and they must know that. Ministers have lost the benefit of the doubt and - as a result of being dragged into the Ecclestone, Hinduja and Byers rows - so too have senior civil servants.

    The answer say some is simple - state funding. Simple but, in my view, wrong. There may be perfectly good reasons for state funding but it won't stop close links between the rich and powerful and ministers (if there aren't donations, there'll be sponsorship; if there's no sponsorship, there'll be meetings and dinners and so on and so on).

    The only answer it seems to me is to be open and upfront (information which is isn't hidden is often dull); to have clear public rules about lobbying, procurement and the respective roles of party appointees and civil servants can act in different situations. Even that won't stop the allegations. Only trust will, and that's hard to earn and easy to squander as Tony Blair is finding to his cost. Imagine him now coming onto TV to say "I'm a pretty straight kind of guy" as he did after the Ecclestone Affair first broke and you'll see what I mean.

    Let's measure today's rows against my rules:

    1. The Czech plane row - of course you'd expect Tony Blair to try to help BAe sell British planes whether they'd given a donation or not. This is only a story because Downing Street was not open and did not tell journalists that that's what he was doing.

    2. The small pox vaccine row - they did not follow tendering rules which allowed rival companies to squeal that they'd been unfairly excluded and they were not open about what they were doing - the story emerged from the company.

    3. The Ecclestone Affair - the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell (whose actions are at the heart of the story) is part civil servant and part political appointee. There are no clear rules about how he separates those roles if, indeed, they can be separated when done by the same person!


    That poisoner
    posted by Nick | 1035 BST | Add comment

    If you were following Newslog when we went with Tony Blair to Texas last week, I've happened to find out what happened to that Texas tree poisoner - he lived.

    I am told that in 1989, Paul Cullen poisoned the Treaty Oak with Velpar, which is specifically designed to kill hardwood trees.

    In spite of extensive efforts, only about one quarter of the tree was saved. Cullen was tried and convicted of felony criminal mischief and sentenced to nine years in prison.

    If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here.


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