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Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 16:50 GMT
Pressure grows for spin doctor curbs
Jo Moore
Jo Moore said people "invented stories" about her
Tony Blair is under increasing pressure to rein in the UK Government's special advisers following the resignations of Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith.

Senior Labour MPs have called for new legislation to give the rules governing political appointees working for government ministers, like Ms Moore, the force of law.

The Cabinet Office has confirmed that proposals for a statutory code of conduct for special advisers will be included in a consultation paper on Civil Service reform to be launched later this year.

Ms Moore, who was Transport Secretary Stephen Byers' spin doctor, and Mr Sixsmith, the department's press chief, were forced to quit on Friday after an extraordinary outbreak of public feuding.

'Will not be diverted'

It followed months of behind-the-scenes tensions, amid claims that Ms Moore had tried to politicise civil servants working in the press office, leading to a series of angry clashes with Mr Sixsmith.

Martin Sixsmith and Stephen Byers
Mr Sixsmith had said the story was "nonsense"
She had already attracted adverse public attention after the leak of her infamous e-mail sent on September 11 suggesting that it was a good day to "bury" bad news for the government.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's former spin doctor Charlie Whelan has reportedly told a tabloid newspaper that the transport secretary is "now damaged goods."

In an article the News of the World: "He (Mr Byers) wanted to keep Jo Moore when most people thought she should have gone months ago.

"Now he has lost not just a very close political friend but political credibility too."

But Mr Byers sought to draw a line under the controversy in a speech to Labour activists at the party's south west regional conference in Bournemouth.

"Despite the events of the past week, for the government there will be no distractions," he said.

"We are focused on our priorities - a strong economy, jobs for our people, improving public services.

"We shall not be diverted but will simply get on with the job for which we were elected by the British public."

Call for clear demarcation

Cabinet Minister Barbara Roche insisted an existing code for special advisers, which had been in place since 1997, was rigorous enough.

She continued: "If people do have complaints they can perfectly properly go through the procedure".

However senior Labour backbenchers said the government's planned Civil Service bill must set down clear demarcation lines between special advisers and officials.

The chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, Tony Wright, said legislation was needed to "police the boundary lines between special advisers and civil servants with some proper investigatory mechanism".

The chairman of the Commons Transport Committee, veteran Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, said that many of the problems with special advisers stemmed from Downing Street.

"The reality is that I think No 10 has got to rethink its attitude both to civil servants and the way that there appears to be a group of people operating out of No 10 who are neither elected nor civil servants," she said.

"On the whole, there is not a lot of point in having a Civil Service if you are immediately going up end everything they do."

'In a spin'

Liberal Democrat party chairman Mark Oaten said that Mr Blair had to act decisively to curb the activities of special advisers if he wanted to prevent further damage to his government.

"The Prime Minister needs to act quickly before this government suffers the same plight at the hands of spin that the Conservatives did at the hands of sleaze," he said.

A Cabinet Office spokesman confirmed that a government consultation paper due out "shortly" would include proposals for a statutory code of conduct for special advisers as well as a legal cap on their numbers.

Opponents have complained that the number of special advisers - paid for out of the public purse - had more than doubled under Labour with a total of 81 now employed across Whitehall.

Meanwhile the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions refused to say whether Mr Sixsmith, who was said to be earning 100,000-a-year, and Ms Moore, who was reportedly on 70,000, would receive severance pay.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Ministers acknowledge there is pressure to go much further"
Amanda Platell, former spin doctor
"I would never have cycled around with one of those silly caps on "
Theresa May, Shadow Transport Secretary
"The culture of spin seems to be right at the heart of the government"
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